Hironobu Sakaguchi is usually known in the gaming community for one thing and one thing only: RPGs. He saved Square from bankruptcy by creating Final Fantasy, one of the most successful game series in history. When he departed Square in 2004, he formed the studio Mistwalker, which has cranked out several other critically and commercially successful RPGs. After promoting The Last Story in Europe, however, he decided to do something different. So, Sakaguchi-san made a game based on one of his favorite hobbies – surfing.
Party Wave, Mistwalker’s first non-RPG and iOS title, hit the App Store on July 19. Here, Sakaguchi gives iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad owners a totally radical dose of big air and big fun. It might look like another casual action game in the vein of Angry Birds, Cut the Rope or even Where’s My Water?, but Party Wave has a ton of great qualities that set it apart from other fish in the massive sea of iOS games.
The game’s short levels are all split into two parts. When you start out, you guide swimming surfers through the ocean in a top-down view, dodging obstacles and getting to a safe zone where you wait for a wave to come. Once you get as many surfers as possible to the safe zone and catch a wave, the motley crew aptly yells out “PARTY WAVE!” and the surfing begins. Here, you touch the surfers to make them jump in the air, keeping them away from jellyfish, jumping dolphins and turtles, and occasional debris. If three surfers wipe out before the wave ends, the game is over.
This all seems simple enough, right? Not when you have everything from ocean creatures to reef beds in your path! Even a revolving set of buoys keeps you from the safe zone at one point, while sting rays follow you around in another. Luckily, there are several ways the game can help you out. The tutorials are quite straightforward, and give players a definite idea of what to expect. When you keep surfers from wiping out, you get “Perfect” marks. If you get one in the top-down portion of the level, you can jump right into the surfing in a subsequent play. When you successfully clear stages with “Perfect” marks in both parts, you end up getting stars, which you can use as power-ups when you’re really in a bind.
Stars come and go in other ways, too. Sometimes, a cute alien named Hiso appears in-game, and if you can rub his UFO, you get a star. There are even several unlockables that you can get with Hiso, and if you get close to the mermaid sisters in the top-down part of the level, even more surprises show up. If anyone can make an iOS game with a ton of replay value, it’s Sakaguchi!
Another nifty unlockable feature in Party Wave is an “Arcade” mode, where you try and clear six sets of four stages each in a successive time limit. Each jump or trick gives you a second or two, but if you hit an obstacle, time ticks away faster, and you lose the set when you lose a surfer. The “race against the clock” aspect of this mode can certainly get difficult, but it’s all in good fun.
The presentation in Party Wave is simple yet elegant, with bright visuals that really give the game a childlike appeal, especially when viewed on an iPad. The adorable art style, exquisite water backgrounds and vivid animation remind me of anime series and cartoons such as The Powerpuff Girls and Panty & Stocking With Garterbelt, and this fits the game rather well. The four characters are even named: Zack is the one with the blond, spiky hairdo, Lani’s the cute Hawaiian girl, Pete’s the big, burly guy, and Skip is a surfing dog (named after Sakaguchi’s own dog).
Here’s your odd fact for today: the art in Party Wave was designed by Kimihiko Fujisaka, who also drew the sexy characters featured in the Drakengard series…oh, and The Last Story. You could argue that Fujisaka has gone to the (surfing) dogs, but to each their own. I’d call his art style here an endearing departure that’s every bit as beautiful as his more Medieval-inspired designs. Plus, those three mermaid sisters are just as hot as Furiae or Syrenne. Just sayin’.
Moreover, Mistwalker games often feature lovely music, and Party Wave is no exception. In the daytime levels, one can hear the lively sounds of ukeleles, slide guitars, wood instruments and traditional Hawaiian chanting, while the nighttime levels feature subdued, sweet piano music. It’s another one of the little things that makes this game great.
The other aspects of Party Wave are polished indeed. Controls work well, even on the relatively small iPhone/iPod Touch screen, but the iPad’s large screen helps a lot when controlling Pete in the top-down section. Even the menus are clean and uncluttered, and Game Center integration also works well, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Party Wave has a couple of minor flaws. The placement of the “Pause” button in the top left hand corner can be cumbersome, and I’ve hit it several times in the more heated levels. Moreover, the difficulty curve can get fairly high at points – for instance, the level where you control ten surfers is fairly intimidating, though certainly not up to the level of Sakaguchi’s great RPG boss battles. Finally, anyone with a 1G/2G iPod Touch or a 2G/3G iPhone is out of luck. Party Wave is, however, compatible with later iPhones and iPod Touches as well as all iPads.
Aside from a few missteps, Party Wave is a terrific iOS debut for Sakaguchi’s humble studio Mistwalker. It’s an addictive, beautiful little game with a lot of replay value and even some good, old-fashioned difficulty. The best part of all: this party’s cost of admission is only $1.99, making this a steal. Any iDevice owners looking for a new game should definitely catch this wave. Surf’s up!
Oprainfall’s Review System:
- 5 Stars- A Must Own Game. Games don’t get much better than this. We recommend you buy it if you can.
- 4 Stars- A Great Game. It’s not perfect, but it’s close. If you like the genre, you should like this game.
- 3 Stars- A Good Game. This game may have some flaws, but is enjoyable. Give it a try, you might like it.
- 2 Stars- A Poor Game. There is something off about this game. Fans of the series or genre might like it.
- 1 Star- A Bad Game. There are obvious flaws that keep the game from being enjoyable. We cannot recommend this game.
You can buy Party Wave on the iTunes App Store here (http://itunes NULL.apple NULL.com/us/app/party-wave/id517432320?mt=8).