As video gamers, we live in a binary world of 1 or 0, on or off, yes or no. Luck is a quantity that holds no place in our chosen form of escapism. Then there are board gamers, who accept the fact that while skill can indeed be advantageous, games can literally be won or lost on the roll of the dice or draw of a card.
This is where gamers get sucked in, chewed up and spat out in the Mario Party series. You can dominate every single mini-game, your opponents can be on a virtual down-trou when with a solitary roll of the dice, first place can become last place and Lady Luck can take a giant steaming turd on your mad, button-mashing mini-game prowess. Frustrating.
With Mario Party 9, let’s get one thing out in the open straight away – luck still plays a large part in determining the overall winner, but the improvements that new developer ND Cube Co. Ltd have made throughout make having the rug pulled out from under the player at the finish line far less depressing.
Previous Mario Party games have felt like a Mario themed board game with generic mini-games skinned with Mario characters. Mario, the brand, is big business, but Mario Party has never reached the dizzying heights of other Mario titles because it just doesn’t feel like playing a Mario game. Thankfully the latest release changes this tradition completely.
Finally, Mario Party feels like a bona fide Mario spin-off, complete with a healthy dose of platforming, boss and sub-boss battles. Mini-games often reflect themes and levels seen in the likes of New Super Mario Bros Wii, Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario Galaxy. In fact there are times when an uneducated eye could easily mistake Mario Party 9 for a full-blown stand-alone Mario adventure.
To go along with this new ethos of attracting Mario fans rather than just party game fans, motion controls have wisely been kept to a minimum. Most mini-games require the Wii controller to be held horizontally, Mario Kart style, and any motion control is restricted to a tilt here or a flick there. It echoes the groundswell of Wii gamers who are fed up with being forced into using awkward motion control and just want to play some quality, no-frills, sit-on-the-couch games.
All players now drive around the game-board together in a car. There is no first to the finish goal as the only way to win is to earn the most coins. The player whose turn it is becomes the driver of the car and only the driver will experience the bonus or punishment that landing on a special space dishes out. So again, all players are really at the mercy of the dice. There is a mini-game where the turn taker can only sit and watch as the winner of a race gets given half their coins. And then there are the occasions where the mighty Bowser appears and gives all of a player’s coins to someone else, just because he can. But because the whole game is a more polished and well-rounded Mario experience, moments like this are far more likely to induce laughter than rage.
Sure, it’s easy to see that sudden switch-around moments such as these cater to the family oriented party game style. After all, where’s the fun in a six year-old kid getting beaten by his 18 year-old brother every time? It’s a definite playing field leveler, and that’s understandable.
For those looking for the complete reinvention of the wheel will have to wait a bit longer. But Mario Party 9 has had enough tweaked in it to breathe some much-needed life back into the series.