As many recent New Year's Eve revellers will testify, good parties don't come easy. The ingredients may look straightforward – booze, tunes, games, a joker and some tarts (or perhaps cakes for the young'uns). But without the right spirit, exactly those constituents can also make up a miserable nightmare.
As with parties, so with party games. Since Nintendo's Mario Party on the N64, such titles have either enchanted or bewildered, offering two-minute to 20-second mini-games that you enjoy alone or against friends. Sort of like playing 8-bit games from the '80s on a heady mix of amphetamines, and equally euphoric or miserable by turns.
When they work – WarioWare, say – party/mini-games are brilliant, and you think all games should be so simple. When they don't – Kazook, say – the thought of having paid good money for such pixel-deep gaming fodder is soul-destroying.
Kazook is, allegedly, a party game. We can't really imagine any party that Kazook would enliven, save a gathering of the Communist Party of China, and only because it might provoke fisticuffs about the People's Republic sliding into Western decadence. Because if Kazook is fun, comrades, then joylessly burning books in slate grey jumpsuits would be the ultimate high.
But that hasn't got much to do with anything – a perfect introduction to Kazook. For no compelling reason, you're one of two characters (apparently there are 14 to unlock) negotiating a series of turgid mini-games, all featuring the same style of generally charmless characters in clichéd, often ill-advisedly 3D, environments.
In decent party games, you could be proving the moon was made of cheese for all the plot mattered. In rubbish ones, like Kazook, you find yourself trying to interpret the storyline just to make sense of it all. Like a criminal profiler faced with a particularly nasty sadist, you're constantly asking: 'Why?'
You'll have noticed we've hitherto avoided the actual games. You'd be well advised to do the same.
You begin with a handful unlocked, ranging from an alien abduction pick-'em-up and a zombie shooter to a radio studio where you bleep out obscenities and a pool party where you eject gatecrashers.
There's also a two-player Pong-like affair on hovercrafts, which suffers the same problem as most of Kazook's 3D-based games – it's imprecise, hard to control and pretty much down to luck as to whether you score. As for the simple 2D games, these are generally either rhythm games or ones that tell you to press Triangle or Circle now and then. They start lame, and either stay the same (zombies are replaced by cowboys, for instance) or they get worse.
At least, they do if you persist. To unlock more games, you need to garner $10,000. Getting onto the bottom of the high score table – a difficult task, and not just because these games sap your will to live – gives you $1,000, while just enduring a game rewards you with $100.
It says a lot about Kazook that before we found a cheat code for cash (see PG Tips below) we'd actually considered resting a chair leg on the X button to try and automatically play through 100 games for money, rather than suffer the gameplay. We wanted to explore the full range of Kazook's games, just in case there'd been a terrible mix-up at the game factory and mini-games stamped 'Rejected!' had been accidentally made into the would-be welcoming offerings for new Kazook-ers.
But no – unlocking these new games is akin to deliberately breaking into prison.
There's an American football throwing game that would have embarrased the C64. A bucking bronco one that would be pathetic enough if it were made of plastic and operated by red and green sticks. Hovercrafts, but on lava. (Hot? Not.) The worst dance rhythm game. Ever. And much more – or more specifically 30 games, according to the press release. We couldn't count through the tears.
Positives? Well, it doesn't crash. Most of the games can apparently be played multiplayer, although most balanced individuals won't have the guts to inflict this on their friends. The infuriating guitar riff that plays throughout the My First Interface screen actually stops while a mini-game is loading – bliss. And those frequent loading screens bring some respite from the tedious action, although for once we wished the PSP's UMD drive would slow down, not speed up.
More generously, it's technically impressive – there's a lot of detail in the environments, and it's sadly clear a fair bit of work has gone into the bones of the game. And just occasionally the zany humour hits the mark, although such moments are quickly dragged down again by the sorry game design.
You're not going to buy Kazook. What's more interesting is why it went wrong. Party games look easy to create, but without the right spirit, atmosphere and perfectly judged gameplay, they're uniquely pointless experiences – bad games with no goal.
We were right to be suspicious of Kazook. Superficially, it has all the right moves – the grungy music, the wacky characters, the varied game settings – but each element falls far short of anything you'd skip your homework for.
Your mum warned you about dodgy party games. Avoid at all costs.