Party like it's 1999.
After raging on for eight parties, some more eventful than others (everyone left when the microphone came out), Mario settled down for a rather lengthy five year break. Anyone would forgive him for retiring from the role of party host, but there’s life in the old dog yet, as he returns for the ninth party that Bowser is looking to totally ruin.
What Mario Party 9 Got Right
Almost a reboot - I don’t want to label Mario Party 9 as a reboot, but it’s not just another cash-in (looking at you, Mario Party 7). It changes up the very tried and tested formula that otherwise hasn’t really evolved since it destroyed all of your Nintendo 64 controllers in 1999.
The gameplay is still much the same. You move around a game board based on the randomness of a dice roll and play mini-games for stars. It’s how you get there that’s changed. First and foremost, each player isn’t on their own anymore. You can’t leave one poor sucker stranded at the start. You move around the board together in a car, taking turns to determine the number of spaces you’ll move. You’re still rivals in the star-earning stakes, but you’ll have to work together to get to the end of the board.
Boss Battles - The biggest introduction is boss battles. It’s hard to believe this hasn’t happened in Mario Party before, and that there are still firsts for the series, even with that massive Nine on the vibrant cover. It also means you’re temporarily on the same team as your car-mates, as you need to work together to defeat the boss. However, to the player who dishes out the most damage go the spoils. So while there’s a cooperative element, you’ll want to outshine your counterparts.
Tame mini-games - Mario Party 8 was ruined by its own ridiculously mini-games. It was released in 2007, a time in which every game was essentially a tech demo for waggling your arm like an imbecile, which almost everyone turned out to hate. We don’t want to do that anymore, and neither does Mario Party 9.
Most mini-games are controlled using the pointer or with the Wii Remote held on its side like a NES pad. There’s very little annoying motion control for what is essentially a compilation of mini-games. It’s fantastic. Even rolling the dice is handled by the A Button, as it should be considering how often it is required. A few years ago it would have been an awkward fist pump directly above your head.
Most of the mini-games are quite enjoyable thanks to the rather tame control scheme. I hate most mini-games on Wii because they all have painfully terrible controls just because they can, but these are rather pleasant. The games are creative and the NES orientation make the controls more intuitive to a regular gamer. A small, but very notable, fix is the option to completely turn off A.I. if you have two or three players. In the past, four-player games filled the teams with computers if you didn’t have enough human players, but now the games adapt to the number of people.
What Mario Party 9 Got Wrong
Forever alone - It takes at least two to Mario Party. There’s a dreadfully boring solo option (that tells you you’re about to waste 60 minutes of your life first) but you’ll have more fun cleaning up the excrement from your many cats. Mario Party 9 isn’t meant to be a single-player game, so don’t rush out to buy it unless you know you’ll be playing with up to three others.
Doesn't make you want to Party - Mario Party 9 changes things up, but if anything It focuses on the mini-games more than ever. That’s okay, but it hasn’t really departed from what made it so fun a decade ago. The problem is, gaming has. There is purposely no online mode as Mario Party is made to be played with a room full of players ready to abuse each other after a few too many beers. Mario Party 9 just doesn’t make me want to do that. I’d still much prefer to pull out Mario Party 3, or maybe 5 since working Nintendo 64 controllers are hard to come by.
Mario Party never really got with the times. Number 9 is fun, don’t get me wrong, but Nintendo could do so much more with the series. I want it to be more than a mini-game complication with some glimpses of board game. There could more strategy and more time spent moving around the board without relying on luck.
Most of all, I want Nintendo to give me a Mario Party that makes me throw a party. Inviting people over to game is rare these days, but Mario Party is the series that should make that happen, yet Mario Party 9 doesn’t. It’s more of a game that will be played when friends are already together and looking for something to do. It needed to be more than that. It needed to be the instigator of the social gathering.
The Final Verdict
Mario Party 9 follows the same gameplay structure as the long-running franchise, but changes things up with a new way to move around the game board and with the introduction of boss fights. The mini-games use the Wii Remote wisely and don’t force pathetic motion controls on the player, as was the case with Mario Party 8. It leads to much improved mini-games, which now adapt to the number of human players. Unfortunately the overall experience is much the same as past games. Gaming has changed with the rise of online, but Mario Party hasn’t kept up. It shouldn’t be an online game; the players should be next to each other in the same room, but it needs to do something to make us want to throw a Mario Party specifically to play it and Mario Party 9 just doesn’t do that.
By Ben Salter - Tweet @Ben_Salter