Then fun is a crime.
Innovation is usually not the main focus of family-friendly titles, which generally run the gamut between lackluster edutainment and mini-games poorly disguised as a super-sized all-in-one collection. They tend to be too easy for adults, too hard for kids, or as creatively flat as a chalkboard. On all those charges, however, Guilty Party is innocent. Though it sometimes has a heavy hand and its motion-controlled mini-games gets repetitive, the game succeeds in bringing together the detective work of Clue, the scheming strategies of trading card games, and the cartoony charm of Disney.
[image1]Guilty Party can be best described as an interactive board game, without all the square spaces and lifeless tokens, that has players trying to deduce and capture Mr. Valentine and his henchmen. It's not too far away from the original PC title Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, where you have to find clues describing the suspect's various characteristics before you issue a warrant. Here, as one of six members of the Dickens Detective Agency, you must travel from one room to the next, complete mini-games for clues, and finally accuse the right person in a limited number of turns.
Of course, it's more complicated than that. Every turn, players are given a set number of tokens (or actions), with every room change, interrogation, and investigation costing one token to perform. Your turn ends once you run out, so you need to gather as many clues as you can before that happens by examining people and objects with a blue question mark over them. Doing so leads to a mini-game, which when completed, hopefully awards a clue that tells you one of the suspect's traits or at least points you in the right direction.
Mini-games don't require much beyond a few twists and tugs with the Wii-mote. Even on the hardest Super Sleuth difficulty, most take only one attempt to finish, whether it's swatting bugs, staring a suspect down, or ripping off disguises. While the simplicity is commendable in some respects, there are only 44 standard mini-games; with every mystery taking 20 clues to solve, the mini-games lose steam by the halfway mark in the story mode.
[image2]Changing the rules even further are Savvy Cards, which you draw at the beginning of every turn and at any time for the cost of one token. Savvy Cards have a wide array of effects, like earning bonus tokens, transporting to other rooms instantly, and bringing suspects to you so you can accuse them of the crime. Most of the time, they counter the ploys of Mr. Valentine who frequently locks rooms, shuts off lights, steals tokens and cards, and laughs maniacally just for the love of it.
It's this kind of kooky exaggerated character that sells the humor and appeals to the younger audience - the cel-shaded modeling, the thick accents, the loud shrieks and giggles, the Commodore's pudding, the theme song which sounds like it belongs in a 1970s beach party. At the same time, the cast includes the Dickens Family, Butch Johnson, and Fifi Fromage. Sexual innuendo for the adults, no?
Even better than the single-player or cooperative story mode, the competitive multiplayer is where the game drops the friendly, happy-go-lucky attitude. Since the object is to be the first to solve the case, you have to do whatever it takes to mess with your fellow sleuths - stealing tokens, setting traps, selecting what devious ploy Mr. Valentine will use, and even changing a suspect's testimony. Every clue has a highlighted phrase that your lie detector finds as either a truth or a lie, but by pressing '1', you can alter the reading to fool or even try double-bluffing your rivals.
[image3]The only issues with Guilty Party stem from its forced nature. The difficulty of mini-games automatically increases if the player is doing well in story mode, unlike in multiplayer. Although you can change the difficulty in the game menu, doing so every time the game ups it almost at random is irritating to say the least, and kids might feel they're been cheated since harder mini-games don't yield any better rewards apart from meaningless badges.
Some clues can also be too restrictive, especially on the Diabolical difficulty level for mysteries. For example, one clue stated that the culprit has exactly three traits in common with the maid. That means any suspect who doesn't fit that criteria should be eliminated, but the game doesn't allow you to use that clue to eliminate anyone but the maid. More than a few times, you're trying to figure out the game's logic.
Despite several artificial restraints, Guilty Party is proof that you can turn a board game, a detective story, and mini-games - if just by combining them all together - into a title that doesn't incite collective yawns. The industry needs more titles like this, not only to convince parents and kids, but also to convince developers that educational, 'E' for Everyone games can actually be fun. And Disney, once again, is leading the charge.