Wii Party

It's all Mii, Mii, Mii...

It's E3 2010. Nintendo's booth is swarming with journalists and other industry types queuing for hours on end to gawp at a 3DS for all of five minutes, or to swing a remote at Zelda: Skyward Sword. A game of NBA Jam draws a small crowd, whooping and shouting as an eleventh-hour dunk earns the Lakers an unlikely victory. Others tap their feet impatiently, waiting to try out Kirby's Epic Yarn or Donkey Kong Country Returns.

Meanwhile a pretty blonde girl, complete with perfect tan and Hollywood smile, stands alone and bored, casually swinging a Wii remote. All becomes clear as she briefly moves to the side of the monitor and the title screen of the game she's demoing comes into view.

That's right: Mario Sports Mix.

The brunette beside the next pod along is having only a little more success in distracting the gaggle of geeks from the big names. She's showing people how to play Wii Party, as if anyone needed any assistance with a game this simple.

The title's announcement at Nintendo's earlier press briefing was greeted with a polite smattering of applause rather than the raucous hollering for Link, DK and company. Not that Nintendo should be concerned - more than 600,000 copies have already been shifted in Japan, where Wii Party is still riding high in the charts six weeks after launch.

This comes as no surprise given the popularity of the Mario Party series, Wii Party's spiritual predecessor. Why mess with the formula ? After all, the eighth edition of Mario Party easily passed the 7 million sales marker.

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There's barely a square on the board that doesn't have you jumping forwards or backwards, being picked up by a pterodactyl or attacked by falling rocks from an erupting volcano.

Perhaps Nintendo thought it was time for a fresh start, having noticed reviewers becoming increasingly unimpressed with a simple increase in the mini-game tally each year. The last game made pretty poor use of the Wii remote, too, though at least it wasn't burdened by the pathetic GameCube microphone peripheral used in the previous two.

So what does Wii Party bring to the table? Each Wii-branded title from Nintendo has introduced us to something a little different. Wii Sports heralded a brave new world of motion controls; Wii Fit got people to wobble around on a set of bathroom scales in the name of exer-gaming; Wii Sports Resort introduced finer control in the form of MotionPlus; Wii Music made millions of people instantly lose a little respect for Shigeru Miyamoto.

The thinking behind Wii Party is clear: Nintendo simply wants to create a fun party game for all the family. For once, it's not asking anyone to spend extra money on hardware - assuming you've already got three or four remotes. This is definitely a better game when more players are involved.

For the most part we're in familiar territory: around 80 new mini-games, several different modes... But this time round, Miis replace the characters from the Mushroom Kingdom.

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Your Muppet-like host introduces the games in babbling nonsense-speak, much like Wii Music's Sebastian Tute.

This switch makes a surprising difference. A substantial portion of Wii Party's appeal comes from the simple appearance of Nintendo's charmingly rudimentary avatars. As well as your own creations, you can play with any you've downloaded from the Mii Channel. So instead of Mario and Bowser facing off yet again, you can pit Chewbacca against C-3P0 - or maybe your mother-in-law against Hitler.A pizza delivery scooter race has a more satisfying payoff when you see that it's Einstein who ordered the sloppy Guiseppe with extra peppers.

Miis are an often underrated weapon in Nintendo's armoury. They're put to particularly brilliant use here, dressed in jockey outfits for a horse race or a suit and bow tie for a Wheel of Fortune-style mode.

They punch the air with delight when they win and their shoulders slump in an amusingly sulky way when they lose. They pop up at both sides of the screen clapping and cheering when something exciting happens, or booing and shaking their fists when a player suffers some kind of misfortune.

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