Ah! We’re finally getting down to the party! Mario’s career has gone in many, many directions, but still one of the most unexpected and influential had to be Mario Party. It spawned a whole new style of party games, beyond inventing a genre that would be copied over and over. So let’s get this party started right with the N64.
Flash back to fifth grade for a moment. I walk into class in the early morning and my friends start telling me about a new game they’d just heard about called Mario Party. I press them for the details and they tell me it’s a game where Mario and his crew play tons of mini-games and go around a board to earn coins and stars and what have you. And it’s also a big multiplayer game. I’m pretty jazzed, so I head home and anticipate my Nintendo Power to confirm these accusations. Sure enough, Mario Party was a real thing and I was psyched.
While I didn’t own it myself for a while, I had a few friends that did, meaning I was no stranger to the game and its intricacies. The single-player mode was enough to keep me busy in the meantime, especially the mini-game challenge prompting you to play through all the mini-games in a sort of a single-player adventure separate from the main game, but it was clearly the multiplayer games that got people going the most. I still say it holds up well, so grab it used and invite your friends over.
The game certainly wasn’t without massive flaws. I’m not even talking about the dreaded bleeding palms caused by rotating the control stick at insane speeds. In fact, I considered it a badge of honor to have a callous on my palm showing that I had routered it harder than anyone else. No, the place where the game breaks is Chance Time, also known as “Now the Computer Decides to Win Time” where coins and stars could be traded to characters seemingly at random. If you landed on the space things were mostly gravy since you could make sure not to screw yourself over, but if a computer character landed on Chance Time, you know for certain that your stars are gone. You could be ahead with five stars and lose them all two turns before the game ends, just because the computer landed on Chance Time. No me gusta.
Mario Party 2:
A lot of people consider the second Mario Party to be the best, and while I won’t argue, I also won’t agree. Why? Because it did away with the palm-routering that I enjoyed from the first game. Otherwise the game was nothing but better with more interesting boards and a ton more mini-games. I was impressed that they didn’t just take all the mini-games from the first Mario Party and plunk them in the sequel with a few new ones. Instead the sequel had an entire new roster of mini-games, plus a few retooled favorites from its predecessor. I found that very cool. I also liked that each board gave the characters a unique costume such as cowboy or astronaut. It was just cool. But there wasn’t a lot to say about the sequel since it was simply a progression of the concepts.
Mario Party 3:
And that’s about what every new Mario Party game would be: Just a progression of the concept. Mario Party 3 did add Daisy and Waluigi as characters, something I liked to see since more is generally always better in video games, and it had a definite “story mode” to play through, and by “story mode” I mean a rough framework to encourage single-players to play when friends weren’t around. More mini-games were added and nothing seemed to detract from the previous game. I wasn’t quite sure what would be next for the series but I had a suspicion.
Mario Party 4:
The GameCube finally got a Mario Party game to call its own and no one was surprised. Graphics were improved, but unsurprisingly, not much else changed. And this was a problem because there wasn’t much of a reason for owners of any previous Mario Party game to buy a new one. Why would we want a new version of a game we already had? The controls stayed consistently good and the mini-games were always the star of the show with excellent new ones added all the time, but it hardly seemed worth buying again. You really had to be devoted to the party to continue buying the new games.
Mario Party 5:
Are you noticing a trend? Mario Party 5 was once again just a new collection of mini-games and boards, but this time a few extras were added such as a beach volleyball extra mode, an ice hockey extra mode, and the Super-Duel Mode which had you assembling a combat vehicle for battle against the computer or other players. Were these extras beyond the standard game enough to differentiate it from previous titles? Well, not really. It was definitely nice to have more to do, but I’ll tell you, I got this as a Christmas gift one year and found myself really surprised. It was a Mario game, and a good Mario game, but I had no real excited feeling when I unwrapped it. I just thought, “Oh, cool, I guess I like these games.” Oh well, a free game is a free game. If I had to suggest a GameCube Mario Party, I’d suggest 5.
Mario Party 6:
More new mini-games, more new boards, but where could they take the series now that they’d pretty much done everything? “Add a peripheral!” Naturally, this was the go-to solution and would be for a while, but for Mario Party 6 a microphone was added to the game, allowing you to use it for a few mini-games here and there. And that was pretty much it. How was the story? Oh, the sun and the moon are arguing over who’s cooler, so Mario suggests they just go get some stars. Alright then, fair enough. I found it odd that Mario Party 5 took DK out as a playable character and Mario Party 6 decided that was still totally fine. DK fans were surely miffed. And he still hasn’t come back as a playable character.
Mario Party 7:
Okay, there’s no surprise but Mario Party 7 is just more of the same. The microphone was included, DK was still excluded, and it got mediocre reviews at best. The only significant thing I remember is I worked at Game Crazy at the time and there was a GameCube system bundle that included Mario Party 7 and an extra controller, but the total price was only $100. That’s as good a deal as any I’ve ever heard. But the game itself? Feh. You could have eight players now with two players sharing a controller, but that was the only really new thing. The story was about as thin as it could be with Mario and his friends on a cruise without Bowser, making Bowser really angry. Hilarity ensues, supposedly.
Mario Party 8:
The first and so far only Wii incarnation of Mario Party is, as expected, just like the previous games but now with Wiimote controls. Nothing new added, nothing old removed. Oddly though, Nintendo as forced to issue a recall after the UK release of the game because it contained the word “spastic.” Why? Because “spastic” has an entirely different connotation in the UK compared to the US and is considered extremely offensive since it refers to the disabled. Oops.
Mario Party Advance:
I had expected there would be a Mario Party on a handheld eventually, but when Mario Party Advance came out I was entirely oblivious since, well, I didn’t care. The main fault comes down to a complete lack of multiplayer capabilities. I hate games that force multiplayer experiences, but c’mon, this is a Mario Party game. You need multiplayer support. And to make matters worse, there were only four playable characters. For shame. Top it all off with “Random Chance” as the reason for most game losses and I’m glad I passed.
Mario Party DS:
Happily, the DS version did portable Mario Party right and included multiplayer, of which you only needed a single game card (though that’s with reduced features, as usual). Still, it wasn’t completely without merit. It got good reviews and it played well. Mostly, how could you pass up a Mario Party done right on a handheld? You couldn’t, not really. Check it out if that at all sounds like a good idea to you.
Okay, I think this party’s getting out of hand, so it’s time I called it a night. But the Mario Retrospective still isn’t over. I need to conclude things properly with a few Mario games I missed, plus just some overall impressions. Come back for that tomorrow.
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