The words “Wii party game” conjure up some pretty specific associations, few of them good. At this point in the Wii’s lifecycle, “party game” has come to mean a mini-game collection full of boring little tasks executed in insultingly stupid environments. Putting the Disney name at the front does little to inspire goodwill, considering the grim history of Disney video games. But Disney Guilty Party overcame my trepidation. It’s not a masterpiece, but it’s a great experience, and a promising new path for family games, and it’s exciting to see a family game where story and aesthetics get the same level of attention that you would expect of a good movie.
Disney Guilty Party is a Clue-style mystery board game for the digital age. Each level is a new environment in which one of a group of NPC suspects has committed a crime. Players take turns looking for evidence and interrogating suspects via witty mini-games, and then assemble what they’ve learned to identify the culprit. Strategy is further complicated by a token system that imposes a cost on each move and randomized obstacles that must be overcome with equally randomized Savvy cards. Players are also occasionally confronted with group challenges that demand everyone work together, which keeps people from dozing when it isn’t their turn.
The mini-games themselves are nothing special (if they were a little better, this would be a perfect game instead of just a good one), but they’re perfectly enjoyable for the 30 seconds it takes to play them. Where Disney Guilty Party shines is in the mystery elements—not so much the actual assembling of clues, which is fairly automatic, but the style with which the mystery is presented. The writing is genuinely funny (and delivered by a veritable who’s-who of great character actors), the animation is charming, and the art design is flat-out beautiful. This game really proves how so-so gameplay can be redeemed by vast amounts of style; in their raw form, none of the game’s elements seem that exciting, but when they’re assembled with so much panache, the experience becomes terrifically enjoyable.
After you’ve completed the relatively short campaign, gameplay is extended with Challenge Modes that change the crimes, the suspects, and the deduction methods, providing lots of replay value. There’s also a competitive mode, which is only for advanced players (its mechanisms are much harder to parse than co-op, and the beggar-thy-neighbor strategy it requires might cause family tension on par with asking why Junior looks so much like the milkman), but those who can take it will find a lot of strategic interest.
The experience of playing Disney Guilty Party isn’t much like playing Wii Sports (the Holy Grail that most Wii party games aim for). Instead, Wideload Games has created an interactive version of a family movie—the perfect fusion of playing a good board game and watching a favorite cartoon. The story and characters pull you in and the interaction keeps people involved, with a healthy dose of thinking alongside the reflex tests. Disney Guilty Party may be the best family-night toy since the Wii itself.
Disney Guilty Party. Publisher: Disney Interactive Studios. Developer: Wideload Games. Release Date: August 26, 2010. Platform: Wii. ESRB: E. ESRB Descriptors: Comic mischief, mild cartoon violence. To purchase, click here.