There is no story here, you simply compete in a variety of mini-games in either solo or group play. There are a couple of game modes whichever you choose; 'free play' and 'survival' when going solo, or 'party' and 'party mix' when playing with friends. The game caters for up to four players with every player using the one controller pass-the-parcel style. Calibrating the Move controller is no trouble – simply point it at the Playstation Eye and hold down the Move button for a few seconds. Once that is done you shouldn't need to do it again, though if you find the calibration is off you just hold the Select button down and re-calibrate the same way as before.
Once you've selected the type of game you want to play you take a photo of yourself with the Playstation Eye, which is then used as your avatar for the duration of the game. You can also record your name through the Playstation Eye's microphone, so you'll get the call whenever it's your turn to play a game. After each player has been created to their satisfaction they can select their own difficulty level; easy, normal or hard. There's a significant difference in the difficulty levels which means you can handicap more experienced or older players quite easily if you want a nice close game.
When you start playing the games you'll see your own lounge-room onscreen, framed by the cartoon background of whichever game you're about to play. You can see yourself holding the Move controller, but onscreen the Move controller takes the form of an “augmented reality object”, such as a hammer, pick-axe, toothbrush, tennis racquet, harpoon or other game-specific object. The manner in which you use the Move controller about will depend on the game you are playing, and the object it currently represents. For example when you are holding the harpoon you have to jab with the controller, with the pick-axe you have to hammer down, and with the toothbrush you will be scrubbing side-to-side. Whilst there are over twenty mini-games available to play in the game according to the game's own website, there are only nine playable in solo 'free play' or 'party mix' with friends. The other games are available to play in solo 'survival' and 'party' group play and are generally very short. A brief description of the nine main games follows.
In Poppin' you have a harpoon with which you have to pop as many floating blow-fish of the same colour as you can. The fish constantly move up the screen and bounce off each other making them harder to pinpoint. If you hit the wrong colour then you'll have to pop fish of that colour instead. There are also bombs floating about, which should obviously be avoided.
Blown Away has chicks falling down the middle of the screen with their nests on the side. The Move comes in the shape of an electric fan which is powered by holding the trigger down. Use the fan to direct the chicks into the safety of the nests to succeed here. Missing the chicks, or letting them hit your fan (and exploding into nothing more than feathers) are both no-no's.
Parachute Panic is similar in that parachutists are falling towards shark-infested waters and you need to use your fan, a handheld one this time, to push them onto the safety of boats floating in the water below. This one is much trickier than Blown Away, partly because you have to wave the fan rather than just tilting an electric one, but also because it's hard to gauge the power of the fan, and change the direction of your waving. The sharks always swim away full to the brim with unlucky skydivers when I play this one.
In Rooftop Rescue you direct a helicopter equipped with a ladder towards people stranded on nearby rooftops, while a sock-puppet Godzilla-style monster lurks, waiting to eat those left stranded too long. Once you get the ladder close enough for someone to jump on you fly back to the hospital on the far-right rooftop to rescue them. The helicopter's power is controlled with the trigger whilst you adjust its direction by tilting the Move in the direction you wish to go. This game requires a bit more precision than most of the other games you'll play.
Robo Rumble features a bunch of rampaging robots storming towards you. Their belly has a mini-screen of you in it and you have to direct the Move to a little red target and pull the trigger in order to stop them. The twist here is that the screen on their belly may be sideways, upside down or reflect your movements in reverse, making it more difficult to quickly target their weak spot.
During Spooky Shootout the entire screen is dark, allowing you to see nothing but the silhouette of ghosts flying around in the background. Here the Move controller represents a torch which lights up the screen wherever you're pointing it, and once you spot the ghosts you have to shoot them before they make their way to you. Occasionally a big bad ghost will appear and you'll need to hide your torch so that he can't see you. You can do this by covering the ball at the top of the Move controller with your free hand, or simply shoving it behind your back.
Those are the nine main games in Start the Party, but if you play the 'survival' or 'party' modes then you'll get to try your hand at many others. These other games are extremely short – you clean a crocodile's teeth, whack moles on the head with a hammer, catch flying toppings on a pizza base, slice flying fruit into pieces, wake up a bird with a bell before a cat can eat it and other similarly brief tasks. In 'survival' mode you have a certain amount of time before the game ends - the better you perform in each game, the less time you lose from your overall timer. Obviously the objective is to stay alive for as long as you can, which is usually no more than three or four minutes.
When you play either of the party modes you select whether to play a five, eight or ten round game. Each of the rounds has its own scoring criteria, for example one round might be “winner takes all”, while another will base the points on who has the best score. There are knockout rounds where you have to survive the longest for the most points, robber rounds where you can steal stars from other players as well as team-up rounds where you play in randomly-selected pairs. While this can make things interesting the winner always hinges on the final game, with any stars earned up to that point used to establish time handicaps in the last event.
The biggest issue with Start the Party is one of longevity. The games themselves are for the most part entertaining, but none of them have depth enough to play more than a few times. Even with friends the games quickly wear thin, particularly when you play the same mini-game multiple times in the course of a single match. I also didn't like the way the scoring works in party play. It's possible to thoroughly dominate a match all the way to the end, but if the last game is one you stink at then you're not going to win. Obviously being a party game you don't necessarily play to win, but you may well find yourself why you played for thirty minutes, just to end up with a six-second advantage heading into the deciding event.
The music is cheerful and cheesy in equal parts, but to be honest you'll hardly notice it. It's pretty standard mini-game fare – cheerful enough to keep you from dwelling on what you're doing, with the odd quirky sound-effect thrown in to ensure the mood stays light-hearted. Most of what you'll hear is the announcer who is more or less always bellowing out one-liners during gameplay. He's got that smarmy game-show host quality to his voice and will no doubt grate on you at times, but he's never painful enough for you to turn him off.
Overall Start the Party is a fun title, but one that will struggle to entertain you for long. The nine main mini-games are fun for the first five or six attempts, but after that there's not enough skill or depth on offer to make them worth replaying. Little kids may play it enough to justify the $50 or $60 price-tag, but for everyone else this is going to be an expensive shelf-clogger in short order. This is the kind of game that should have been packaged with the Move controller because it shows off the Move technology to great effect – it's extremely accurate and user-friendly all the way. As a standalone game there's just not enough content to justify purchase in my opinion.
Review By: Mike Allison