Review: Party Wave

PartyWave

It seems only natural, after creating the most memorable fantasy RPG series ever (Final Fantasy) and the Wii’s last big RPG (The Last Story), that legendary designer Hironobu Sakaouchi would follow it up….

…with an iOS game about surfing.

Hey, when you’ve effectively cemented your gaming legacy, you’re entitled to do things like pursue creative vanity projects on emerging gaming platforms. And let’s be real: It’s not like the App Store’s awash in a ton of surfing games.

Party Wave’s action features two distinct stages, one deliberate and frustrating, the other frenetic and fabulous. Unfortunately, the annoying stuff is what you’re forced to deal with first. Each level begins with you using finger swipes to guide a series of slow-paddling surfers—sometimes a whole hell of a lot of surfers—across the screen to a sparkling wave icon before the actual wave comes in. This isn’t particularly difficult in the first handful of levels when the seas are largely clear, but once the obstacles begin to move and multiply like sharks in bloodied water, the fact that the surfers need almost constant line-draw babysitting to avoid crashing into rocks, sea life and each other makes Party Wave begin to feel like an exercise in herding drunken dolphins. I especially enjoyed the level where a tight-circling stingray picks off two of your surfers—effectively deep-sixing your shot at a “perfect” level rating and the strategic star that accompanies it—before they even have a chance to appear on-screen. Cowabummer.

Once you’ve safely shepherded as many surfboards as possible to safety, stage two begins, and so does the fun. Here, as many as ten surfers slice up and down the wave at once, and it’s your job to tap them before they bail the wave three times and crash the party. Every time you do, they zip back toward the crest, sometimes somersaulting into the sky if you’ve given them enough momentum. Once airborne, you can tap them again to pull off aerials and collect major level points.

When Party Wave is really rocking, it’s easy to feel like you’re playing the greatest surfer popcorn popper ever. The good news? Swiping your finger is as good as tap-tap-tapping, and proves critical when the party’s sizable. The bad news? Swiping is likely to result in hitting the full-on marine beast assault that plagues every wave, from jellyfish that paralyze your surfers and dolphins whose Seaworld-audition quality flips totally harsh the mellow on your surfers’ airborne antics. For the bazillionth time, you’ll find yourself wishing the iPad’s touch controls were a little more precise.

Sakaouchi’s Mistwalker Studios certainly isn’t afraid to bring the crazy. In this case, it’s a grade-A anachronism: Cute little aliens in spaceships that occasionally hover in the air above the wave for you to swipe at, collect and even house. Maybe they should have brought surfboards, too.

Like a lot of iOS developers, Mistwalker has created an unusual and entertaining diversion that’s sometimes hampered by the limitations of its control scheme. In that sense, it’s kinda like surfing a windy day at Big Sur with a plastic snow sled—surftastic in patches, sure, but ultimately as frustrating as it is fun.

TryIt

Pros:
+ Party Wave mode is a tap-tap-tapping frenzy of fun
+ Kooky touches (Aliens? Surfing dogs?) amp the charm
+ Nailing a “perfect” on the first phase means you don’t repeat it if you crash the second

Cons:
- Iffy touch controls make guiding the boards feel like sucking seawater up your nose
- Controlling multiple surfers on an iPod Touch screen is just about impossible

Game Info:
Platform: iOS
Publisher: Mistwalker Corporation
Developer: Mistwalker Corporation
Release Date: 7/24/2012
Genre: Action/ Line-drawing
Age Rating: 4+
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by developer

About the Author

Aaron R. Conklin has been writing about games and games culture for more than 15 years. A former contributor to Computer Games Magazine and Massive Magazine, his writing has appeared on IGN.com and in newspapers and alt-weeklies across the country. Conklin's an unapologetic Minnesota sports fan living in Madison, Wisconsin, home of the Midwest's most underrated gaming vibe.