Yes, I know what you’re thinking - “Another Wii game with ‘Party’ in the title? Think I’ll skip this review and see what VGChartz thinks of Atelier Rorona.” If you take that stance, then I find you guilty of missing out on one hilariously fun multiplayer experience.
The thing that’s most obvious as soon as you boot up Disney’s Guilty Party is its desire to be treated like an awesome 1990s Saturday morning cartoon. You’ve got the very catchy theme song/opening montage, and every level of the main game is set up like a self-contained episode in a continuing serial. It seems that the wife of infamous detective Commodore Dickens has been kidnapped by his archenemy, Mr. Valentine. Unfortunately, the Commodore takes this opportunity to retire, and thus it is up to the sleuthing skills of the extended Dickens family to search for and rescue the damsel in distress. Your adventures will take you from the Dickens mansion to a speeding train, and all the way up in the sky to Mr. Valentine’s personal blimp.
Each level of the story mode has its own mystery to solve (such as figuring out who knocked out the train conductor) which ties into the bigger problem of finding Valentine, and each is playable with one to four players. The entire game is set up like a board game, not entirely unlike Clue. Taking control of one of the six Dickens family members (detective archetypes ranging from the tubby in the trench coat to the butt-kicking ‘Murder, She Wrote’ granny), players take turns interrogating witnesses, finding clues, and putting together a picture of the suspect. If you choose to search an area for a clue or interrogate a witness, you’ll have to win a short minigame - such as using the Wii Remote to tickle someone until they talk — in order to gather information to help with your case.
At the beginning of each player’s turn, they are given some ‘action’ tokens which represent the amount of actions they can take. Moving to another room, performing an interrogation, or examining a clue area each take one token, and if you fail at a minigame you must use another token if you wish to try again. It’s important to spend these tokens wisely, as there are only a certain amount of turns until the villain escapes. Complicating matters further is the occasional interference by Mr. Valentine himself, who shows up to sabotage the players every now and then, causing havoc such as turning out all of the lights in the house or locking a particular room. Luckily, players also get a ‘savvy’ card at the beginning of each turn. The savvy cards have multiple effects, such as turning on the light in the player’s current room, unlocking doors, calling witnesses to you, and giving you an extra token for that turn. If you choose the ‘Competitive’ multiplayer mode, there are also cards that let you hamper your opponent, such as knocking them out for a turn if they speak to a witness of your choosing.
It’s worth noting that, while playing the game in single player is fun in its own right, you’ll really want to play multiplayer to get the full experience. I beat the campaign playing solo, and I solved every mystery with at least ten turns remaining. I’m certain that competing against and being sabotaged by another player would have made it much more intense. To put it simply, this is a board game with the trappings of a video game; you wouldn’t really play Clue on your own, would you?
To catch the criminal, you’ll need to determine their height (short/tall), hair (long/short), weight (thin/round) and gender. You can accuse anyone at any time, but you’d better have the evidence to back it up. Some cases have you identifying the culprit concretely, while others require you to rule out everybody else by establishing their alibis. Be careful when using witness testimony as evidence, because it is possible for them to lie - a fact which can be confirmed or denied by pointing your Wii Remote (aka ‘lie detector’) at text in their statement that is coloured blue. This fact actually adds quite a bit to the ‘Competitive’ multiplayer experience. In ‘Cooperative’ multiplayer, everyone shares an evidence pool. This is still true to an extent in ‘Competitive’, but when you look at your evidence folder, the only witnesses the game will tell you are lying are the ones you interrogate yourself. True, everyone’s playing in the same room and can see when everyone has their turn, but it’s quite hard to keep twenty statements in your mind all the time. This led to more than one instance of accusing the wrong witness on my part! It’s very important to put some thought into who you accuse, as three wrong accusations disqualify you from the game.
Probably the biggest annoyance in the game is its insistence that you define all four of the aforementioned traits in order to prove someone’s guilt. Several times, we absolutely knew who the perp was, but the game didn’t think we had enough evidence. For instance, we once determined that the criminal had long hair. Only one person that we hadn’t already ruled out had long hair. However, we couldn’t get a conviction after having accused them, because we hadn’t technically figured out how tall the person was, their weight, or their gender. Rewarding the player for logical reasoning would have added an extra element of strategy to the game, and this problem is a noticeable one.
When I first heard about this game, the presentation was not something I expected to be of high quality. However, I was pleasantly surprised at the detailed animation. Characters animate fluidly and in exaggerated motions, flat-out booking it from one end of the building to another when you call for it, and the cutscenes are very nicely produced. Unfortunately, there are a fair few jaggies to be noticed, and some of the minor supporting characters don’t really ‘pop’ as much as the main cast. The voice actors all fit their characters nicely. The only complaint that can be levelled at the voiceovers is that 90% of in-level speech is handled by onscreen text, which loses precious immersion. The game’s art direction is in the style of a Pixar film, and together with the wacky intro song, ridiculous premise, and episodic nature of the levels, it’s like the 1990s all over again! If only there was more of this type of thing on the Disney Channel - and less Hannah Montanna - the world would be a much better place.
The main mode of the game took me five to six hours to complete when playing single player, though as mentioned above it takes longer in multiplayer due to each player attempting to sabotage the others. Then there’s ‘Party Mode’, which takes the scenarios from ‘Story Mode’ but randomizes the clues and the culprit, allowing for a fair bit of replay value. Each player can select their own difficulty level, making it easy for parents who are seasoned gamers to play with the young children who are absolutely the intended audience.
Disney’s Guilty Party is a game anyone secure in their maturity can play with others and simply just have a good old laugh. It is often a genuine surprise who the culprit is as well, as many a time we were totally sure who it was until one little thing changed the whole case around. The production values are solid, the gameplay is fun, and it’s a rare example of a non-Nintendo-developed game that is equally rewarding for both seasoned gamers and newcomers. If you are looking for a challenging, cartoony, single player experience on Wii... well, I'm going to suggest you check out Super Mario Galaxy 2. But if you want a game that successfully combines classic board game mechanics with the interactivity only a video game can provide, buy Guilty Party, then gather your family and friends, bust out the soda and popcorn, and pretend that family game night never stopped!