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Nintendo Wii Review: Guilty Party

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A little while back I opened my mailbox one afternoon and found a package.  Not a terribly unusual occurrence in my life, I was still somewhat curious as the package had been rerouted from an old address to my present one.  Upon opening the slightly worn padded envelope, I find a copy of a new Nintendo Wii game put out by Disney Interactive, Guilty Party.  The cover featured seven exceedingly goofy looking individuals apparently attempting to find a clue (an envelope that was not so cleverly tucked under a rug). Along with mentioning the title, the cover of the game also sported the tagline “mystery fun for everyone!”

I will admit to not being hugely intrigued by what seemed to be yet another party game for the Nintendo Wii.  There is certainly nothing wrong with party games, but the sheer volume of them that has appeared on the Nintendo system is staggering and makes it for developers and publishers to distinguish their product from someone else’s.

As we have all been told repeatedly though, don’t judge a book by its cover. That is a lesson I learned yet again with Guilty Party.  The game may not be any sort of massive blockbuster that stores open at midnight so that people can get their hands on it as early as possible, but Guilty Party is incredibly fun and a fantastic game to sit down with as a family (or, if you’re like me and a kid at heart, all alone with so that you don’t have to have others spoiling your good time).

The story the game follows is pretty simple – the head of the Dickens Detective Agency is retiring and will be leaving the agency to one of the members of his family, all of whom work for the company (the members of the family are the goofballs one the cover, each  is an amusing over the top caricature and just one of the reasons the game works).  However, the evening comes to an abrupt end when the dastardly Mr. Valentine appears and… well, I’m not going to tell you what sort of crime Valentine commits.  Your job as the player is to select a member of the family to be your avatar and to proceed through several different individual mysteries in the game in order to unmask Valentine.

The game is broken up into chapters, with each one taking place in a different setting (mansion, opera house, train, etc.).  In each of these locations there is a single mystery that has to be solved and which will not only lead you to a specific guilty party for that mystery, but will help advance the story to the next location and thereby draw you ever closer to the elusive Valentine. 

In order to solve each mystery, players take turns talking to characters and searching rooms for clues.  These turns are executed via the use of tokens – you are given a set number per turn and they are used to move to different rooms, question suspects, and examine potential evidence.  Run out of tokens and your turn ends (in single player turns still end but then it is instantly your turn again). 

By collecting the bits of evidence you end up being able to draw a sketch of your suspect in your Detective Notebook.  Many clues are irrelevant to identifying the suspect (although do help piece together exactly what took place) and the sketch is purely a rudimentary one based on four characteristics – hair length, gender, weight, and height.  Once you can answer all four of those things you are ready to accuse one of the characters and advance.

It all sounds so basic and so simple, but looks can definitely be deceiving.  Not only are the individual mysteries absurdly funny, but the minigames one has to play in order to win the clue from the suspect can be a hoot as well.  One minigame asks that you stare a suspect in the eye, another that you catch word bubbles, a third that you put money in their hand to bribe them, a fourth that you recreate a picture of their favorite foods, and the list goes on from there.  Each minigame changes slightly over the course of the larger game so it is always just different enough to keep you on your toes.

Beyond the changes in the minigames as you progress, the clues themselves become harder to recognize to the point where even many adults will have to ponder over exactly what they’ve learned in order to correctly identify the suspect.  It is never frustratingly difficult, but what first appears to be a walk in the park turns into something much more intense.  There is also a limit to the number of turns one can take before the guilty party escapes, but it in our tests that limit was never even close to being approached.

The intensity is only ratcheted up by the addition of the fact that suspects can lie to you.  Each detective is equipped with a handy-dandy lie detector to let you know whether they’re telling the truth or not, and in a multiplayer competitive game that becomes crucially important.  As everyone can see the clues and screens at the same time, in a competitive multiplayer game (cooperative multiplayer is also available) you can press a button on the Wii remote to cause the lie detector to lie so that others won’t know whether or not the on screen clue is true.  

The game is made more complex still by the addition of Savvy Cards.  One of these cards is given to you each turn and they allow you to do things like move around without it costing you a token, bring a suspect to you, and unlock doors.  Conversely, in competitive mode, they can also lock doors and hamper your human opponents in other ways.

Guilty Party is this small, unassuming, title that ends up being so much more.  The mysteries themselves are funny, the characters hysterical, and there is actually a bit of a challenge in puzzling out whodunit.  The addition of both cooperative and competitive gameplay works brilliantly as does the Party Mode feature.  This last area is particularly smart – once you’ve unlocked a level in Story Mode you can play it in Party Mode… sort of.  You see, the Guilty Party changes up the minigames and whodunit in Party Mode so that you can replay chapters over and over again, always with a slightly different experience (or at least as different as any game of Clue ever was).

If you are someone who is looking to take that basic mystery board game to the next level, Guilty Party is a great way to do it.  The game truly can be fun for all ages and the fact that it changes as you go really improves the replay value.  It would be nice to see the game further expanded with even more chapters, so here’s hoping for a sequel.

Guilty Party is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB for Comic Mischief, Mild Cartoon Violence.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.