Disney Guilty Party
From: Wideload Games/Disney Interactive
ESRB Rating: Everyone (comic mischief)
If you want to know what it’s like to play “Disney Guilty Party” by yourself, set up a game of “Clue” and invite no one to play with you. You might find a way to have fun for a little while, and those with active imaginations could certainly dream up a scenario in which they’re legitmately competing against themselves.
But playing “Party” without the party simply doesn’t compare to playing with up to three others, and because there’s no online multiplayer component to appease those who lack the luxury of live company, the game is nearly impossible to recommend to those who’d only play alone.
That, however, is not a slight to “Party,” which clearly was designed with social play in mind and thrives beautifully when played that way. Developer Wideload Games takes a good enough collection of roughly 50 minigames and bakes it into a clue-gathering chase that, in addition to tweaking the “Clue” formula just enough to freshen it up without rendering it unrecognizable, has players competing against the unidentified culprit as well as each other.
“Party” sets itself up like a game of “Clue” by dropping players in a cartoony mansion, establishing a makeshift storyline for sake of context, and shrouding the culprit behind a handful of clues pertaining to his or her physical characteristics. Players collect clues by winning those minigames, which are simple but brisk in a manner that will remind “WarioWare” fans of that series, and from there it’s a matter of deducing the innocent and correctly nabbing the perp before he or she escapes.
“Party” does include a story mode that, in addition to establishing a larger context around these cases, lets players fly solo and play strictly to decipher the clues. But while there’ s still some satisfaction to solving the cases, it’s dampened — and not simply because you’ll play the minigames by yourself and win them by default. The story mode allows up to three other players to join in cooperatively and work together, which is certainly more fun, but even this undermines too much of what makes “Party” great when cooperation becomes competition.
“Party’s” competitive multiplayer takes the characters and scenarios from the story mode and randomly shuffles enough factors that players essentially get a new case almost every time they play. The minigames actually matter in this mode, because the winner gets ownership of the clue at stake and, thanks to a trick that’s both necessary and ingenious, can stealthily use the Wii remote to turn the clue into a lie when other players see it on the screen. Players can perpetuate additional bluffs in their notebook, turning “Party” into a game of detective poker that brilliantly allows players to deceive one another while still sharing the same screen.
“Party” does what it does quite well, with mysteries that are the right mix of quick, challenging and accessible and with minigames that change the pace of the action without ever being the focus of that action. The character designs are terrific, and the game handles deception spotlessly by giving players the tools to use it and letting them take it from there. Tallied up, it’s an enviably good party game for a system that’s overloaded with wannabes. Give it a look if you have friends to play with, and find some friends to play with if you don’t.
Galactic Taz Ball
For: Nintendo DS
From: WayForward Technologies/WB Games
ESRB Rating: Everyone (comic mischief)
One player’s idea of innovation is another player’s obnoxious gimmicky solution to a problem that never existed, and a few screenshots from the seemingly innocuous “Galactic Taz Ball” may as well accompany the Wikipedia entry that details this debate.
“Ball’s” storyline is easy enough to explain — Marvin the Martian and his fleet have invaded Earth, and Taz the Tasmanian Devil takes it into his own paws to stop him — and if the game had come out 10 years ago, the gameplay probably wouldn’t need any kind of explanation at all. Players control Taz in a game that’s 80 percent overhead platformer and 20 percent sidescrolling platformer, and each of the game’s 25 levels and accompanying boss fights incorporate both perspectives intermittently.
But instead of moving Taz using the directional pad in the overhead levels, players use a virtual trackball on the DS’ bottom screen to push him around. Taz responds with the same momentum a cursor would when using a PC trackball, and repeatedly spinning the trackball causes him to transform into his tornado form, which sends him careering around chaotically and allows him to wreak havoc on enemies and obstacles that otherwise would impede progress. (The only function the buttons provide goes toward a ground pound attack, which handily doubles as a means to bring Taz’s momentum to a standstill.)
Mastering the mannerisms of the virtual trackball takes practice, particularly because “Ball’s” tutorial doesn’t extensively explain those mannerisms. But once it becomes second nature, it’s a blast. “Ball’s” overworld levels are full of moving platforms and narrow terrain, and while controlling Taz is deliberately more chaotic with the trackball than it would be with buttons, the trackball is plenty responsive enough to maintain a controlled chaos instead of something that feels completely unwieldy and cheap. The trackball also is nice and life-sized, comprising the majority of the bottom screen (and, consequently, validating “Ball’s” choice of this platform over other touchscreen-enabled devices).
The sidescrolling stuff is a bit stranger. As the story somewhat explains, Taz cedes all control to a series of conveyor belts, cannons, rotating platforms and other gadgets that players activate and deactivate to guide him from entrance to exit. The levels play out like puzzles, and players who want to find the hidden collectables needed to unlock “Ball’s” secret content will have to lead Taz down alternate routes that are more difficult to traverse than the basic routes. (“Ball” also peppers the overhead levels with a few out-of-way collectables, and between making it fun to find these collectables and further rewarding players who complete the overhead levels under a par time, there significantly more replay value than the 25-level count originally implies.)
But while the sidescrolling portions are a fun challenge for those who aspire to find those hidden routes, they also make a case for sticking with old control conventions when old conventions would suffice. Tapping the gadgets to activate them makes sense, but players also must “swipe” Taz to turn him around and tap him to make him march forward. “Ball” occasionally confuses fast swipes for taps, which can cause any number of unwanted factors to sabotage progress, and there’s no good reason for this to happen while so many buttons sit on the bench.
Dead Rising 2: Case Zero
For: Xbox 360 via Xbox Live Marketplace
From: Blue Castle Games/Capcom
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, language, sexual themes, use of alcohol)
Capcom has positioned “Dead Rising 2: Case Zero” as a piece of purchasable marketing that doubles as a prequel to the upcoming “Dead Rising 2.” But for those who got excited about the original “Dead Rising” but hated how Capcom laid it out back in 2006, “Zero” might accidentally serve as a cheap reminder not to make the same mistake twice. Like “Rising,” “Zero” is a third person zombie-slaying simulator,
and while the scope here isn’t as large as it was then or will be in “DR2” proper, the game still lets players massacre schools of zombies with just about any object not bolted to the ground in a pretty spacious open world. “Zero” uses assets from the upcoming game, and in addition to introducing players to main character Chuck in a short storyline set three years prior, it also introduces players to Chuck’s ability to combine two weapons into a third, thoroughly ridiculous weapon. But “Zero” also reintroduces players to “Rising’s” unique structure, which places hard time limits on every objective in the game and stacks them in a way that forces players to forgo certain missions in order to complete others (and essentially replay the game, with all accumulated experience points carrying over, numerous times to complete every objective). The system was as polarizing as it was original, and while those who loved it will adore Capcom’s sticking to its guns four years later, it’s might make “DR2” a non-starter for those who didn’t.