Mario Party is a game that needs no introduction. Probably the best known game of its genre, this board game come mini-game collection is now in its 9th release, after an uncharacteristic 5 year hiatus. The basic tenet of the game is up to 4 players coming together to compete in a virtual board game, with mini-games being triggered at regular points during the game to allow players to compete for the stars that will determine who the overall winner is.
Each version of Mario Party has brought new quirks and features to change up the gameplay, and in Mario Party 9 the major change is to the way players move around the game board. Now, instead of players moving individually, the entire party rides around the board together in a change designed to streamline the gameplay. It does a pretty good job of this, meaning generally “less boring bits” and focusing players’ attention better on the game board.
What Mario Party 9 doesn’t change, is the bright, colourful, and appealing charm of the series, accessible to all players young and old. The mini-games are wacky, varied, and most importantly fun to play. Some games pit one player against the rest of the party, while others are free-for-all competitions for mini-stars. At certain points during the game there will also be “boss” mini-games where players compete co-operatively to achieve an objective, but are still ranked on performance and awarded mini-stars accordingly. In almost all circumstances the player who triggered the mini-game is able to choose the game from a given selection, which means any duds out of the 80 odd games can be avoided if desired. Instead of happening after a set number of turns as in previous games, in Mario Party 9 mini-games occur when players land on a mini-game space on the board.
Once the players have reached the end-point of the game board, there will be a final boss mini-game before mini-stars are tallied up to determine the final standings. As in previous Mario Party games, a huge factor in deciding the winner of the game is the roll of the dice. Mini-stars are found scattered along the game board, and they can either be added or subtracted from your total. Land on a Bowser square and a clear lead can be stolen away from a player.
In fact there is so much luck involved that it doesn’t really allow for any semi-competitive gaming. It’s great for young players who would otherwise have no hope of topping the mini-star rankings, but infuriating for more skilled players who successfully amass a pile of stars only to have them redistributed to other players due to rolling an unlucky number. For this reason the game is best not taken too seriously, and the lack of an online multiplayer mode is less of a disappointment.
Trying to dodge the Mario Party equivalent of the “blue shell” can sometimes be achieved using special “dice blocks” that can be collected as players advance on the board. Instead of using the usual dice to determine the number of spaces to move, you might choose to use a 1-3 block to try and avoid upcoming danger and pass the hot potato to the next player. Or a 1-10 dice block might be used to increase the chances of clearing an unlucky space just ahead. A slow dice block is extremely useful and essentially allows a player to choose their move.
There is decent variety to be had in the unique boards available to play on in the game, but the final board can only be unlocked by playing through the Story mode AKA single player. This also unlocks a couple of additional characters, but Mario Party isn’t really the sort of game one should be forced to play alone. Not only is the AI erratic, it is tedious waiting for each of the other computer controlled players to take their turns.
Aside from the main Party and Story modes, you can also jump straight into mini-games if you don’t want to play through a full game on a board. There are also a host of unlockables which become available as you play, including new vehicles to travel the game board in, and a Donkey Kong themed board.
Mario Party 9 makes a welcome return after a long break since the last game in the series. It does just enough to feel fresh, and is certainly decent fun if you have a group of friends to play it with. The single player mode is not enticing at all and is best left alone, but is unfortunately a necessity if you want to unlock game content. If you can look past the fact that results are largely determined by luck and designed to benefit weaker players then you can have a lot of fun with Mario Party 9. Just don’t approach it too seriously thinking that the best player will be sure to come out on top.