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Review: With luck, Wii Party can be a great family game

What would happen if you removed Mario from Mario Party? You'd get Wii Party (ESRB: Everyone), a new collection of 80 quick and simple mini-games starring Miis – the Wii's cute custom avatars – in place of Nintendo's popular plumber.

This latest triumph of all-ages-both-genders-every-skill-level accessibility from Nintendo's in-house studios has players gently pumping their Wii remotes to sooth crying babies, tilting them to balance a stack of presents, and swinging them to chop down a tree.

Unless you're a Grinch, any argument suggesting that these 30-second shots of entertainment aren't fun is pretty much untenable. They're instant dopamine drivers that deliver small but satisfying jolts of pleasure. The delight extracted from correctly counting the number of passengers on a train speeding by or successfully leaping over a series of logs and barrels is surprising but undeniable, regardless of whether you're a snooty old executive or a hyperactive kindergartener.

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Even the seemingly novel "house party" games – which have players engaging in such peculiar activities as hiding remotes behind cushions and under chairs for others to locate based on the brief sounds they emit or passing a single remote around like a hot potato – are unexpectedly compelling for grown-ups and kids alike.

However, the overarching games in which these speedy little blasts of fun appear may prove frustrating – especially for more competitive players.

Mini-games randomly pop up while playing a handful of larger games. For example, in Spin-Off – a competition to collect the most medals – each time the giant wheel is spun there's a chance the pointer will stop on a mini-game square, causing players to, say, begin a bike race to deliver a pizza or guide their Miis as they descend through an asteroid field to land on the surface of the moon.

  • The Goods Platform: Wii The Good: Mini-games are highly varied and generally a hoot. Accessibility is through the roof; anyone can understand (and have fun solving) two-piece puzzles and simple gravity mazes. The Bad: Abundance of random game-changing events will frustrate more competitive players. The Verdict: Nintendo’s latest collection of mini-games contains moments of undeniable delight for all ages—especially when played in a family setting—but groups of experienced players may grow miffed by the emphasis placed on luck.

The problem is that the level of randomness in these grander games is often such that skill plays a vanishingly small role.

Take Board Game Island, a dice-based race up a mountain. You could win almost every mini-game and be miles ahead of your nearest competitor when suddenly a random event arrests your progress for several turns or, worse, forces you to swap positions with the last-place player. It's arbitrary to the point of unfairness; almost like a gussied up game of Snakes and Ladders.

I'm all for making sure everyone has a good time – it's fantastic that my five-year-old daughter has a legitimate chance of winning when playing against her parents; this is Nintendo's all-but-patented magic – but it would be nice if there were at least an option for groups of skilled players to ratchet down the luck factor. Winning would be much more rewarding, and losing far less frustrating.

Wii Party is destined to be the game on every Wii-owning family's holiday wish list this year. Fair enough; few other games can engage players within such a broad range of ages and experience levels simultaneously. It's just a shame that teens and parents won't have much use for it once the family's younger members have gone to bed.

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