Since its first release in 1998, the Mario Party franchise has been at the forefront of what scholars in partiology like to call “The Digital Party Revolution.” The series has seen its share of ups and downs, but has always set the bar that other digital party games strive to overcome. Even in the playfully nicknamed “Dark Ages” (Mario Party 2-4), developer Hudson Soft kept gamers on their toes with mediocre digital party games. With Hudson Soft now absorbed into Konami, a new team has brought Mario Party 9 to the masses. Consisting of a handful of the players from Hudson Soft, Nd Cube Co. (Wii Party) brings digital party fiends more of the same Mario madness with a dash of originality.
Starting off in “Party Mode,” Mario Party 9 delivers exactly what any fan would expect: a game board with tiles that determine which way the party will be swayed. As usual, 85% of the outcomes are based on luck, but occasionally a player will have to use his electronic prowess to complete one of the hundred or so minigames. It’s a well-known fact that luck-based games are a total drag and the professionals in our field hope that one day the amount of luck games will be knocked down to 5% of the mini-game collection. The games in MP9 are the usual Digital Party fodder; there’s nothing new here, but in a good way. Research shows that most party gamers aren’t looking for an overhaul in digital party dynamics, but for more and more frequent minigames .
In this professor’s humble opinion, this is where Mario Party 9 comes up short. The Party Mode in the franchise has progressed from the standard board-game setup, in which players move around a board individually until one player completes the board’s mission, to a single vehicle that all players travel within for the duration of the game. While this new means of transportation lends itself to create some strategic moments, the boards do not seem to help the new system, only to hurt it. Historians will remember Mario Party 6, one of the most fanatically positive versions of Mario Party, as having a great collection of boards that significantly changed play from match to match.
Mario Party is also usually a game full of, “Screw you, man!” and “JUST GET DAN!” but this title barely invokes a single yelp from any of the players. What is typically an exhilarating hour of digital party fun has turned into a barely memorable drive through a board with friends.
One of the main concerns with having a grouped traveling party is the lack of minigames throughout the board. It’s entirely possible (but not yet proven) that a player could go through an entire board game and only play two minigames. That’s a major downfall for the series, but the two minigames to which I refer would be splendid to say the least. One thing that Nd Cube has done well in this version of Mario Party is the introduction of boss battles. These are minigames that occur at the midpoint and at the end of the board game, and require the players to unite to overcome Bowser’s minions. This is a truly unique move for the franchise and creates some exhilarating moments. If only the entirety of Mario Party 9 had been looked at with such freshness, this might have been a second Digital Party Revolution.
When a player steps out of Party Mode and into Minigame Mode they’ll be pleasantly greeted by some great minigames. My favorite has been the Gardening minigame, but overall these “drop-in” style games are more of what I hope to see in the future. Skip the board games and get right down to the minigames. That’s what makes Mario Party what it is – unless they make some amazing boards.
Mario Party 9 feels like Nd Cube phoned in their first crack at making a Mario Party game, although their development of Wii Party might prove that taking a game to the twenty yard line is as good as they can do. Nothing felt special about MP9 aside from the super-fun boss battles, but that wasn’t enough to save this title from becoming a freshman flop for the newest creative team. For a game franchise that is known for bringing out the competitive side in anyone, Mario Party 9 seems to only make players battle for the last beer in the fridge. We still have high hopes for Mario Party 10, the unannounced follow-up that will hopefully come out for the Wii U, but Mario Party 9 will not be seen as a bright star in the ever-expanding sky we call digital party games.
Review based on Wii release.