Mario Party: Island Tour marks the debut of Nintendo’s long-running soiree series on the 3DS, and while the game makes a decent effort to differentiate itself from previous entries by introducing a variety of uniquely designed boards that each have their own individual set of rules, the core gameplay model is so flavorless that nearly every new feature quickly becomes mixed in with the primarily luck-based advancement that’s marred these titles in recent years. Despite developer Nd Cube’s commendable job of transferring the festive Mario Party aesthetic to the 3DS, they fail to render Island Tour’s trio of main modes (Party, Minigames, and Bowser’s Tower) enjoyable for more than an approximately 45-minute span.
Inexplicably, Bowser’s Tower, a purely single-player endeavor, seems to have received far more developmental attention than necessary. For the lone few who play Mario Party by themselves, the notoriously cheap CPUs are gone, replaced by a bumbling trio of idiotic opponents who never display a difficulty level beyond laughably easy. Only the occasional boss floor offers a brief respite from the routine brainlessness. It’s unfortunate that Island Tour isn’t able to strike a balance between inbred and Einstein when it comes to its computer-controlled adversaries, finally creating a solo Mario Party experience that approaches bearable.
Thankfully, venturing into Party mode scenarios is a great deal more tolerable. The variation in objectives stretches past the typical bored-game rigmarole and into uncharted territory that frequently invites cruel, comeback-heavy sabotage. Banzai Bill’s Mad Mountain, for example, stands out for its chance assault from a massive Bullet Bill that bumps all players who made the unwise decision to not use their allotted move to slip into a hiding spot back to the beginning. Another map, Kamek’s Carpet Ride, ditches the standard dice tossing in favor of playing cards that make it less random when dictating how far you’ll go on each turn. The colorful Rocket Road has a space-race theme; collecting power boosts for your cartoony jetcraft is the predominant route to victory. Bower’s Peculiar Peak, though, is a truly maddening, albeit strangely welcome, anomaly, punishing the player who arrives at the finish line first instead of the other way around, provoking a stark reversal of strategy in endgame situations.
Even with these fresh twists to the standard Mario Party formula, Island Tour still runs out of steam at a relatively expedited clip. Egregiously, there’s no online multiplayer to speak of; only local competition is supported via Download Play, meaning that a solitary cartridge can support up to four players. With this comes considerable lag times and drop rates, adding to the already ample frustration involved in the connectivity procedure. Of course, any given Mario Party can’t exist without a robust roster of minigames, and while its catalogue is far from impressive, Island Tour isn’t a total bust in that category. The best options make good use of the 3DS’s touchscreen, stylus, microphone, and gyroscopic capabilities, even attempting to resurrect the system’s all but forgotten AR cards in the process, taking full advantage of the hardware to establish several handheld-friendly undertakings that require authentic skill to complete. Sadly, the bulk of the selections here represent a mishmash of revisited fare that repeatedly relies on serendipity more than dexterity. Additionally, team battles and three-on-one bouts, producers of many a hilariously heated argument among companions in earlier installments, have been curiously nixed. By in large, with Island Tour, it seems that for every admirable decision made by the developers, there were a pair of poor ones that followed, leading to a final product that loses its carnivalesque entertainment value faster than ol’ King Koopa can relocate Princess Peach to another castle.