Mario Party 9
Developer Nintendo Publisher Nintendo Genre Party Platform Nintendo Wii Release 2nd March 2012
For all the "party" games which the Wii plays host to, you would think that the itch for good party games on the system would be thoroughly scratched by now, what with the Wii ending its life span in just a few months time as Nintendo ushers in their new system; the Wii U. Sadly, most party games on the Wii suffer from being awful shovelware which you wouldn't want to touch with a stick, let alone actually devote time to. So pretty much your only choices on the system were the Mario Party games, be they the Gamecube titles, the Virtual Console Nintendo 64 versions or Mario Party 8, although much debate surrounds the 8th installment to the series. Personally I liked Mario Party 8 even if it's waggle-based minigames were a bit of a mess at times. So with the introduction of a 9th Mario Party game, will that party game itch be scratched once more? Or will it be a one-track road into mediocrity? Let's find out.
Mario Road Trip
Traditionally, Mario Party games are structured like board games. Each player rolls a dice, moves a set number of places and land on various types of spaces on the board which can trigger events, add coins or take coins. The object of these games were to collect enough coins, either through landing on coin-giving spaces, winning minigames (which take place after everyone has had their turn) or taking coins from other players to buy Stars which were randomly dotted around the board. The person with the most stars at the end of the game wins. This held true for 8 Mario Party games, but since Hudson Soft -- makers of the older Mario Party games -- has fallen by the way-side, Nintendo themselves have taken to develop the latest Mario bash in-house and they've made some pretty sweeping changes.
In Mario Party 9, you're no longer collecting Stars or Coins, instead you're collecting Mini-Stars. Although this change is perhaps less significant when I tell you that rather than each player moving individually, everyone now moves together. Lumped together with one-another on a vehicle of some sort, when one player moves, the vehicle everyone inhabits moves. There is method to the madness, however. The whole flow of the game has been completely reworked to accommodate this fundamental gameplay element. Rather than moving around a looping board for a set number of turns, you're now on a somewhat linear journey to a "goal" at the end of the board.
Oh hey Piranha Plant, you sure look hungry...
En route you can pick up Mini-Stars in various denominations that are between spaces, the captain who rolled that turn picks up any Mini-Stars they pass, these come in denominations of 3, 5, 10 and 15. Conversely, there are also Mini-Ztars (answers on a postcard how to pronounce "Ztars", please) in the same denominations which remove stars from your total. Landing on Blue Spaces as the Captain will net you additional Dice Blocks which allow you to roll special a special die when your turn next comes around. Special Dice Blocks will modify what the highest and lowest number which you could roll that turn, typically they are 0-1 Dice, 1-3 Dice, 4-6 dice and a Slow Dice which removes the random element allowing you to roll whatever number you like.
Mini-Stars from the board.
As you move around the board, your primary objective is to screw other players as hard as possible
. This isn't a break from the norm with Mario Party, but trying to engineer a scenario where other players are collecting as many Mini-Ztars, landing on Bowser Spaces or getting them caught by pursuing dangers as possible. If you're at all familiar with Mario Party, you'll understand the concept of Bowser Spaces; if you land on one, you'll be forced to either hand over Mini-Stars to other players, straight-up lose half your Mini-Stars, get all Mini-Stars evened-out between all players or playing a "Reverse Minigame" where you win by losing.
Some stages in the game have Pursuers
; some antagonistic force which will move a small but consistent number of spaces behind you each turn. If these pursuers catch up with you, you'll lose Mini-Stars, usually half of them. One stage in particular, Magma Mine, has a very interesting mechanic where lava will rise 2 spaces each turn. You generally avoid the lava by moving vertically up the stage, however there is a part of the stage where you can choose to run across a horizontal section of the board while the lava continues to rise, even worse there are lava-rise modifiers to speed up the rate in which the lava will progress up the stage. Strategy isn't always at the forefront of your mind when playing Mario Party, but you can definitely see them trying to introduce a very basic element of this sometimes. Mostly though, pursuers will get you through luck (or bad luck, depends on which way you see it), a few bad rolls by your fellow players can land you in hot water, as can landing on a deviously placed "Back" space, which makes you re-roll how many spaces you will jump back during that turn.
I guess Luigi has at least one fan.
Minigames aren't terrible for the most part, the amount of motion controls which have been shoved into the game has been dramatically reduced over Mario Party 8. Games now have 4 distinct ways to play. Either holding the Wii Remote sideways and using as you would for New Super Mario Bros. or a more traditional controller, pointing at the screen, simply waggling the controller or making use of the A button. Games are simple enough so that you should never really use the Practice mode before jumping into a minigame for the first time. Variety is fairly good as well, you have some games which hark back to older Mario Party minigames for sure, such as the platforming get-to-the-end minigames, the "cover an area in paint" minigames and the typical brawling minigames. They're entertaining and some will obviously try to silence those who play Mario Party and try to leverage "skill" as a valid strategy (good luck), but they're quite well balanced for the most part.
The big new feature of Mario Party 9 is the introduction of Boss Battles. At the half-way and end points of each course, you'll fight a boss of some description. These follow the same pattern, you have multiple turns to inflict damage on a boss through their unique minigame style, King Boo for instance is a 4-player Bejeweled-like game where getting matches inflicts damage, Dry Bones is a memory game, Cheep-Cheep you throw shells at and Bowser you roll dice so they land on your player's face to inflict damage. These are by far the weaker minigames with quite ridiculous scoring. The person who gets the last "hit" on a boss will often get a "Final Hit" bonus however for some of the games, you all go at once and multiple people can get the "Final Hit" but the game arbitrarily assigns just one person as the "Final Hit" bonus winner. This can lead to some furious debate amongst friends when someone pulls a small lead by being selected as the person who had the finishing blow. Not a great mechanic at the end of the day. Also, the Captain who instigated the boss battle (by getting to the half-way or final point of the board) gets a random Captain Bonus just for rolling the right number to get to the boss. Scoring isn't exactly well thought-through or balanced in this game.
No Goombas were hurt in the making of this game. Except these ones.
Ultimately, Mario Party 9 works quite well. I can see where they were going, what they were trying to do with Mario Party 9 and the more I think about the game, the more I like it. Playing with some Mario Party savvy friends can be a very entertaining experience even if courses are relatively short. Sadly, to make up the hours and see all the various minigames (which I'm still not sure I've seen all of them) I had to play solo and against the AI. Even on the easiest difficulty setting, the AI out-right cheats. I don't like to think of games as "cheating", especially when it comes to something skill-based, but this isn't a skill-based game by any means. It's luck-driven and the AI gets a pretty hefty run of "luck" sometimes, which leads me to believe that there's some sort of inherent bias towards them. I've never lost a game against an Easy AI opponent (or any AI opponent for that matter and again, I didn't try the "Master" difficulty level of the game you can unlock) so perhaps this is purposeful to help make the game more interesting, but you can't help but feel cheated sometimes when the AI stops just short of some Mini-Ztars forcing you to collect them, or getting two perfect rolls to land them on a "Lucky" space (free Mini-Stars, essentially). Maybe it's not actually biased or cheating and I'm just a bad loser and refuse to admit it, but I can, with a certain level of conviction say that it is. Science may need to be performed to confirm this.
Wailing on Wiggler
Still, the game overall has some serious problems. Mostly to do with scoring but also by being, to put it bluntly: boring. It got to the point in one of our games where everyone sighed when the Dice Block Space prompt didn't vanish immediately, knowing full-well we'd likely have yet another Free For All Minigame to play. We never sighed when the last person's turn was up in any other Mario Party game. I think that was the moment it struck me, I wasn't really enjoying playing Mario Party 9. No one was. Sure, we were being entertained and having your typical Mario Party friendship-breaking arguments over minigames, getting people onto tracks with the most Ztars and what-not, but we weren't enthused by the game as much as say Mario Party 8. The flow of the game was all wrong, there was either too many minigames from people landing on the designated minigame places or through random minigames in Dice Block spaces or there weren't enough minigames so that when we actually had minigames, we were just rushing to get to the end of the course so we didn't have to play the game any more. And sadly, that's not a good sign for a party game. In the end, we just ended up back playing Mario Party 8 and enjoying that game far more... Strange 4:3 screen ratio cropping and all.
Blooper Boss Battle
So what can I say about Mario Party 9 then? Well, it's different. If you didn't really like Mario Party before, you may want to look at it again now but the basics of the game are still unchanged. I get the distinct feeling that if you hated Mario Party 8, either because of motion-control gimmick minigames or for it having simplistic board design, you'll really despise the way Nintendo has taken Mario Party in 9. I'm not really an aficionado in party games so I can't make a snap decision on who would like what parts of Mario Party 9, but from what I've seen and how I feel about this game... It's just not very good. And that saddens me, because it seems like everything is in place to make the game really fantastic. It's just the execution is lacking and it comes off as a very boring game with lots of wasted potential and, more worryingly: boring.