Disney’s Guilty Party is a kid-friendly double entendre. Each stage of the whodunit mystery title tasks you with a search for the “guilty party,” the sinister individual responsible for the crime. However, the title also refers to the social nature of the game. Guilty Party is meant to be experienced with family, friends, and, most notably, children, and while it’s no Mardi Gras, it’s not bad for an 8-year-old birthday.
Guilty Party is essentially Clue without the color-coded game pieces. The player characters here are all members of the Dickens Detective Agency, a multigenerational operation run by a portly pudding-hungry patriarch who has raised his children and grandchildren to follow in his footsteps. The game’s story mode pits the family of sleuths against the nefarious Mister Valentine, a dastardly arch-nemesis attempting his most ambitious caper yet.
The narrative is mostly fluff, but it’s surprisingly well written. You don’t need to be a child to get a few laughs out of a script that features Judge Judith Prudence, a singing fat lady, and Three Manatee Tenors, and the charming presentation is one of the strengths of the title.
The board game design scheme – complete with move limits and a series of 2.5D game boards – is similarly for all ages. 1-4 players take turns going through the same motions while moving towards the same target. The basic mechanics are functionally identical whether you’re playing competitively, cooperatively, or solo, and you’ll always pool all of your clues together as you work to bring down the crook. Guilty Party shines as a team-oriented detective enterprise, although sharing resources does have an unfortunate impact on competitive play. (We’ll get to that later.)
Turns begin with a predetermined number of tokens. It costs one token to move to another room and one token per investigation. Along the way, you can search for hidden tokens or Savvy Cards that allow you to cheat the basic rules. For instance, Loose Lips cards allow you to get a free piece of information from a witness, while the Quickness card grants you unlimited movement for an entire turn.
The goal is to gather enough evidence to connect a suspect to the crime. Suspects are classified according to height, weight, gender, and hair length, and you’ll have to identify a culprit that matches the appropriate description. Some witnesses will lie to throw you off the trail, while later levels will further force you to provide all of the innocent suspects with an alibi.
The answers aren’t always obvious, so you’ll have to examine your evidence carefully in order to craft a compelling indictment. A couple of the puzzles risk delving into idiosyncratic designer logic, but for the most part, the solutions are reasonable enough to make the mysteries intriguing instead of frustrating. That’s no easy task, and the developers deserve credit for finding that balance.
The problem is that collecting clues isn’t quite as much fun as piecing them together. Locating persons and objects of interest is never a challenge – large blue question marks will tell you where to look – but you won’t get your information for free. In order to obtain a clue, you’ll have to play a mini-game.
Those mini-games just aren’t all that interesting. Most of them are mind-numbingly easy, tasking you with simple, repetitive chores like “smash the eggs” or “grab the clues.” The flavor is nice – the interrogation mini-games generally involve creative forms of intimidation – but it’s the standard Wii fare that we’ve seen a hundred times before.
Repurposed as the gameplay core, the mini-games quickly become tedious busywork that sits between you and the more entertaining endgame. A few of the more complex mini-games exacerbate the problem, as they add several unwelcome steps to the clue gathering rigmarole. If you fail, you’ll have to try again at the cost of another token, and replaying quick-time events is as irritating as ever.
Fortunately, such concerns are relatively minor. Even the toughest games can be overcome within two attempts, and Guilty Party automatically adjusts the difficulty setting based on your mini-game success rate. Disney clearly wants everyone to have a good time, and as long as you avoid the competitive multiplayer, that’s pretty much what you’ll get.
To that end, Guilty Party unintentionally encourages griefing with a special set of competitive Savvy Cards that allow you to steal turns and tokens and otherwise interfere with your opponents. It’s a fine idea, but the cards are overpowered to the point that three of the four players won’t be having fun after losing yet another turn. Even if you’re in the lead, you won’t know whether some of the clues are true or false, so you’ll have to do a lot of random guesswork when it comes time to make an accusation.
The competitive multiplayer is ultimately more about chance than skill, and while that may be reflective of actual board games, it’s a significant design flaw in a video game. It doesn’t hurt Guilty Party’s replay or multiplayer value, but the mechanics are far better suited to cooperative play.
Knowing that, there are still enough features here to keep Guilty Party fresh long after you’ve unmasked Mister Valentine. The Party Mode shuffles all of the clues and suspects into a deck and spits out a new mystery every time you play, and you can further customize your game settings according to your personal preferences. You should have no trouble finding a format that makes everyone in your party comfortable, and you won’t even have to bother with instruction manuals or missing game pieces.
Guilty Party sets out to be nothing more than a digital board game and it more or less succeeds. It’s a kid-friendly title that won’t offend, irritate, or bore mom and dad, and there’s something to be said for that kind of targeted entertainment. I wouldn’t recommend Guilty Party for the FPS crowd, but if you’re looking for a safe way to introduce your kids to gaming, you could definitely do worse. -Eric Weiss