Version tested: PlayStation 3
Hey everybody! It's party time! But tonight we're not gonna party like it's 1999, oh no. That's because it's 2010! Today's parties aren't about drinking, dancing and standing around in the kitchen discussing the new Catatonia album! They're about standing around in the lounge, playing videogames! And drinking.
At least, that seems to be the conclusion drawn by every single videogames company in the world ever. Blame the success of Guitar Hero. Blame the popularity of the Wii. Blame the millions of people who purchased Carnival Games (the only explanation is they forgot you're supposed to do the drinking after you've bought the game).
Whatever the reason, there are now 1045 games with the world "party" in the title available on Amazon.co.uk. Actually, make that 1046, because here comes Start the Party - Sony's newest contribution to the over-crowded and under-whelming mini-game compilation genre.
But wait - there's a twist! Start the Party is played using the PlayStation Eye camera and the new Move motion controller. Just like with the old EyeToy games, you see a mirror image of your lounge on the TV screen. However, you also see yourself holding a virtual image of whatever object the Move is currently representing - a paintbrush, a fan, a torch, et cetera.
Calibrating is a simple process - just point the controller at the camera and press the Move button for a few seconds. The moment when the on-screen controller transforms into a virtual object is quite exciting. You really can manoeuvre it around however you like and watch it behave as you'd expect, moving smoothly without any lag or juddering.
Calibrating a second controller is more difficult, because you can't. Here's the really big twist: Start the Party is an entirely turn-based party game. Not a single one of the mini-games can be played using more than one controller or by two people at the same time.
This seemed a bit bonkers, so I asked Sony about it. "Start the Party is one controller only - pass the parcel style - as none of the games are head to head," goes the official line. "We wanted to make sure that the whole family or more than one player could enjoy the game without the need to have to buy additional controllers."
Which makes sense. When you're asking casual gamers to pay £34.99 for a controller, it's probably not a good idea to insist they buy two before they can enjoy your most mass market, family-oriented, mind-the-Christmas-tree-Grandma-oh-no-the-dog's-got-her-teeth-again launch title. But why not include some two-player options as well, for those who have made the full investment in your new technology?
As it is, up to four players can compete in the turn-based Party mode. (At least, four is the maximum number of avatars you can create, which is done by assigning PS Eye mugshots you've taken to weird images of dancing tellies.) The turn-based aspect means you can end up spending a lot of time sitting about, watching other people play - so it's a good job the mini-games are short. In multiplayer mode there are nine in total and while they're not wildly varied, none of them fall foul of being the same mini-game wearing a different hat.
Highlights include Blown Away, where your job is to guide falling birds into their nests. You do this using a virtual electric fan, which is powered by pressing the trigger on the Move controller. Fail to catch the birds and they'll crash to their doom; allow the fan to get too close and they'll explode in a shower of feathers. On the Hard difficulty level this game requires a surprising amount of skill, so it's a good job Move is so responsive.
Picture This is also good fun. It involves using Move like a paintbrush to colour in shapes that appear on the screen. (Or, if you are pathetically childish, to paint big nobs.) At the end of the round, all the shapes you've painted are brought together to create a picture of something, such as a dancing monkey. (Or, if you are a secret genius, a dancing monkey made of big nobs.)
In Spooky Shootout, the screen is dark except for the spotlight thrown by your virtual torch. You must use it to light up ghosts so you can shoot them. When the big bad red ghost comes along, you have to hide the torch so he doesn't see you. It's like Alan Wake but with a more sophisticated narrative.
Spooky Shootout was a particular hit with Eurogamer's focus test group, which consisted of three four-year-old girls. They're right at the bottom end of the age range suitable for Start the Party (rated 3+ by PEGI) and they needed a bit of help with the menus and buttons. However, they insisted on playing Spooky Shootout again and again, and there was actual squealing.
The girls were also big fans of Bug Bash, perhaps because there's no button-pressing involved. You just swing your tennis racquet around to squash a load of insects, trying to avoid the bad bugs (or, if you are four, not giving a toss about the bad bugs because you're too busy squealing and treading Yoplait into the carpet).
Bug Bash isn't complex enough to keep adults entertained for very long, but it does at least contain the best joke in Start the Party. Each mini-game features commentary by an American gentleman who appears to have graduated from the Buzz Out of Buzz! Academy of Smuggery, with an A-Level in Tedious Wisecracks and a GNVQ in Shouting Clichés Because They're Sort of Relevant to What's Happening Even Though They're Not Really.
For example, during Blown Away the man yells things like, "Pride before a fall!" and "They really flocked to the nest!" When something explodes he says, "Chick-chick-chick... BOOM!"
At least that one sort of makes sense. What does "Being a chick is no fun" mean? Is the man making a socio-political comment on female oppression in a male-dominated world? Or is he just scratching around for another phrase, any phrase, which has the word "chick" in, having been banned from using "with a dick" by the crack team Sony set up following the LittleBigPlanet soundtrack fiasco and the thing about the church in Resistance?
Anyway, if you do well in Bug Bash, the man says, "You're a one-person swat team." That is the best joke in the game.
Moving on, Cut and Colour sees you using the Move controller like a pair of clippers to cut hair. It's fast-paced and pretty good fun. The same goes for Rooftop Rescue, where you pilot a remote-control helicopter by twisting the Move left and right. Your mission is to pick up people and deposit them safely on a helipad. It's too hard for younger kids but enjoyable enough for older ones.
Poppin' is less successful. The idea is a good one - use a virtual harpoon to pop coloured balloons of the same colour, avoiding bombs. In practice, it doesn't quite work. The balloons occupy the whole of the screen, making it hard to see the angle you're holding the harpoon at and whether it's in the right position to hit the correct colour.
There also seems to be a tiny bit of lag here - again, it's hard to tell with the balloons all over the place, but it doesn't feel like the game is recognising your movements or the angle of your arm quite as well as it should.
Still, it's not impossible to pop the balloons, and it's satisfying when you do. (Top tip: try holding the Move like an ice pick, and instead of pretending you're popping balloons, try pretending you're stabbing Dappy out of N-Dubz in the face again and again and again. Did I say that out loud.)
Other lowlights include Robo Rumble, where you face an army of angry robots marching towards you. On their bellies are TV screens displaying your image, and a red target which you must shoot to stop them in their tracks. It's a bit fiddly, a bit weird, and it prompted actual screaming from the four year-olds.
The real stinker is Parachute Panic. Here you must wave a giant fan to help parachutists float to safety. It's difficult to switch direction quickly, which is a problem as the parachutists are descending at a rapid rate. The result is a confusing, frustrating game, one you won't want to play more than a couple of times.
The good news is there are plenty of better mini-games in Start the Party. The bad news is there are no real gems. The more complex ones aren't complex enough to be the type of game you'd spend hours perfecting your high score on. The simpler ones are fun, and great if you've got a room full of young children to entertain, but don't offer much in the way of long-term value.
As a demonstration of how Move works, and how precise a controller it is, Start the Party is up to the task. The technology is impressive and there are some fun games to play. The problem is they're just not that entertaining once the novelty has worn off, and the game is lacking in areas where other party games have already succeeded.
For starters, it's just not funny enough. Even putting the rubbish commentary to one side, there's a lack of humour both within the games themselves and with regard to how you play them. Witnessing someone perform a Just Dance routine or mangle a SingStar track is often hilarious. Watching them wave a controller about like it's a fan isn't.
Start the Party also lacks the charm and appeal of games such as Wii Sports. There's something cold, hard and garish about the way it's all presented. There's no Guitar Hero-style sense of competition either, because the games are so basic it's hard to care much about the score.
That's not to say Start the Party isn't worth a look. Playing games with the Move controller feels fresh and fun, most of the mini-games are enjoyable and the turn-based aspect isn't a deal-breaker. It may not be the best party game out there, but it's decent, and if you're buying Move anyway it's a good way to show off your new toy to friends and family.
However, it's not worth picking up Move just to play Start the Party. The standalone game carries an RRP of £29.99. Throw in the cost of the Move camera bundle and you're looking at 80 quid. That's a lot to ask for nine unspectacular turn-based mini-games, none of which you're likely to play alone or on a long-term basis. No matter how much you've been drinking.
6 / 10
Start the Party is out later this month. PlayStation Move launches 15th September.