Mario Party, if you're unaware of it, is a series of games from Nintendo in which up to four players participate in a board-game like sequence that's punctuated by minigames. The first of them released for the Nintendo 64 way back in 1999 and since then there's been some thirteen games that follow the basic formula, making Mario Party the longest-running minigame series (according to the Guinness Book of World Records, no less.)
Island Tour doesn't stray too far from the basic idea, and fans of the series should expect to understand what it's all about from the get-go. Newcomers won't have much of a learning curve either, of course, as - being a title that's aimed at entry-level / non-gamers - everything's pretty easy to understand.
The biggest departure from previous versions is the move to the 3DS; while not the first game in the series to release on a handheld, that doesn't stop it being an eyebrow-raising decision - Mario Party always has (and always will be) a game that's at its best when played in multiplayer. Sure, you can play Island Tour with your friends, but they'll need to be local (for some *cough*Nintendo*cough* reason, there's no support for online multiplayer.)
Fortunately, the game does support download-play, so you can play with your friends even if they don't have a copy of the game (they will need to have a 3DS to play on, though, as the game doesn't support any kind of "pass the console" hot seat mode.)
It's a whoooole newwwww world!!!
The general gist of proceedings is that players take turns to roll a "dice" and move their character on a virtual game board. The squares you land on can affect your move (they might send you forward more spaces, for example, or off on some side path that slows you down) and you can often interact with other players - sending them back, perhaps, or otherwise spicing things up.
Island Tour iterates (without revolutionizing) this concept in its board designs, adding things like rocket boosters (that you can use to multiply your dice roll - just be careful, because you can roll zero on this board!) or even replacing the dice with a clever mechanic based on trading cards.
Bowser's Tower; get used to this screen (a cutscene that appears between minigames) as you'll see it a lot.
There's also a few new modes, including a nifty Bowser's Tower setup where you have to assault a series of minigames (solo) in an attempt to get to the top and defeat the classic Nintendo baddie. Bowser interjects from time to time as you progress, randomly impeding your progress in some way, and there's even boss fights to participate in - helping to spice things up a bit and stave off the boredom (something which isn't helped by the repetitive cutscenes that occur between every minigame - ugh.)
All of the modes leverage the game's 81 new minigames and if there's a duplicate in here, I didn't spot it. Sure, some are fairly similar to ideas you've seen before, but none felt particularly derivative or unwelcome. You'll have your favorites, as I certainly have mine, but I didn't really encounter any that I thought were actually bad and some of them are just plain genius, and a lot of fun to boot.
It's like that bit from the WipeOut TV show, only with fire
Ultimately, though, if you buy Mario Party: Island Tour (and this won't be news to players of any previous games in the series) you'll spend a lot of time watching other people (or, worse - and more commonly - still, AI players) take their turns. Watching people play something amazingly fun (like one of those funny games where people have to make a certain shape to fit through a hole, or something) is one thing, but watching people play a boardgame is another thing entirely. It's just… boring.
Another frustration - and one that's present in multiplayer, perhaps even more so - is the general randomness of proceedings. It's not new to Island Tour, but it does feel somehow even more grating than usual. Basically, at a number of points in your gameplay, your success (or otherwise) will be randomly determined by something you cannot impact.
This stupid pillar will choose your fate; if it points to the left, you'll probably win. To the right? You'll definitely lose.
Maybe it's because the levels are a bit shorter, meaning setbacks are more significant in terms of overall progress; I don't know. It's certainly not an idea that's new to the boardgame genre itself, let alone the virtual boardgame one (dice, after all, are successful because of the random element they add to proceedings) but, in combination with the boredom, it leads to frustration in short order.
Don't get me wrong; Island Tour's not particularly bad in any way; it's really not, but… unless you're hankering for a pretend board game and know a bunch of people who'll be keen for regular sessions, it's hard to imagine this being one of those purchases you'll look back on and think "that was the right decision."
Thirteen games is probably about enough for this one, I think.
Note: Both my 3DS XL and my wife's 2DS seemed to flatten their batteries very quickly while they were suspended with Mario Party: Island Tour running. I can't conclusively say that the game was at fault, but be mindful that, if it is, your system will drain from fully charged to completely flat in just a few hours, even if it's suspended the entire time.