Wii Party U offers another strong reason why the Wii U's Gamepad controller makes sense for families. Although the second screen technological is readily available on other platforms, albeit not in exactly the same package, it's only in Nintendo's hands that we see this properly leveraged for family fun.
Developer Nd Cube, who are famous for work on both Mario Party 9 and Wii Party on the original Wii, make intelligent use of the controller with a close eye on the detail. It is these small touches, of balancing game-play, adding novelty and creating a considerable level of nuance to the controls, that makes Wii Party U the success it is.
With so many games to choose from, this could have become a bewildering array of choices. Cleverly then Wii Party U structures itself around a board game mechanic that will make sense to both gamers and non-gamers.
- TV Party offers a range of traditional (and not so traditional) board game experiences that tie together a variety of themed mini-games.
- House Party has games that use your physical location and proximity to other players, whether that's the Twister-like contortions of Button Battle, room wandering of Lost-And-Found or gurning expressions of Name That Face.
- GamePad Party offers two player one-on-one challenges using just the GamePad without the TV.
Different mini-games will appeal to different families. In my tests one stand out game was the Lost-And-Found Square. Here one player uses the Gamepad controller to look around the game-world and tries to describe where they are to the others who must race to find them. It works really well as rather than testing reactions or skills with the controls this is really a test of the Gamepad player's ability to accurately describe their surroundings and for the other players to listen.
Another game that worked well was a 3 vs 1 Block Drop mode that pitted one player with the Gamepad against the other three players using Wii Remotes. The Gamepad is used to drop blocks on the others who must run around to try and avoid them. The genius here is the clever balancing of the controls so that the Wii Remote players are just fast enough to evade being squashed if they pay close attention.
Button Battle takes things in a more physical direction. Having placed both Wii U Gamepad and Wii Remotes on the coffee table it tasks players with pressing a combination of buttons. As things progress it becomes increasingly harder to reach your button without disturbing your neighbor. Kind of like a table-top game of twister.
Finally there are a series of Table Top games that just use the Gamepad placed between two players. These present simple challenges that work because of the proximity of each player and felt much like playing table-top arcade games often found in bars and restaurants.
Wii U Party won't appeal to everyone, and certainly there will be many hard-core gamers still to be convinced. However, for families, the combination of this alongside Nintendo Land, Zelda Wind Waker and both Wii Fit U and Mario Kart 8 on the horizon will make the Wii U an attractive proposition this Christmas.