Wii owners who have suffered through countless me-too mini-game collections and lame party games often consider the term "family-friendly" the kiss of death.
But Wideload Games (Stubbs the Zombie), the studio recently acquired by Disney Interactive, is aiming to erase that stigma with Disney's Guilty Party. The new, er, family-friendly entry is a who-done-it mystery game that takes its inspiration from old school Scooby-Doo cartoons, boardgames like Clue, and even procedural crime dramas such as CSI.
Supporting up to four players, Guilty Party stars a family of super sleuths. The colourful cast of investigators, from the trench coat-sporting Columbo type to the Murder She Wrote-like grandma, are packed with personality.
Additionally, the game's brimming with fun, witty, well-acted dialogue that, like a Pixar movie, can be enjoyed by young and old alike. Rounding out the cast is a long line of potential suspects, also delivering great voice work. From the snooty butler to the nervous doctor, there's no shortage of suspicious peeps to point the finger at. Their in-game interactions are a hoot, but some nicely polished cutscenes also serve to sell the appealing style.
The gameplay has you interrogating-and often accusing- key suspects. Clues like a person's height, weight, gender, and hair length are gleaned from your investigations. And while the early cases are meant to be cracked easily, later ones involving multiple similar looking suspects, require you break out your sharpest Sherlock Holmes skills.
The investigating doesn't just involve dialog-driven interrogations though; a variety of inventive mini-games also help you uncover clues. One such challenge had me clearing dust from a desk with a few Wii remote swipes in search of hidden hints, but my favourite tasked me with keeping direct eye contact with a nervous suspect. Using the pointer and an on-screen pair of eyes, I had to match my virtual peepers with the suspect's eyes even as she repeatedly attempted to avert my gaze. While I didn't get to see it in action, a Wideload designer described a more difficult version of this same game where the suspect places her hands over eyes, forcing the player to honk her nose to get them to open again.
As the mysteries become more complex, the areas you investigate become much larger. An early case might unfold within a multi-room mansion, and only include a handful of potential suspects; but much later in the game, armchair detectives will find themselves scouring an entire cruise ship to interview all its guests. You don't necessarily have to tackle these more complex cases by yourself though. Sure, you can play competitively, taking turns against other clue-crackers and racing to solve the mystery before them. But I'm betting the most fun will be achieved when a group gathers to work together on a case. Whether passing a single remote around or simply listening to the advice of family and friends, Guilty Party has the potential to be at its very best when great minds come together.
Supporting the title's quirky characters and engaging gameplay is a beautiful art style. The pop-off-the-screen visuals have an almost Pixar-like appeal that layer the experience with plenty of charm and personality. While I only got to see a couple of cases solved, I look forward to cracking more, not just because the core concept is so satisfying, but because meeting new characters and exploring fresh areas is half the fun. Guilty Party really does have style to spare.
In addition to individual mysteries in the main game mode, which are all tied to an overarching plot, Guilty Party boasts a customisable party mode. Here, players can create their very own mysteries down to the last detail, mixing things up from the pre-packed cases and adding tons of replay value.
Not since accusing Colonel Mustard of murder with the lead pipe in the study have I had so much fun solving mysteries. If Guilty Party can sustain the engaging style and addictive gameplay I got a glimpse of, it holds the potential to make family-friendly Wii gaming fun again.