To truly ‘start the party’, the first thing you need is people. I observe this purely because as I put the finishing touches to this review, I’m examining the game solo, with my guests long since departed, exactly in the manner the developers didn’t intend. The surprising thing for me (for passing neighbours it’s seeing a grown man on his own leaping around swatting imaginary flies) is that it’s actually quite good fun even on your own, and while it doesn’t have the volume of games to rival something like Warioware, Start the Party is a good, if limited, selection of games which use the Move Controller really quite well.
As you’ll have gathered from both the name and a cursory glance at the box-art – which shows 20-something actors pretending to have the time of their life doing wacky things with a ‘fun’ font - it’s a party game. You’ll also notice that it contains a big graphic saying “Move Required”, which means if you don’t have the new motion control pad, then you can’t play. You do only need a single Move controller though, as all the games are turn based, and up to four people can play at once, perhaps meaning that it should more accurately be titled “Start the Selective Social Gathering”, but given the small sizes of Playstation 3 game cases, they’d have no room left for the 20-somethings having fun, so it’s a small compromise.
So what does a round involve? Well, if you’re playing with friends, you begin by sorting your avatar out – this means you strike a pose in front of the camera and speak your name out loud. Your photo then appears in a little box on legs, and your name will be called out when it’s your go. Once everyone is in, players take it in turns to play all the games allocated for them, and these involve wholesome activities like swatting flies, using an electric fan to blow falling birds into nests, and waking up a bird before a cat eats it. Although the game selection is random in the main mode, different rules apply for each round in terms of how points are allocated, with some rounds requiring the players to steal points from each other, while others allocate purely based on performance. The round structure shouldn’t throw up too many surprises for anyone familiar with the Buzz series of quiz games, although it does play with the formula at times, allowing players to draw on their opponents faces, or rename their sound-file to something rude. Certainly good talking points and ideal party fodder.
It’s a very polished product. The game controls really well, with no games feeling disconnected from the controller as they do in other titles of this ilk, and they really take advantage of the Move controller’s ability to check position in three dimensional space. You have to lean forwards and prod with the Move wand to pop fish, and using it as an electric fan results in a gentle vibration from the pad when the button is pressed in. It’s very easy to lose yourself in the illusion of the games, in part helped by the excellent usage of augmented reality. You appear in the game, as do any of your friends who happen to walk into shot, but the graphics appear in the room alongside you. Likewise, the Move wand in your hand appears onscreen as whatever tool you’re carrying – a cartoon paintbrush, or a hammer, or a magnifying glass. It’s a little thing but it’s really impressively implemented, twisting and turning on screen as you move the remote in your hand, helping the games themselves feel instantly accessible without the need to watch the tutorial for each game. The upshot of this is the game looks and feels akin to Who Framed Roger Rabbit, with real life humans living alongside cartoons in limited harmony.
The presentation is spot-on throughout, actually. It’s cutesy, without feeling like it’s aimed exclusively at the Ben-10 crowd. Cartoon knitted cats and dinosaurs that roar adorably sit alongside whatever item your Move wand appears as in any given round, wobbling as you move the Move controller in your hand. The image from the camera is a little grainy, but is perfectly serviceable and seeing you and your friends scramble around on screen is something that doesn’t get old. This is something the game seems to appreciate as it takes sneaky screenshots throughout the game, and plays them back in a slideshow after the final round.
The music fares less well, but a lot of that is down to personal taste – the announcer is keen to play up the ‘wackiness’ of the games involved, and regularly shouts unhelpful bits of commentary over the top. In truth, the real commentary this sort of game needs is the sledging or (if your friends are unusually pleasant) words of encouragement from your party. The sound effects themselves could have come straight from the Warner Brothers cartoon sound cupboard and fit the mood perfectly – what other noise would you expect when you hit a mole with an oversized novelty mallet?
It’s a triumph for any party game to have single player that is beyond passable, and impressively Start the Party manages this. It allows you to play any of the games unlocked, or to play them at random in a Warioware style survival mode, where your time meter is constantly ticking down. Getting anything above 2:00 tops the pre-generated high-score table and unlocks a trophy, but if my attempts are anything to go by, getting beyond four minutes would be an achievement. Sure, it won’t keep you entertained for months on end, but in a genre where the very idea of booting up the game on your own would be out of the question, it’s a sign that the developers are doing something right with their game design.
Two things might strike you about this review: 1) It’s incredibly positive, and 2) It’s not long. And sadly, the latter is the big problem with the game. The marketing literature suggests there’s over 20 mini-games, and while I haven’t counted myself, it really doesn’t feel that high – I’m not sure if they reached that figure by counting different difficulties (which sometimes change the way they’re performed), but the games repeat after a single game. While all the mini-games here are polished, and it’s definitely better to have quality over quantity (anybody who remembers the 50 mini games in Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz will vouch for that), it does mean I’d struggle to justify a solid recommendation to buy it, especially at full price. A rental is definitely recommended however – Start the Party does exactly what the title suggests, but with a limited number of games on the disk, you’re going to need something else to finish it.
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