Review by midwinter
"Yoshiki Okamoto Comes to Xbox 360"
Quick, name the most influential Japanese developer in recent years... time's up. Those that said Yoshiki Okamoto can give themselves a cookie, everyone else, shame on you. When faced with such a question, most people respond with the same, half dozen choices: Shigeru Miyamoto, Hideo Kojima, Tomonobu Itagaki, and so on... yet they're all completely wrong. Looking over Okamoto's resume is like reading a what's what of popular gaming, with classics such as Street Fighter 2, Devil May Cry, and Resident Evil intermixed with a dozen, lesser known favorites. From the Misadventures of Tron Bonne, to Tech Romancer, Power Stone, and the unfortunately over-looked Pocket Fighter, Okamoto's genius has touched us all...
Gaming for the masses
Eventually even the quiet, unassuming types want publicity, and in July of 2003, Okamoto left Capcom to start his own development studio. Free of corporate restraints, Game Republic sought to bring our favorite past time to a broader audience while still retaining a distinct, artistic vision. Their debut release, Genji: Dawn of the Samurai proved this theory sound, going on to widespread critical acclaim from gamers, if not the public at large. A third person hack 'n slash adventure though, was a strange choice of genres for someone looking to broaden gaming's appeal, but with Top 10 success behind him, Okamoto had the opportunity to try something new. Enter Every Party.
Maybe new isn't the right choice of words. At a glance, Okamoto's latest isn't too far removed from Square Enix's Itadaki Street, and to a lesser extent, Nintendo's own Mario Party. A surprise given his ability to revolutionize genres, but there you have it. Stripped of the various gaming icons and Square Enix characters of similar titles, Every Party radiates accessibility. Some simple, cel-shaded graphics serve to paint a warm picture of Japanese suburbia, complete with shopping malls, Buddhist shrines, and a smelly fish market or three. It's inhabitants are just as familiar, though Okamoto's preference for quirky, easy to remember characters is clearly evident throughout. Precocious five year old, balding salary-man, and a rather cute bunny girl amongst others.
Really, it's the type of atmosphere everyone can enjoy.
From a gaijin perspective though, Every Party looks intimidating. While players familiar with the genre will be in their element once a series of preferences have been selected, a solid understanding of Japanese is required to negotiate the pre-game menus. With a little experimentation however, the usual assortment of play modes can be uncovered, including support for up to four players either on Xbox Live or via a split screen interface. The frequency at which mini-games are launched can also be tweaked, though playing Every Party on anything less than normal proportionately decreases the overall enjoyment. Not because the events are particularly original (or even well thought out), but due to the break they provide from the basic, wheel spinning, board hopping gameplay.
That being said, the mini-games are fundamentally Japanese and are mostly based on popular, cultural past times. A dozen matsuri (festival) sideshow attractions have been worked into the line-up, and include everything from catching goldfish to a rather simple ring toss. One has you dipping a net made of rice paper into a bucket of water in the hopes of snagging a new pet, the other one is so obvious I won't waste your time. Then there's a bout of multiplayer tag, some giant robot construction, and a frog race where players have the opportunity to bet on a winner. The whole thing is so thoroughly alien that it's easy to see where foreigners may be put off, though in Every Party's defence, it does target the local market incredibly well. Something Microsoft has failed to do for far too long...
If you're willing to hang-up your passport for a few hours though, and have been able to talk some friends into doing so as well, Every Party's absolute randomness may still entertain. The speed at which a player's fortune can turn is astounding, and should keep everyone on their toes right up until absolute victory has been declared. Like Mario Party before it, game boards consist of a series of squares that trace a path from home to goal across all manner of obstacles. Coins are awarded for landing on lucky squares, which in turn can be used to buy favors from various NPCs, or ward off some potentially hazardous bad luck. Advance 5 spaces. Buy a free spin of the wheel. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. You've seen it all before.
Of course, much of Every Party's appeal is dependent on you finding some like-minded gamers to enjoy it with. Those lacking the luxury of friends however, might want to pass it by as the single player action remain unconvincing and somewhat dull. The lack of Xbox 360 penetration in Japan makes the situation worse, with online support appearing useless, or as close to the term as Every Party's limited sales have allowed. Okamoto's desire to broaden the market through accessibility was noble, it's just a shame he selected a console that's been solely embraced by a minor sub-culture of die-hard enthusiasts.
And that my friends, is irony at its very best...
As a launch title for a next-gen console then, impressions are mixed. The high resolution graphics may be crisp and clean, but their simple appearance does nothing to warrant extra attention from on-lookers, or indeed players alike. Had Okamoto developed the genre in some fashion, I could recommend this game even with its heavy reliance on Japanese text. Instead however, what we're left with is something that you've played a dozen times before, though as an Xbox 360 release it's certainly unique. If your collection lacks a decent party game, and you've got some friends willing to indulge in a few eccentricities, Every Party might be exactly what's needed. As a single player game however, it comes with the usual genre caveats, and with Okamoto behind the wheel, that's a major disappointment to say the least...
* Full support for one to four players
* There's a huge number of characters to unlock
* The variety of mini-games is impressive
* Simple, pick up and play game design
* Approachable, non-threatening visuals
* Xbox Live support, just in case you need it
* Single player action is of course, dull
* Heavy usage of Japanese text
* Atypical party game design
* Xbox Live party rooms are all but empty
Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 03/13/06
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