In the late 1990s, Nintendo and Hudson Soft collaborated on a new type of video game that would end up becoming a phenomenon. Combining short burst activities with a board game style overlay, Mario Party aimed to turn family game nights into a unique and colourful interactive experience. Nowadays, the series is known to many, with ten sequels under its belt; the latest being Mario Party 9 for the Nintendo Wii. Needless to say, the teams’ inaugural goal was a quick success. Though, how does its trademarked party game design hold up after all of these years, within a market that has been flooded by other companies who’ve hoped to take the crown from the portly red plumber? Quite well, actually. In fact, it’s arguably the best party game released this generation.
Back in May of 2007, when the much-talked about Nintendo Wii was just a technological baby, Mario Party 8 became the first game from this series to grace its motion-controlled interface. To those of us who’d waited a long time for its release, the game ended up being pretty disappointing. It was obvious that the project had begun life as a Nintendo GameCube game, as the utilized motion gestures felt tacked on and uninspired. Generally speaking, the disc’s contents seemed outdated in an, “It’s been seen and done before,” type of way. Based on that popular opinion, its average review scores dropped below those of its predecessors. As a result, development of Mario Party 9 was moved to one of the Big N’s internal studios, which is known by the title of Nd Cube Co. LTD.
This time around, Mario’s competitive party has a reason for existing: Bowser, his arch-nemesis of well over two decades now, has stolen all of the mini stars out of the night sky over the Mushroom Kingdom. Of course, being the heroic type, everyone’s favourite Italian plumber gathers up his friends to help save the day. A large group of familiar faces (both friendly and mischievous) is assembled, allowing players to choose their avatar of choice. Once that important decision is made, the group sets off into what is basically a standardized campaign created around the party game formula. Six different environments must be conquered, in order for the group to gather all of the stolen mini stars. Along the way, they must deal with creative and unruly boards, which have some unpredictable elements like star-stealing lava.
Over the course of the aforementioned several hour-long story mode, solo adventurers will be placed into competition against a fluctuating amount of opponents. One stage may include four players, while another will only have one to three. During each round, one must always keep an eye on specific characters who are outed as Bowser’s minions. If they win, the stage must be repeated. Considering that it takes about 45 minutes to an hour to play through one round on those main boards, a last minute loss will become tough to take. Thankfully, each world feels alive with its own unique perks. That list includes a piranha-filled forest with pitfalls, an active volcano and a beach where dolphins award stars and sushi take them away. Boo’s castle is also featured, alongside Bowser’s space hangout, which resembles something from Super Mario Galaxy.
While its predecessors included tons of on-foot action, Mario Party 9 changes things up by lumping up to four competitors into one vehicle. This relatively major change alters the way things pan out, removing the opportunity for individual routes and special position-swapping opportunities. Coins and ability candies have also gone by the wayside, although unique blocks remain. These are just a few of the more notable changes, with quite a few others factoring in to make this something different. All the while, the core essence that many of us fell in love with back in 1998 remains. Considering that things hadn’t changed much in 14 years, it’s great to see that this new development team ended up putting quite a bit of thought into how to change things up, in order to provide a breath of fresh air to an aging party.
To series veterans, putting all four characters into the same vehicle must sound like a grand departure from the zany norm. In all honesty, that isn’t the case. That familiar turn-based, dice-rolling focus still remains, with a new captain system employed. The player whose turn it is gets to move from the back passenger seat to the wheel (or whatever the vessel has,) effectively taking control of it for a moment. This makes them responsible for that turn’s events, including the path that is taken by the on-rails foursome.
Movement is primarily controlled using a basic 1-6 die, although variations can be picked up by landing on blue spots. Other action icons dot the seven available boards, falling into some of the following categories: lucky, unlucky, Bowser and Bowser Jr. Captain events are also available at specific points, asking the driver to choose the starting order (or position) of his opponents during a special board challenge. A lot of the time, these end up being races or other competitions, although special types force the group to work together in order to achieve a specific move total.
Now, it’s quite apparent that all of those changes don’t fit in with the classic first one to the star space gets it mentality. That’s another area where things have been altered. This time around, the player with the most mini stars is crowned as the champion or superstar. Shown as little silver icons, they hover over the board at specifically selected intervals. Captains who move through a cluster get to keep their haul.
While playing, it’s always important to watch out for mini ztars – a purple variation that will decrease your overall total by a select amount. What their inclusion creates is a need for additional strategy, as players must try to roll a low number, in order to get out of the captain’s chair before one of those clusters is approached. The aforementioned lucky spaces allow the driver to roll for extra stars, while the unlucky ones are where earned stars go to pasture. Then again, they’re much more kind than Bowser is when his spaces are landed upon and the thought of shaking the game up enters his devious mind.
Over 80 new mini games are introduced in Mario Party 9, and a large amount of them are good, well-designed fun. They’re launched sporadically throughout each 45 to 60 minute-long round, randomly appearing on spaces or in dice block chests. It takes a bit of time to get used to the fact that the classic four turns before a competitive challenge design is gone, but this new system works just as well. With coins having been removed, each different mini game ends up being played for mini stars. You’ll find that the standard types are still employed, with free for all, 2 vs 2, 1 vs 3 and battle activities all included.
Quite a few of the fixtures on the aforementioned list feature mechanics and objectives that mimic mini game genres found in previous Mario Party titles. There are collection battles, races, button-pressing challenges and more. Considering that this series has been around for 14 years, it’s no surprise that some of these designs are on the familiar side, so it’s tough to really fault Nintendo for that. The development team actually deserves commendation for coming up with a quality set of activities that doesn’t shoehown motion gestures in where they’re unnecessary. In fact, the entire game only requires a WiiMote, instead of the joystick-based nunchuck. As a result, one will find that a lot of the individual input schemes take advantage of the classic NES style D-pad and buttons combination. Others use rather precise (almost to a fault) tilting, as well as swipes and lifts.
With the implementation of a story-based campaign adventure comes the inclusion of boss battle mini-games; something which is new to this series. Each board environment contains two separate encounters, with one appearing half-way into the round and the other waiting patiently at its exit. They’re all different, which is great, since repetition never becomes a grievance. A couple of standouts include a shootout with a giant squid out on the open sea, as well as a butt-slamming battle with a familiar-looking caterpillar. All competitors must put aside their differences in order to work together to defeat the large baddies. With that being said, individual statistics remain important. Landing a hit will award a specific amount of points, with extra points awarded for special attacks. Conversely, getting hit will reduce that avatar’s total by one. In the end, it’s the player with the most points who will receive the largest part of the star pot from that battle. Bonuses are awarded for the final hit, as well as being the captain when the battle was instigated. The final boss battle is a player’s last opportunity to take the lead before bonus star awards are given out based on in-game accomplishments.
Replay value has always been a strong suit of the Mario Party franchise. Getting a small group of friends together for a game or two is always a great idea. That’s exactly why the genre exists, and why it’s remained such a great seller. Party mode is prominently featured on the main menu, allowing users to battle their friends for supremacy and bragging rights. Options can be tweaked in order to allow for a certain amount of players, which means one-on-one is a perfectly viable plan. The questionable part of all of this is why online multiplayer wasn’t added into the mix. Its inclusion surely would have made this game sell like hot cakes.
Those who’d rather just stick to mini games will find that there are quite a few well-designed options that cater to them. It’s possible to create a playlist and run with it, although choosing from one of the section’s two unique scenarios will make for a more competitive experience. In one, a garden must be created using oddly-shaped plants. The winner of each brief competition gets to pick his or her ideal piece of flora, adding extra incentive to the proceedings. On the other hand, there’s a set-up where players must battle it out for the chance to roll around on a point-awarding board. Within its design, the first person to a certain numerical plateau is deemed the victor.
On top of all of the above-mentioned content, there are several extra games to be found. The first is a Tetris and Bejeweled hybrid with star gems that must be removed from the board by the formation of colour-coded shapes. The rest of this list includes an average at best soccer game, a challenging tackle avoidance football game and a compilation of ten mini games that are viewed through altered viewpoints for added difficulty. There’s also goomba bowling, which is definitely the best one of the bunch. It pits players against each other in a shortened version of real-life bowling, which just so happens to have a twist: you’re trying to take out a line of close to thirty familiar brown enemies. Better yet; they like to move in different formations. Victory is awarded to the one who hits the most of the muffin-like baddies with two shell tosses per turn.
In past releases, one of the best forms of replay value happened to be great unlockable content. Coins, or other types of in-game currency, could be earned as progress awards. Those could then be spent on unique boards, new mini games and even character statues, which was the case with the series’ first Wii iteration. Mario Party 9 unfortunately fails to deliver to those standards, which is more noticeable than you’d expect.
Tickets are awarded for completing different activities, or for putting an end to Bowser’s gaseous theft. That’s fine. The problem is that there’s next to nothing of interest available for purchase. Only one extra board environment (Donkey Kong’s jungle) can be found in the Museum, and it doesn’t cost too much to buy. Unlocking it provides an altered game mode where bananas are pivotal, as opposed to mini stars, but the path is brief and only two laps are required. Other than that, new difficulty options, a boss battle mode and unique vehicles (for use in the jungle map only) are present. Constellations and fireworks that can be viewed through a telescope can also be unlocked, although they’re underwhelming.
Thanks to the Wii’s incredible popularity, many people have spent time within Mario’s colourful world during this lengthy console generation. All of those games tend to have similar art styles, which focus on using a visceral colour palette in order to create a rich and fantastical world. The same visual style can be found in Mario Party 9 – a game that pops with rich colours and happens to look great for a Wii title. Seasoned gamers will notice elements that resemble the Super Mario Galaxy games, as well as hints to the plumber’s other adventures. Some of those come in the form of remixed musical pieces and very familiar sound effects. It all works well and there’s no lack of polish to be found. However, it could be said that adding a layer of individuality would have helped. Then again, most people won’t be worried about that.
It isn’t often that an entertainment property ends up staying popular for well over a decade, but that’s exactly what the Mario Party franchise has done. There have been lulls, but sales have always been strong enough to warrant another colourful celebration in the Mushroom Kingdom. Fans will be happy to note that Mario Party 9 breathes some fresh air into this aged series, in order to create a quality experience that happens to be a bit different from the norm. The core essence is still there, shining brightly, but the decided upon tweaks have made their own impact. Sure, some parts feel familiar, but that comes with the genre’s structure. What can be complained about is the lack of online play, which would have been great. However, despite that questionable omission, there’s still a very good game to be found on this disc; one which has a lot of polish on its lines of code.
This review is based on a copy of the game that was provided to us for review purposes.