Review
Mario Party 9

By Ricky Lima - April 19th, 2012

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The majority of Nintendo fans have strong memories of Mario Party. We’re talking late nights with friends, screaming at each other for stealing stars, and nursing our hands back to health after brutal-analogue-stick-rotating-mini-games. Those were good times; simpler times – but the good times for Mario seemed to have dried up as things went on. The mechanics became tired and over-used, the soda had gone flat, and people just wanted to get on with their lives. When the Wii was released, interest in Mario Party was piqued again because of the play mechanics the Wii promised. Sadly, Mario Party 8 showed up to the party disoriented, confused, and lifeless. Now, however, with the release of Mario Party 9 for the Wii the development of the game has been handed to Nd Cube from Hudson Soft. Does this new developer breathe life into the stagnant series? Or is Mario left with only fond memories of his former party glory?

To speak of Mario Party 9 is to refer to a game that both: does great things; and fails on certain levels. In terms of the good, Mario Party 9 does a great job of creating a narrative while you play. Previous entries in the series had just been mindless virtual board game fun. Each stage has a defined end point and the players work together to reach that goal by defeating the boss character for that level. Boss battles take place as mini-games against Bowzer’s minions. It’s a clever mechanic and one that I’m frankly surprised has taken nine iterations to finally appear. Boss battles give the game a purpose, and pass that purpose onto the player. This is especially important while playing single-player.

Another bonus is that mini-games have been streamlined – no longer are they forced upon players after each player has rolled. In the current iteration of Mario Party, mini-games are activated by either landing on a space, or triggered by boxes found along the way. This design choice speeds up the game significantly because you could go for quite a number of turns without a mini-game interruption. While this may be a disappointment to fans of that genre, I personally welcome the brisk pace of the new format.

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Like going on a family trip.

Where the game fails is in it’s lack of any real sort of competition. Mario Party has always been about scheming and stealing from other players, making it a great party game among friends. Mario Party 9 however, has everyone in one vehicle, moving together. The person who rolls gets any benefits from landing on specific spaces but it almost feels shallow when everyone else is there with you. Winning in Mario Party 9 doesn’t really feel like winning because you’re in the same place as everyone else. I understand that the group movement is important (considering that each board has a distinct ending and everyone needs to be together), but that just removes competition all together.

Adding to my chagrin, stars have been eliminated in this game. Previous entries had players racing around the board to specific spots to pay for stars; the one with the most stars at the end of the game was declared the winner. Mario Party 9 does away with this in favour of “Mini Stars”*, which are scattered around the board in clusters and are picked up by players when they pass them, adding to a counter in the players’ score. Unlike the acquisition of regular stars, there is no real sense of accomplishment when picking up Mini Stars, seeing as they are as common as coins, and can be lost or won in high volumes when playing mini-games; it makes the whole exercise feel somewhat useless. What is more odd is that even with the apparent liquidity of Mini Stars, they are used as the sole marker of victory. This new variable system is less competitive (in terms of skill) and much more random. This might be a very strategic decision to engage a more casual player, given that there is really less stress on the players. This isn’t really a problem, but in the long run, the new focus removes any bite Mario Party ever had.

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When clowns commit crimes, who needs to use Luminol?

Mario Party 9 is in no way a bad game, it’s just a different game than I am used to. The mini-games are still fun, and serve to break up the monotony of traveling the board; and the new boss battles are an amazing addition to the game. However, the lack of direct competition really hinders the game for me, turning it into a quick Sunday afternoon game – whereas my Mario Party sessions used to be a hardcore, all-nighter type of experience. If you’re a fan the Mario Party franchise this game is worth checking out for its changes; but it might take some getting used to. Give it some time and be prepared to like your friends in this game instead of hate them. Crazy, I know.

* – Not to be confused with Mini Pops.

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