A mainstay on Nintendo platforms since its N64 debut, Mario Party has never strayed too far from its tried-and-true formula over the last 13 years.
It’s taken the departure of former party planners Hudson Soft to throw the burden of Mario’s 9th bash upon Nd Cube, a team that up until the launch of the highly successful Wii Party had maintained a low profile in Nintendo’s headquarters.
The result is a much-needed shake-up that manages to breathe some life into the party. But first, a few ground rules.
Rather than wandering the board independently, players are lumped together into a vehicle moving around as a group. Each player takes their turn in the driver’s seat, rolling the dice to determine how far you’ll travel and what rewards you’ll reap or consequences you’ll face.
The coins you previously tendered in and Stars you sought after have been scrapped in favour of a Mini-Star system which, depending on how many you pick up along the way, decide who walks away the victor.
These can be found dotted around the board in clusters, lurking within pipes, and earned by outperforming your friends in the game’s 78 mini-game challenges.
Mario Party 9’s mini-games are the usual fodder playable in four-player, two-on-two, one vs. three varieties, and on the odd occasion flipping the rules by encouraging you to be the first to fail.
It’s arguably a more polished assortment of games that sees the Wii Remote put to good use. Most challenges have you take the sideways NES-style control scheme approach but a few others have you aiming at the screen, tilting, and flicking the controller to jump through hoops, build a jigsaw puzzle, topping one of Mario’s signature dishes, and placing bets on which Toad house is harbouring the most Goombas.
New to Mario Party 9 are boss battles, co-operative mini-games that see you working as a team to take down one of Bowser’s many cronies.
You’ll bounce on a Wiggler as he stampedes through a forest, best Dry Bones in a game of cards, and hit back at King Bomb Omb with some explosives of your own.
Boss battles occur twice in your journey across the board which this time is more streamlined than previous boards.
Rather than pass Go multiple times, when you reach the boss battle at the end, it’s game over with a winner decided on their Mini-Star totals.
There’s plenty of detours to earn extra Mini-Stars and lose them but there’s an obvious emphasis on using special dice that give you more control of your next move. Some will limit your dices range meaning you’ll avoid landing on a space that halves your Mini-Star count and others will increase your range to net more Mini-Stars.
Themed boards will also affect your game. A haunted mansion sees Mini-Star stealing Boos pursue you as you duck into rooms and a Volcano level has you hastily ascending it to avoid the lava swelling behind you.
It’s these variables that make Mario Party 9 a more interesting party game. A player who’s been in the lead right up until the end can lose out in the final scenes, while a losing player can make a triumphant comeback.
The result of these changes is a game that’s swifter than its predecessors with rounds lasting as little as 30 minutes – noticeably shorter than the dragging pace of recent board game Boom Street.
In addition to Mario Party 9’s multiplayer and solo offerings is a Museum where you can spend your earned Party Points on new in-game variables from vehicles to new stages as well as cuts from the game’s soundtrack and a chance to view the game’s staff credits.
Mario Party’s competitive edge is a bit blunt this time round in favour of co-operative camaraderie. You’ll still fuss over Mini-Stars and rub a victory in a friend’s face but it’s the battles you fought together that stick out when all is said and done.
Evening the playing field ever so slightly, Mario Party 9 throws a better bash than you might expect and one that should keep for any upcoming get-togethers with friends.
Version Tested: Wii
Review copy provided by Nintendo