If I have a gaming guilty pleasure it’s probably Mario Party. I’ve played most games in the series and even though the series is fifteen years old now I always seem to end up coming back for more. The games present a surprisingly engaging board game scenario with mini-games to break up the strategy. In multiplayer it can be an absolute hoot especially with four players all conspiring to screw each other over. The last few entries have felt a little stale and now after a fairly long hiatus the series returns with big changes to the formula.
In Mario Party 9 instead of having four characters moving around a board independently, two to four players travel together in a vehicle. They take turns being captain, role the die and move up to six spaces. The type of space they land on triggers some kind of event; this might be starting a mini-game, gaining a dice block or various context sensitive events. The vehicle travels along a linear course with only limited branching paths that always come back to the main road and instead of doing laps round a circuit for a fixed number of turns the boards all lead to an end and a boss.
Your objective is to reach the end with the most mini-stars. Where previously you had to gather stars to win and use coins to help you do that. In the ninth game these two things are rolled into one and there are many different ways to gain mini-stars, winning mini-games, in events, even just waiting for you to pass them on the board. To anyone used to the series previously unchanging formula this shake up takes time to acclimatise to but it does give the series some new life. Games are now much shorter which is a plus as they could drag on somewhat in previous entries. The mini-games themselves are generally a good bunch that make thoughtful use of the Wii remote’s motion controls without relying too heavily on them. Waggle is kept to a minimum.
On the downside the whole game is ruled by luck. It’s true that success at most board games depends on the luck of the dice but good players are able to make good use of what resources they have to steer them to victory. Mario Party 9 doesn’t give you enough control over proceedings; losing half your mini-stars through no fault of your own is very frustrating. There’s also a lack of options besides the normal party mode. There is a loose single-player story mode in which you work your way through each board one at a time but it’s not the most compulsive pursuit. A handful of mini-game modes and some rather dull extras fail to enliven the content.
But Mario Party 9 is still quite a lot of fun if you don’t take it too seriously. The visuals are good quality, the boards are colourful and the familiar Nintendo charm is there. The board game structure still gives the mini-games more purpose than most compilations can manage and the games themselves are good fun.
Design – 6
Gameplay – 6
Graphics – 7
Sound – 6
Content – 5
Not a great return to form for the series but an enjoyable party game all the same.