The Cutesy-Minigame-Collection-Family-Party Game, for better or worse, is the genre which categorizes a considerable number of titles on the Wii. The theme may change slightly, the execution may be better or worse, but generally you can expect the same thing from each of these titles: A variety of mini-games, some light multiplayer (of the ‘in front of the same screen’ rather than ‘online’ variety, of course), and creative use of the Wii’s now-famous control style. Namco’s Go Vacation fits into this mold almost exactly: dozens of minigames, seemingly all of which have a party game option, set on an adorable, fictional resort island with open world exploration. But how fun of an experience does it offer in the end? Read on to find out.
First, let’s talk about the story Go Vacation offers. No surprises here: There really isn’t much of one. You (well, your Mii, if you wish) are visiting Kawawii Island, a tropical resort island filled to the brim with fun activities and happy, happy people. A helpful guide greets you, explaining some of the fun you can have on your virtual vacation. Right away you’re introduced to the Stamp Dash, which basically serves as a way to steer you to each of the many minigames on the island one by one. If there’s anything that could be called a “storyline” in Go Vacation, this is it: The push to fill up your stamp book with stamps earned from playing the various mini-games. It’s thin stuff, but it’s also about as much as you could possibly expect from this genre – and if nothing else, Namco did manage to get the whole “adorable fantasy island” thing down pat. The game has a very cheery, peppy feel.
Now, Go Vacation may not be trying to hook anyone with its story – but how about its graphics? Frankly, there’s nothing too amazing here. There’s a reason your Mii is able to fit in so seamlessly with the sights and vacationers of the Kawawii Resort: Namco is pushing that particular cutesy art style which lands somewhere between “Hello Kitty” and “Pokemon”. Add in the fact that the Wii isn’t exactly known for its graphical excellence, at least when compared to the other gaming consoles, and you have a recipe for graphics that are firmly lodged in the “passable” category. That means there’s nothing particularly ugly here, balanced out by the fact that there’s nothing really amazing either. The characters you’ll interact with are at Mii levels of detail, the sights and buildings are just blocky enough to remind you that this is a Wii game but not so simple that it feels as if no effort was placed into the production.
The audio in Go Vacation runs closely parallel to the graphics, with one exception: I found the opening theme music to be charming. Very peppy and energetic, filled with enough enthusiasm to make you forget the game hails from the country where Dark Souls and Persona originated. Other than that main theme, the audio is nothing to write home about – the sound effects get the job done, and the light background music emphasizes when you should feel relaxed (when walking around the resort) and when you should feel excited (when playing a mini-game).
That leaves us with the gameplay experience. With over 50 different mini-games, Go Vacation offers enough diversity to make it difficult to generalize about overall control quality. This challenge is compounded by the game supporting a wide variety of Wii hardware – the steering wheel, the balance board, the nun-chuk and the lightgun all have opportunities for use – which makes it difficult to accurately estimate just how good Namco’s execution is.
If I had to give a short summary based on my trying out the various offerings, it would be this: It’s a mixed bag. Racing ATVs, for example, felt on target enough for me when using the combination of the standard Wii controller plus the nun-chuk extension – it was pretty easy to slide right into and claim first place in. Meanwhile the skydiving mini-game just felt alien to me, holding the controller aloft in the air as I frantically tried to figure out which particular gyroscopic manipulation would get my helpless Mii where he needed to be to score points.
One thing I can certainly attest about the gameplay is that it weighs heavily on the simple side, with an emphasis on reflex and finesse. The racing games are straightforward: Go very fast, avoid simple obstacles and try to handle the corners well. With volleyball, you simply need to flick your wrist at the right times – no need to even worry about moving your character under the ball, as that will be done automatically. With surfing, tilt and angle your controller while paying attention to the curve of the wave. And so on it goes from mini-game to mini-game – with little exception it’s easy to understand just what concepts Go Vacation is aiming for in any particular activity. Further, the mini-games aren’t very challenging for the most part – at least when you’re competing against the AI, as opposed to some friends.
And that’s probably what needs to be stressed the most about Go Vacation: It’s meant to be a party game. There may be some minimal nods to single-player enjoyment – filling your stampbook, exploring and taking pictures of the island, collecting some treasure or alternate outfits – but at the end of the day it’s hard to see why you’d play this game by yourself. So would I recommend this game to someone who wanted a party game? There the game is on some more solid ground: With over 50+ different mini-games to choose from and with the controls (with some exception) relatively easy to slide into, Go Vacation gives you a variety of challenges to compete with your friends against. There are four distinct “sub-resorts” to visit in the game, each covering activities of a different general type: The Marine Resort offers beach activities, the City Resort deals with sports akin to skating and skateboarding, the Snow Resort offers a spread of winter sports, and the Mountain Resort offers up more generally “outdoor” activities like horseback riding. Even if someone in your party doesn’t like this or that particular mini-game, chances are there’s more than a few options on Kawawii island that everyone can have fun with. When it comes to Wii party games, variety and ease of pick-up play are the gold standards – and despite all the other “average” aspects of it, variety and ease do happen to be the areas where Go Vacation shines.
That’s the bottom line: If you’re the sort of person for whom playing games on the Wii usually involves more than one person sitting or standing in front of your TV, you should give Go Vacation a look. It has a good enough execution and a wide enough variety of mini-games to merit checking out and deciding if this is a title you and your friends can have some fun with. Don’t expect any particularly amazing sights or thrilling adventure, but then the point of a party game is more the party than the game, isn’t it?