For all of the whiz-bang of today's video games, one thing the button-mashing moguls haven't quite been able to master is the challenge of truly translating the unique interactive fun of a family board game to the console screen. You know, that turn-by-turn, move-your-game-piece, laugh-with-the-gang-around-the-kitchen-table joy that's deeply embedded into games such as Monopoly, Scrabble, Sorry! or even Candy Land. But before you give up on the idea altogether, Guilty Party, for the Wii, wants to show you its version of some Clue-style mystery solving.
The Family That Sleuths Together
This Disney Interactive Studios turn-based game centers its story around a cluemaster named Commodore Dickens. The old detective has decided to hang up his deerstalker cap and pipe, and commission a group of aspiring junior sleuths for a mysterious quest to foil his greatest nemesis—the nefarious Mr. Valentine. The group includes the Commodore's slovenly, trench coat-wearing son, Max, his wily older sister, Aunt Charlotte, his superhero-masked grandson Kid Riddle, etc. Players can go it alone as any one of these colorful folks or invite up to three friends to grab a magnifying glass and join the clan, too.
Unlike Clue, nobody gets murdered. The evidence-gathering crew travels from mansion to opera house to sky-high zeppelin, solving kidnappings and thefts, and eventually upending the bad guy's super-dastardly plan. Each new location they encounter works much like a 3-D game board with a new set of suspects to interrogate, a number of different rooms to visit and sniff out pointers, and somewhere around 20 turns in which to chomp through each challenge.
Just like Clue, the goal is to collect snippets of info in your detective notebook and piece together a full physical description of the henchman or mastermind who committed the crime at hand. But instead of just asking questions of other players, you've got to work a little harder for the clues here. The game makes you earn each puzzle piece you find through a wide variety of different minigames.
From Hmmm to Aha!
Using the motion-sensing Wii remote, players might, for example, stare an interrogation-worthy suspect down by keeping a set of eyes locked on his till he breaks out in a sweat. Or they might briskly wave a fan to clear the fog from a suspect's memory. And finding hidden clues in the environment might take gripping and peeling away strips of wallpaper or putting jumbled picture pieces in the right order before a timer runs out.
As simple as those challenges may sound, though, things don't get too repetitive or boring since there are some 50 different games that randomly pop up. And if gamers breeze through in the early rounds they're quickly given steeper hills to climb. (Conversely, the game senses younger players and keeps their challenges more basic.) When the skeletons in the closet become really tough to extract, gamers can play special Savvy cards that might reveal a locked room's trapdoor or spotlight a certain shadowy nook.
Playing through as a single player is fun. But the real kicks kick in when you gather the family to jointly think your way through a few story mode mysteries. Then, when that mansion, train or aquarium setting is finally cleared, you can revisit the mystery playgrounds over and over to compete or cooperate at solving brand-new head scratchers that keep popping up there.
Guilty Party in the Family Room With a Remote
That makes Guilty Party as board game-like and fun as any I've seen. The worst content consists of a skull or two peering out of the mostly cheerful environs, and a few punches and kicks from the smallest member of the Dickens clan, played for humor. Along with that, a strong-arm interrogation minigame involves punching the remote into your open hand in a goofily threatening way.
None of the characters appear to suffer from anything worse than a few comic pratfalls. So we gave the game to our resident 10-year-old gaming assistant, who just so happens to be a big fan of board games, Clue among them. As she played through on her own, she enjoyed herself but reported finding a few of the clues a bit stumping in later levels. She thought it might be especially tough for younger gamers.
The way I see it, that just means Mom or Dad will have to give the little ones some extra help along the way. After all, even Sherlock Holmes "allowed" Watson to find the lynchpin clue from time to time.