Unfortunately a large chunk of Wii Party U is boring and uninspired. And it really is unfortunate, because upon booting up the first of the bigger games – Highway Rollers - I felt I was in for a Mario Party-styled treat. Sadly, that's the only time the game ever comes even remotely close to the quality and fun of its spiritual predecessor; most of what's on display is competent but dull, and lacks any real direction or cohesion.
Right off the hop, Wii Party U's announcer Party Phil – which speaks with the jibberish of a 'sim' if he was conceptualized as a Canadian in the world of South Park – invites you and your friends to play one of three separate modes: TV Party, House Party, and Gamepad Party. House Party houses Highway Rollers and a few other master game modes designed to house smaller mini-games in one over-arching goal. Highway rollers has you rolling die to get to the end, playing competitive mini-games along the way to give advantages or disadvantages. In many ways, this mode is like Mario Party, only without any of the charm or fun factor that comes from the inclusion of Mario characters. Mii Fashion Plaza plays a bit more like Monopoly, giving you the objective to land on the right spots and fight for different articles of clothing to make various outfits, occasionally duelling it out in mini-games. Balldozer is... strange. You compete in mini-games to determine who goes first and how many 'balls' you get to put into a machine on the off-chance they will spill over into a bucket. Or something. Only Highway Rollers stands out here; the other two simply aren't fun.
The next offering is House Party, which is similar to TV Party but focusses more on the blending of gamepad and Wii Remote controls in somewhat longer-lasting mini-games that pit people up against one another without an over-arching goal. Whereas the TV Party games are lackluster overall, the House Party games have a peculiar quality to them, showing the true 'power' of the Wii U. I've long since imagined a Smash Brothers game where four players enjoy themselves while the fifth player plays as 'the level', or a Dungeons and Dragons-type game where the user who plays with the gamepad played as DM. Many of the mini-games in Wii Party U make use of these ideas, even if they're only mini games rather than fully fledged games.
The last of the three game modes is called Gamepad Party. Here, players cooperate or compete with one another using the same gamepad. Sometimes this works well - for example when it comes to the baseball and puzzle challenge games - but sometimes the resulting gameplay is both simultaneously simplified and overcomplicated, as with the foosball game.
There are few reasons to recommend Wii Party U. Like Mario Party, the mini-games require timing, accuracy, identification, memory, and many other types of gaming skills that are simple and quick to employ, occasionally requiring good use of the Wiimote for stick-waggling or balancing acts, but little else. Some mini-games, much to my disdain, have a winner chosen by random chance or luck of the draw rather than skill. Many of the mini-games are in fact enjoyable, and you can rate each of them on a 5-star rating scale so you can remember which of the 80+ games were actually enjoyable and which are best ignored.
Presentationally, Wii Party U is competent but little else. The graphics are crisp and clear, but basic, and the sound effects and music gets the job done; it's nice to see the Wii Universe (hah, punny) rendered in HD, but that doesn't stop the game from feeling lazy. The main selling point of Wii Party U is the included Wiimote+. The mini-games themselves are decently fun, but without a Mario-Party-esque master board game aesthetic and charm, it's relegated to feeling like a game made by 50 different people doing 100 different things; there's no cohesion to the game and no incentive to keep playing. Wii Party U avoids being bad but that's about it; it exists, but there's no reason to care.
This review is based on a retail copy of Wii Party U for the WiiU