The Mario Party series of games, essentially a mini-game filled boardgame in a video game (Gameception!), featuring…I don’t really have to tell who it features, do I? Although it’s the longest-running mini-game series, it’s likely the last game in the series for the Wii, so we rolled the dice a few times to see whether a new version of the game was warranted.
The Mario Party series started back in 1998 on the N64, and has seen a fairly regular release schedule since then. The gap between Mario Party 8 and Mario Party 9 is the longest, at five years between the two games. Although this game has, strictly speaking, seen 11 iterations (including the Gameboy Advance and Nintendo DS versions), it’s really only fair to compare Mario Party 9 with Mario Party 8, the only other Wii version of the game.
Mario Party, for those who have never played a game in this series before, is a party board game where the participants compete for stars or coins, or both (depending on the version of Mario Party). Each player takes the part of one of the characters from the Mario franchise in an attempt the defeat Bowser or his minions. Each level is presented as a board game across which the party of players must journey. The number of places the players move is, of course, dictated by a throw of the dice. Every now and again (read: almost as often as every turn), a mini-game appears during which players can earn stars/coins/mcGuffins. Most of the main attraction of Mario Party is the mini-games, and the number of games has varied wildly over the course of the series. The mini-games can be split up into several broad varieties, depending on how many players are against how many, e.g. 1 vs 3, 2 vs 2, free for all, etc. The winner, or winners, of the mini-game obtains a small prize of coins or stars for their efforts.
Plot tends to be a bit on the thin side, but then again, you’re not exactly playing Mario Party for its deep philosophies. In Mario Party 9, you’re once again up against Bowser and Bowser Jr as they, for whichever unassailable reasons of their own, pull all the stars out of the sky and keep them for their very own. It is, of course, up to Mario and his gang to stop the evil twosome and retrieve all the stars. Or not, because you can decide to forego the entire single player solo game, and fire up a multiplayer game with three AI opponents. The experience is more-or-less the same, but you don’t have to deal with the idea of losing the entire board and starting again.
Mario Party 9 differs quite a bit from the excruciatingly dull experience that was Mario Party 8, and almost every difference is a brilliant improvement over the prior title. Whereas before, each character wandered around the board by themselves and a mini-game only popped up at the end of everyone’s turn, now all the players travel together in the same vehicle. The person whose chance it is to play (called the Captain in this game) receives whatever benefits or detriments the board dishes out. What this means for the game is that play happens much faster than in Mario Party 8 (which could drag out for over an hour on the same board)—in Mario Party 9, play caps out at around 45 minutes, max. Furthermore, it’s not a race to the end of the board, but rather a race to collect as many stars as possible. It also means that the game is now far more fun and accessible due to one small fact: it’s much easier to screw the other players over. And it’s far more rewarding too. If it were good writing etiquette to insert smileys into reviews, trust me, there’d be a big, evil, sadistic grin right about here.
Instead of coins that you have to exchange for stars (this irritated me no end in Mario Party 8!), you now have stars that you’re collecting. The player with the most stars at the end of the board is the Superstar! (I assume that the word “superstar!” is always accompanied by an exclamation point). While you’re busy collecting the stars, you also need to stay away from the ztars, which subtract stars. The game is an interesting mix of skill and luck, although not at the same time. Most of the “luck” side of things will be happening out on the board itself, given that just about everything is based on the roll of a die. Down at the mini-game level, things are more about skill, although not always—there’s a mini-game, for example, where you have to choose a ball to roll down a slope fitted with obstacles. The first ball to the bottom is the winner. That’s ALL about luck. Lady luck tends to be capricious, especially if she’s in the company of Bowser. Every now and again, Bowser will make an appearance and give half the captain’s stars to the player in last place. This sort of thing can turn a game around quickly, and suddenly it doesn’t look so rosy for the captain. It’s not all luck, though, because the game can award several kinds of dice that allow you to stack your rolls one way or another. For example, if you know that there’s trouble coming up three places from now, and you want to ensure you don’t land on it, you could use a die that rolls only zeros and ones, or a die that only rolls fours, fives, and sixes. On the other hand, using the 0/1 die allows you to potentially mess with the person next in turn.
The other nice change from 8 is that Mario Party 9 now also includes boss fights (more mini-games, of course), which makes the whole experience far more rewarding, since it feels less like a board game that you’re playing against yourself, and more like an actual video game with goals and bosses. So in essence, each board starts with the four players in the vehicle, out to defeat the board’s boss beyond the Bowser Gate at the end of the board, so none of that insanely stupid “round and round until you have enough coins to buy the flipping stars” nonsense. There is such a thing as sticking too closely to the source material, and Mario Party 8 did this to the point where the entire game was faulty because of it. Mario Party 9 feels more focused than the mishmash of events from Mario Party 8, which makes a far more enjoyable game than before.
The last change that I’ll mention here is that, compared to the wagglethon that was Mario Party 8, where just about every single mini-game involved some sort of motion-control mechanic (including having to thrust the Wii Remote upward to hit the die block), Mario Party 9 eschews this for more traditional controls (holding the Wii Remote sideways) in among the occasional waggle game. The mini-games are far less of a hit-or-miss affair, with far fewer games sucking so badly that they put Electrolux to shame (because, as we all know, nothing sucks like…well, you know the rest).
Since Mario Party 9 is a party game, you’ll get the most value out of this game if you haul it out when a few friends are over (or when your kids have a gaggle of their friends over). It’s a good way to keep people occupied when conversation gets thin, or quite possibly when the alcohol has kicked in. It’s also a brilliant way of keeping kids out of your hair for at least 45 minutes, but likely much longer. Usually until your kids’ friends’ parents come to collect them.
Overall, Mario Party 9 is one of the better titles in the series. If you were one of those who had been scared away by a bad experience with Mario Party 8, I heartily suggest you give Mario Party 9 a go, especially if you regularly have friends coming over. The mini-games themselves are a blast to play, and some of them can be a pretty decent challenge; no mean feat for a gamelet that takes less than a minute or three. If you’ve thoroughly worn yourself out on Wii Party, you could forgivably skip Mario Party 9, but you’d be missing out on some great fun.
Final Score: 7.5 dice-rolling prawns out of 10
Developer: Nd Cube Co. Ltd
Distributor: Nintendo South Africa (Core)
Platform: Nintendo Wii
Age Rating: 3+