Are you ready to party?
I'd say, of all the first-party games Nintendo fans have been looking forward to on Wii U, another mini-game collection resides nowhere on the list, but that's not the right attitude to have. If anyone can figure out how to push mini-games and virtual partying into its renaissance period, the Big N can so long as you don't expect another new Mario Party just yet.
Despite sharing a lot of features and much of the gameplay structure of Mario Party, Wii Party U promises more than just board games (though it has those too). I got an opportunity to meet with Nintendo immediately after E3, but it took me a while to wrap my head around why gamers and not just software-starved Wii U owners should care about the title. In the current multiplayer gaming ecosystem, no other title can do what Wii Party U can: make interactivity about face-to-face fun without headshots and killing sprees.
While shooting many digitized people can be way more entertaining than horrifying, it does get tired after a while. Lining up heads with bullets or lobbing grenades with zero grace and blind precision certainly gives you a bead on how much better you are than your fellow gamer, but I grew up on multiplayer titles that excited players on a social level. So getting a chance to meet a fellow writer and play Wii Party U was just what the Dr. Mario ordered.
Nintendo's packed tons and tons of mini-games into Wii Party U, but I was assured that solo players will still have 80 activities to enjoy without requiring anyone else to compete against. You'll first be presented with a menu that splits play across TV Party, House Party, and GamePad Party (which just uses the WIi U GamePad), among a few other options. Basically, how you play is up to you, which allows for easy access no matter what the mix is on the couch.
First, we tried out Operation Sandbox. It plays a little like Tanks! in Wii Play, except it's exclusively multiplayer and one person gets to control a much bigger tank. The other three players have to team up and coordinate their attacks to bring the bigger vehicle down. At first it felt like the solo-player had the upper hand due to the extended health bar, but soon it was clearer how three players can confuse, distract, and ultimately dominate the fourth player. Of the games I played, I was surprised I liked this the least, especially after my love for Wii Play's version.
Second up was Foosball, which moves the action to the GamePad's screen and lets two players play with that wide controller flipped vertically between them. Each player moves a set of fixed soccer stars around with their respective analog stick. The field is much smaller than a typical foosball arena and you can move your players in 360 degrees (though the goalie retains side-to-side motion). I was terrible at this game, but I still had fun furiously flipping players and hoping to pound in a goal at the last second.
The third and final activity I played with my fellow writers and gracious Nintendo public relations peeps was Name That Face, which turned out to be my favorite game. Players take turns holding the GamePad, trading off Wii-motes as they go. On the GamePad, the player is instructed to make a certain face based on a few words they can choose from. Once you snap your pic, it's posted to the TV where the other players have to guess what the face is trying to imply.
It was hard not to laugh at myself while I was making a face, but it was even harder not to laugh at other players as they took their turn. I could see the same confusion, followed by the same Eureka moment, followed by the same nervous excitement, culminating with other players judging the face on screen and deciding on the impetus for every grin and raised eyebrow. I certainly enjoyed playing Name That Face more than anything else at Nintendo's post-E3 round-up.
That's because anyone can play Name That Face. All it takes is a face. And there's really nothing else in gaming like it. Once you play Name That Face, you never forget. I can't imagine that one game out of the dozens could sell a console, but Wii Party U will certainly provide another inventive and purely fun title for early adopters looking to entertain a few friends later this year.