Mario Party! Even the name sounds like fun… Mario… PARTY! Most gamers agree, no matter which system you’re loyal to, if you stick in a Mario Party title and gather up some friends and some controllers… you’re in for a good time.
Yeah, they said the same thing about Monopoly back in the day, and in both games many people have the same thought about ¾ of the way through… “Damn, this game is taking forever!” Either you’re getting crushed but not officially out of it, or you’re kind of in a stalemate, or you just seem to have been playing for a REALLY long time waiting for your turn. Then we all know what happens next: there’s a bitchy comment, then a full-blown argument, and finally someone loses sight in an eye when the little horsey-rider-guy gets jammed in someone else’s eyeball.
Mario Party 9 has hit shelves for the Nintendo Wii, and has worked to fix some of the issues plaguing the undeniably-fun video-board-game series. In this rendition, Bowser’s causing trouble for the residents of the Mushroom Kingdom again! (Sorry if that’s a spoiler.) He’s stolen all the Mini-Stars (possibly the Star Bits from the Super Mario Galaxy series) and hidden them throughout his strongholds. How can we enjoy starry nights in the Mushroom Kingdom without Mini-Stars? So off goes the Mario crew to save them.
The premise is the same: run around a board, trigger games and events, become the Superstar. But players will notice a few changes right away. Firstly, don’t worry about how many coins a Star costs, because there are no coins. There are no Stars, for that matter. (Can’t make Stars without Mini-Stars, right?). Score is kept by Mini-Stars, collected as the party traverses across the board. Also, no longer is the board a continuous loop: there is now a specific start and a specific end to the board.
The end to each board is known as a Bowser Gate, where the largest bunch of Mini-Stars are held by one of Bowser’s minions, usually specific to the board theme. Also, around the midway point of the board is a Fortress, where another minion hoards a large chunk of Mini-Stars. There are no avoiding these face-offs, so put on your big boy pants and get ready to rumble with some dastardly denizens.
But the big change, the one that will really put a twist in things, is the fact that Mario’s Party in Mario Party 9 actually travels as a party. Doesn’t sound like that big of a deal, right? I thought not as well, but when all the characters climb in your vehicle and start moving, you realize how much of a reality-show aspect this works in. The player whose turn it is becomes “captain” of the vehicle, and makes all the decisions for the entire party. No longer do pathway choices affect just you, but everyone else as well. I found myself imploring my opponents to take certain pathways during the course of our games, mainly to keep from all of us getting the shaft. Do you take one path that drops you on a Bowser space but sets the next captain up for a bunch of negatively-charged Mini-Ztars? Or do you take the space that brings you to a Toad House for some cool prizes, but practically hands over Mini-Stars to your opponents?
The other benefit of moving as a group is that it speeds up the game. You don’t have to take your turn, then wait for Luigi, then wait for Peach, then wait for Koopa Troopa, then play a game. You make your move, but you’re constantly involved. Mini-games don’t follow a set pattern, so you could find yourself in the game at any point. Shuffle spaces can also change up the order of turns, so again, look alive, you never know when your turn will be up.
Mini-games are also not every turn, so you don’t have to plow through thirty-five mini-games every time. Mini-games are now triggered by yellow Mini-Game Spaces, starting a Free-For-All game, a 1 vs 3 game, where it’s everybody versus the captain of the vehicle, Battle Games, where your Mini-Stars are put on the line, or a mini-game versus the sneaky scamp Bowser Jr. The mini-games are simple to learn and control, but still enjoyable and challenging. A prime example of this is “Don’t Look,” which is reminiscent of Mario Party 2‘s “Look Away.” In this Free-For-All, arrows will flash on the screen, and you have to flick your Wii-mote in any direction other than the arrow. Sounds easy, right? But the time between the arrows and the buzzer is so quick, you’re forced to react on instinct, and often times get the buzzer for failing to do something as simple as look in a certain direction.
Other challenges include knocking over as many Goombas as possible in “Goomba Bowling,” pulling off sick jump rope tricks in “Skipping Class,” trying to escape a haunted house in “Manor of Escape,” or steering a Bullet Bill through a race course in “Speeding Bullets.”
The quicker pace of gameplay along with a definitive end goal compels you to finish the task at hand. No more “screw it” feelings, you want to finish the board and see who comes out on top. Also, there’s never a point where someone is totally out of it. Toward the end of one of my test panels on Blooper Beach, our Yoshi, who was in last place most of the game, came on strong at the end, hit a Lucky Space, won a grip of Mini-Stars, and found himself in second; adding on three end-of-board bonuses, he beat everyone.
The luck versus skill issue will rear its head here, but such is the nature with all Mario Party games. Otherwise the best game player would always win. However, that’s not really the nature of a board game, which is the goal of Mario Party titles. Skill will help, but having luck on your side is necessary as well.
My only (and main) critique was the same gripe that I had with Mario Party 8: If this is a party game, meant for people to play together… someone tell me why there was no online play offered? Granted, the Wii system for online play is pretty bad, compared to the PlayStation Network or XBox LIVE, but it’s still there. Why not offer online capabilities? Sometimes you feel like playing with others but can’t get people together often. (Like people in Vegas, where I live, where people work all sorts of different schedules. Not that I’m bitter. Much. …Effing tourists…) I mean, online play should have been a slam-dunk on MP8, you would think that MP9 would have addressed this point. But no, not even an attempt to utilize it. It’s a pretty glaring black mark, but fortunately doesn’t really knock the quality of the game.
Mario Party 9 also features a solo campaign, where your character tries to defeat all of Bowser’s minions while playing with Shy Guy and Magikoopa, who are trying to sabotage his efforts. Party Points can be earned after completed Party Boards, and can be used to purchase unlockables such as vehicles, boards, and constellations. Also for quick play there’s a Mini-Game Room, which can be done as single Mini-Games or Mini-Game competitions without boards. Finally, my personal favorite is in the Extras menu, where you can play Castle Clearout, a bubble-type puzzler that could easily be a top seller on the Virtual Console as a stand-alone. It’s worth a check-out.
The graphics, music, and sound effects are spectacular. Mario Party titles always delivered high-quality stuff, but this goes above and beyond even what MP8 had to offer. On the Blooper Beach stage, for example, the water was so blue and crystal clear it makes players want to go swimming along with the Mini-Star-granting Dolphins.
Often the Wii gets knocked for not being a “gamer’s console.” Those who laud the PS3 or the XBox 360 claim those to be real video games. So consider Mario Party 9 to be a peacemaker… casual players to hardcore gamers can learn the rules quickly, have equal chances of winning, and all have a little fun while doing it.
That’s what parties are all about, right?