Mario Party: Island Tour brings Mario Party to the 3DS. With it comes the good and the bad of the series. When this party game is scaled down for a handheld, one can’t help but feel something gets lost in translation.
Mario Party: Island Tour’s primary mode uses a similar board game setup as previous games in the series, with mini-games sprinkled after a set number of turns. Unlike previous games in the series, however, the goal is no longer trying to gain the most Power Stars, and instead the objective is simply to make it to the end of the board before the other players.
Each game board comes with its own gimmick: One sees Mario and friends in a Galaxy-style stage riding miniature rockets, where winning mini-games adds strength to a rocket boost that you can later use to get to the finish line faster. Another course is set in a haunted forest where players are given magic cards that can help or hinder their progress.
The stages are all good and fun, though mini-games are used more sparingly than in previous installments (only in one stage do they have their usual consistency of one mini-game per turn). The longer gap between mini-games ends up feeling pretty noticeable, as the gimmicks to the stages can only hold your interest for so long on their own.
Thankfully, mini-game mode is always an option, where you can play any mini-game of your choosing whenever you feel like it. Or for a more challenging (and time-consuming) approach, there’s the “Bowser’s Tower” mode, which throws players in a succession of mini-games to progress through the titular tower, which also includes a boss mini-game on every fifth floor.
These additional modes come more highly recommended in an handheld iteration of Mario Party, since the “party” atmosphere of the game can gets lost on handhelds. You can link together with friends using only a single game cartridge, which is a huge bonus, but something still feels missing when everyone can just play the game from a distance instead of sharing the same console. In a strange way, the handheld Mario Party games feel more like they’re meant to be played solo compared to the more party-oriented console versions.
Admittedly, that’s not the only reason why the additional modes of the game are more recommended than the more traditional Mario Party gameplay. The board game levels, true to the nature of many entries in the series, can feel based more on luck than skill. Often times you’ll find yourself winning mini-game after mini-game, only for you (or an opponent) to land on a particular space that undoes all your accumulated achievements in a single round. You could be on your way to victory and have a bad roll of the dice bump you to last place in less than a minute. Such randomness has always been a part of Mario Party, and adds a bit of unpredictability to the affair. But one can’t help but feel after a while said randomness feels more aggravating and unfair than anything.
There is still fun to be had in Mario Party: Island Tour. The mini-games come in a wide variety of fun little endeavors that make good use of the 3DS (some use the touch screen, others motion controls, and of course the standard button presses come into play), but mini-games can only go so far.
Mario Party: Island Tour is fun while it lasts, but you may find it’s best played in small bursts in its mini-game modes, as opposed to being the get-together party game that the title suggests.