In an ideal world, the term "family vacation" conjures up visions of fun intergenerational activities in a beautiful setting bookended by car trips filled with tasty snacks and merry sing-alongs. Sadly, such trips are more often portrayed as arduous undertakings in which press-ganged children suffer the whims of exhausted adults bookended by car trips filled with loud arguments and broken air conditioning. Go Vacation aspires to create the happier of these two visions in your living room with a cheerful collection of minigames set across four sprawling vacation resorts. Being able to roam around each spacious resort with up to four players gives Go Vacation a novel sense of freedom that distinguishes it from games of its ilk, but most of the minigames are too shallow and simplistic to inspire repeat play. The sheer variety and the appeal of exploration make Go Vacation a solid choice for families with young children, but all other demographics are advised to spend their leisure time elsewhere.
Before you go vacation in Go Vacation, you must choose your character. You can play as a Mii or choose from a wide variety of multigenerational avatars included with the game. Then it's off to the marine resort to get your vacation started in earnest. A guide sets you up on a quest to collect stamps by playing every activity the resort has to offer, but after this brief introduction, you are free to roam wherever you want. The resort area is quite large, encompassing long beaches, a serene bay, slender peninsulas, an underground river, grassy hillsides, a ruined temple, and the rolling swells of the ocean. Large environments are one of the best things about Go Vacation, and each resort has a few vehicles that allow you to cover a lot of ground with ease.
When you cruise out into the bay on a marine bike (read: Jet Ski), you'll find racing and stunt minigames, photo opportunities, balloon messages with hints about areas to discover, and treasure chests containing new outfits for your avatar. All of these opportunities are marked with big yellow squares that make them fairly easy to find, but there are also many unlabeled elements to discover. You might come across a pod of dolphins and hop out to swim with them for a moment or weave through some towering boulders, slip up a small river, and discover a shipwreck. These small discoveries enrich the bright and colorful worlds, making them feel vibrant and inviting. Riding your horse into the hills of the mountain resort, making some big skateboard leaps in the city resort, or zipping around on a snowmobile in the snow resort all yield similar pleasures, though not every mode of transit is created equal. Some merely require you to hold a button to accelerate, while others demand that you shake the remote to move. The near-constant movement can get tiring and deflate the fun of exploration somewhat, especially in the city resort where walking is your only non-waggle mode of locomotion.
Still, traipsing around each resort is more engaging than choosing activities from a list (though you can do that from the main menu as well). Once you've located a minigame you want to play (perhaps with the help of the not-always-helpful minimap), you simply press A to begin. You and anyone you are playing with immediately jump into the activity by way of a loading screen with which you will quickly become intimately familiar. Go Vacation's loading screens aren't long, but they are frequent, and how much they annoy you is inversely proportional to how much you like dotting the screen with little cartoon dog stamps. After you receive a brief explanation and a few simple images that explain your goal and how to achieve it, then it's minigame time.
Go Vacation boasts about four dozen minigames, many of which will be very familiar. Games like tennis, golf, and baseball echo Wii Sports, while the various skiing and snowboarding activities hark back to We Ski & Snowboard (right down to the Balance Board integration). Dancing, skydiving, target shooting, vehicle racing, and scuba diving have all been done in other games, and for the most part, they've been done better. Go Vacation lacks the control subtlety of games like Wii Sports Resort (even with its MotionPlus support); therefore, most games are simple matters of easy wrist flicks and button taps. Most are decent, with only a few succumbing to an awkward camera (like Keep the Flag) or unresponsive controls (like Beach Volleyball).
The minigames are easy to play and the conditions for victory are never strict, allowing young or inexperienced players to participate without frustration. Many of the minigames are vastly improved when you play with other humans (like table hockey and snowball fight), though some force you to each take individual turns (like dogsled racing), which causes the action to drag. If you don't have anyone to play with, you can pick up AI teammates (and pets!) around each resort to accompany you and make your photos look less lonely, but Go Vacation is definitely best when played with others. Even the joy of exploration is preserved because the split-screen action allows you to travel freely around the large resorts without having to stick by each other's side.
The stamp dash offers incentives for trying each and every activity, granting you access to new resorts and other rewards as you progress. You eventually unlock a villa for yourself, where your various vacation photos will be displayed and you can organize any furniture you happen to discover in your wanderings. There are also silver keys to earn for good performance in each activity, as well as gold keys for challenges related to overall resort enjoyment. The conditions for earning these rewards are a mystery, however, and even after you've unlocked one (by riding every mode of transit in the game or jumping a certain distance in ski jump), you only have the title of your reward to tell you what you've accomplished. This lack of information is unfortunate because earning keys could provide an incentive for players to continue playing long after their stamp dash is complete.
Like a theme park designed specifically for children, Go Vacation may look appealing to adults. The open-world setting makes each play session more flexible than the disjointed minigame parade of other similar games, and the ability to do it all with friends is attractive. But once you set foot inside this kiddie playland, it becomes clear that it's all very shallow and simplistic because Go Vacation's minigames don't reach the enjoyable heights of their forebears. The simplicity and cheery visuals make the game well suited for playing with kids, and you'll probably get a kick out of seeing them get a kick out of the action. If that's what you're looking for, then Go Vacation is worth the price of admission.