Gamers familiar with Mistwalker Studios may recognize them as the company led by Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, a man also responsible for this generation’s classic JRPGs such as Blue Dragon, Lost Odyssey, and The Last Story. That’s why it may come to a surprise to many that Mistwalker’s latest offering is a not a sweeping epic of swords, sorcery, and a band of young warriors, but instead a fun little surfing game. Party Wave may seem like just another casual game, but it provides a fun experience that lacks the air of cynicism that surrounds most recent releases.
Part of Party Wave’s charm lies in its sincerity. Developed by the Hawaii-based Mistwalker Studios, it feels like a game built by a small team of people who simply love surfing. In this sense, it feels less like another addition to the modern library of mobile/casual games and more like a throwback to gaming from the early 90s (the complete lack of micro-transactions doesn’t hurt, either). The whole package, from its crisp aesthetic to its cool relaxing music, just bursts with the joy and the love of both surfing and game development.
Party Wave is divided into two modes of gameplay: First you'll be getting your surfers (one of which is a surfing dog) out to catch the wave. This is done by controlling their direction with a swipe of your finger. As you may have guessed, this task is often proven difficult due to the fact that these surfers frequently opt to surf in coral, turtle, jellyfish and dolphin infested waters. Surfing here isn't recommended as doing so will cause your surfers to crash (thrill seekers, I suppose?). Once you get all your surfers to the right spot in the ocean, the second mode of gameplay starts -- riding the wave.
Catching waves in Party Wave can be described as akin to juggling. Your group of surfers ride down the wave, but tapping them will cause them to go back up. Tap them when near the bottom of the wave when they flash, and they’ll catch some air (as well as net you more points). However, let them get too close to the bottom of the wave, and they'll wipe out. This juggling act seems simple enough, but the waves are cluttered with various sea creatures that will sink your surfers if you accidentally touch them (if anything, Party Wave counter-intuitively makes surfing seem way more dangerous than it actually is).
The farther into the game you go, the more fantastical elements that you would expect from the creators of Final Fantasy start creeping in. The first half of each level contains a secret alien that you can find by riding over him. He’ll then show up in the surfing half of the level; rub the alien with your finger enough, and he’ll provide a star for you which can be used to make your surfers temporarily invincible (there’s a sentence I thought I’d never type).
For me, Party Wave does for surfing what the Tony Hawk games did for skateboarding. In lieu of capturing the realism of the sport, it instead captures the ideals, the feeling, the spirit. That’s what Party Wave does perfectly. Perhaps that’s a bit too much credit to be giving to a $1.99 iPhone game with a surfing dog and aliens, but I’m sticking with it. Whether you love surfing, want something to kill time with, or are interested due to Mistwalker’s involvement, it’s easy to recommend Party Wave.