A huge collection of minigames, along with a black Wii Motion Plus Wiimote, might be enough to make Wii Party U a good value for some Wii U owners looking for casual gaming with friends.
Wii Party U (WPU), as its awkward title implies, is best played with others. While many of the modes and mini-games work single player versus random CPU generated Miis, you'll be missing out on the social aspects of local gaming, and therein lie the laughs and good times are to be had for games like these and Wii Sports. Without that supporting cast, WPU is about as satisfying and rewarding of an experience as a 'time killer' mobile game.
That obvious caveat aside, WPU does offer an impressive assortment of games and game types for 1-4 players to partake in. The games are split into four sometimes-overlapping categories that include party modes known as TV, House, and Gamepad, and then a general Minigames category. Everything is available at the outset, and if you're curious how others in the Miiverse are rating the games, or want some suggestions from Party Phil (the in-game "circus leader" avatar) he's happy to suggest a game after you tell him the number of players (1-4) that will be participating. The Miiverse reviews, which are based on a five star system, is a welcomed feature and after playing each type of game, you are also able to submit your own rating and optional comment, too. Amazing Feats and Records, both those locally set and from the Miiverse, are viewable as well under the Archives area of the main menu.
WPU requires both the Gamepad and a Wiimote, the latter of which is included in the box. The inclusion of a black Wiimote with Wii Motion Plus built-in, along with the black wrist strap, Wiimote gel cover, and the Gamepad horizontal stand add a lot of value to this $50 package. Many of the minigames require the Wiimote to control, and the 1 Vs Rivals mode, which most of the games support, pit the Gamepad player (referred to as GPP going forward) against up to three others playing with Wiimotes. I'll discuss some of these specific games shortly, but first, let's take a closer look at the three main Party modes.
In TV Party, the games tend to last from 40-60 minutes, depending on the number and skill of players. These are basically a series of minigames, the same ones you can play from the minigames category, but they're encapsulated as a bigger board games. Five different board games are here, including the jungle themed Gamepad Island, the fashion-show based Mii Fashion Plaza, and a soccer-themed game called Team Builder.
Next up is the House Party mode that contains eight games. While containing some competitive elements, these are essentially co-op themed mini-games. The most popular of these is Button Smashers, in which the Gamepad and Wiimotes are placed next to each other and then the game challenges players to work together to press and hold more and more buttons simultaneously. It's sort of like Twister, but for hands, and as goofy as that sounds, it can yield some laughs. Similar to Pictionary is the Lost-and-Found Square game where the player with the Gamepad gives the other players hints on his or her surroundings, which the other players cannot see. The goal is to help the other players locate you within the time limit. A personality quiz and a fast food cashier simulator (in which the GPP tries to keep track of the other's orders) are also available.
A Gamepad-only mode is included for two players. Utilizing the included Gamepad horizontal stand, the Gamepad can rest perfectly level on your table. The stand is too lightweight and nicely tucked out of the way to be bothersome when the Gamepad is handled normally, i.e., not resting on a table, which I appreciated. Seven more games are available in this tabletop mode including foosball, baseball, a memory game, and a team-based sliding tile puzzle game.
For quick and even less commital play sessions, just hitting up the Minigames mode opens up a large collection of games. These can be played with all four players on an even playing field or with one player controlling the Gamepad while the others play in a quasi-co-op manner to outlast or survive the GPP. In addition to being able to browse the games and make your pick, a few modes within this category bundle sets of random minigames together in an effort to keep things interesting. For single player action, the Dojo Domination is fun. It pits you against a class of thirty "martial arts students" and you have an HP meter that drops by three each time you do not win a random 1 vs 3 minigame round. After running through it on beginner, the Standard and then Hard difficulty modes unlock. It only takes about fifteen or twenty minutes to play through, and its randomness and the simplistic and fun nature of most of the minigames make it surprisingly fun in spurts.
So what are some of the included games? I took some notes on some of the ones I liked and didn't like. I did not like the Balloon Popper game, which players hold the Wiimote horizontally and use the d-pad and one of the buttons to move around trying to smash balloons on each others backs. The d-pad didn't work well enough to make this mode worthwhile. I did enjoy the helicopter game in which you have to wind up each rotor before hopping in and seeing if your helicopter flies the highest. Winding up each rotor evenly is critical otherwise your helicopter sails off in one direction or the other, which is funny to see, but isn't likely to get you any wins. The Jump Darts game was also fun. Picture four players on their own trampolines, jumping up and trying to time dart-throwing (done by pressing A) to accurately hit a large board that has colored rows with a different points number (10, 20, 30, 50) per row. These rows move once they are hit, and the goal is to hit as many rows for the most points in the time allotted. The Moonbase Escape was also alright; in this mode, players have to run through multiple doors, looking at their four edges to see which way they need to flick the Wiimote to open that door so that they can get to the next one. The first player to open up all of their doors and get out of the moonbase wins.
Less interesting but still somewhat fun with friends was UFO Zap-Up and Zig Ziggurat. In UFO Zap-Up, the GPP controls a flying saucer with a tractor beam. He has to catch up to the running Miis and hold A while keeping that player in the beam long enough to pull them into the ship. A time limit forces the GPP to hurry. Zig Ziggurat has the GPP using the touchscreen to drop stones onto the top of a Mayan-style temple. The other players don't know where the next pieces will fall, but they have to survive until the timer expires. I was not a big fan of Shutter Shy, in which the GPP has to rotate the Gamepad around to try and spot the other players who are running around a circular fountain that the GPP is in the middle of. The GPP has to spot the others and snap their photos, but intermittent water bursts from within the fountain make visibility a challenge.
You Can't Catch Mii was fun; in this game, the GPP is invisible, and he must remain hidden from the other players who are feverishly walking around a room trying to find him. The room is like a classic Pac-Man maze; if the GPP touches certain tiles, they glow, giving away his position. Penalty Kick Challenge wasn't fun as it put players with the Gamepad in the role of a goalkeeper trying to block penalty shots. Rather than swipe or tap left or right, you have to move the Gamepad entirely to the left or right; it isn't fast enough nor does it jive ergonomically well enough to be enjoyable. Ninja Scramble was cool, as I like minigames that test your sight. In Ninja Scramble, the other players go underwater, and the GPP can only see their shadows. The game randomly picks the character you have to keep track of and then its up to the underwater players to dart around trying to confuse the GPP before the clock runs out and he has to try and pick which shadow corresponds to the correct Mii. In Catch A Wave, the Gamepad mic is used. The player has to speak into this mic to create bumps and spikes in an otherwise flat wave graph. The goal is to force the other players into the electric field above their heads by changing the sound of your voice. Finally, one of my favorite minigames has the GPP in one pirate ship, and the other player(s) on another ship. Each player has a 3x3 tile puzzle to solve, the type where you move the tiles around to reveal an image. As soon as the image puzzle is complete, the ship fires a cannon at the other ship, damaging it. The frenzied nature of this game, which is found in quite a few of the minigames, makes for a lot of laughs with friends.
I thought WPU tied all of these modes and minigames together pretty well and presented them in a very simple, but functional and easy to navigate manner. I also liked how the Rules and the Controls were clearly spelled out before each game. All in all, WPU serves its purpose well as a casual gaming experience with friends and family that is sure to yield a lot of laughs. At the same time, not every game included is worth a second look, but many are.
And with that, let's get to the summary...