Mario Party has an odd legacy among Nintendo's many franchises. While in most cases, the company seems happy to release one or two entries in a given series for a console generation before calling it a day, they released 10 Mario Parties over the course of eight years -- quite a number by any standard, but especially for Nintendo.
As a result, it's no wonder they ultimately decided in 2007 to give it a five-year break before releasing another installment for the Wii. When Mario was finally ready to party again, the hiatus seemed to do the series some good, bringing some fresh -- albeit controversial -- new ideas in the 2012 release of Mario Party 9.
Mario Party: Island Tour is not only the first new release since its return, but it is also the first portable installment not saddled with the name of the platform it's on in the title. Could this indicate a continuing effort to inject more creativity into the series, or is it merely a simple cover for another title that falls back on old habits?
Mini-games lie at the heart of every Mario Party, and Island Tour is no different in this regard. You can play them as part of the series' board game, in a pseudo-gauntlet of challenges through the single-player Bowser's Tower, with a hot air balloon race-themed "first to X wins" framework, or even a la carte in the "Free Play" mode. The 81 different mini-games included here are fun, but aside from a few unlockable boss battles from Bowser's Tower (more on that in a few), they by and large return to the formula of being mini-games featuring Mario, rather than Mario-themed mini-games.
The distinction is subtle, but not insignificant: In many Mario Party games, including this one, there are many mini-games which simply seem to have Mario and his friends inserted as they do things like count the number of diamonds a Cheep Cheep has swallowed, or pulling back a rubber band to try to get a car as close to the platform's ledge as possible without going over..