The Mario Party series for Nintendo consoles has always stood out as one of the most innovative game experiences currently available. In 2001, after doling out the Monopoly money one too many times, a group of developers created a digital board game without such hassles that utilized the N64’s four-player feature. The result was Mario Party, a bonanza of random mini-games and boards. One of the key features is that the game is an elaborate exercise in Marxist game play. Due to the convoluted and impossible to predict variables, you can’t ever actually become ‘good’ at the game. All players, whether veteran or just picking up a controller for the first time, have an equally decent chance at winning. For this reason it falls short as a game for the American idealized individual but reaches great heights in a society where we all deserve an equal shot at success.
Reviews of the title have been mixed, but there’s a simple reason for this: we as players feel a natural competitive urge to become good at what we’re doing. No game reviewer is going to be able to objectively assess a title that they themselves can’t master. The greatest strength of the title is that a random person does not have to be excluded, as with a Halo match. The greatest weakness of the title is that a random person can kick your butt in the game at any time. Winners are chosen by the number of stars they’ve collected, with each board game featuring a different style by which they are gathered. At the end, several stars are given out at random and whoever has the most has usually achieved this state thanks to dumb luck. You have to respect the fact that this doesn’t necessarily sit well with a lot of people. Every title in this series has maintained a delicate balance with this relationship of “open to all” but still rewarding strategy, and this title seems to have slightly lost that.
How to begin? First, the A.I. is a bit uneven. The infamously stupid ‘Easy’ setting for characters is still back and as stunning as ever. What draws ire is that the ‘Normal’ characters are suddenly a bit too good. It’s purely a numbers issue, and problematic is the fact that this version of Mario Party allows for very little actual decision making of any value. Normally key to any round in the previous versions, the power-ups in this game are decidedly bland. I can increase the number of dice I roll, engage players within range in mini-game battles, or zap people at random for coins and positions. In other incarnations of the title, the power-ups could be targeted whereas now a random spinning wheel chooses who you assault. More obnoxious is that the power-ups don’t really do much. You can’t steal anyone’s stars anymore and instead only coins or their spot on the board are up for grabs. It makes it so that most of the game feels like running along a grid next to your friends rather than experiencing any kind of competition. You are no longer fooled into believing that the game isn’t still as purely random as it always was because you no longer play a role in making the experience chaotic. Put another way, they’ve made Monopoly without the real estate aspect.
It wouldn’t be a Wii collection of mini-games without a Duck Hunt knockoff.
Previous titles have always featured announcers, but they usually fell into something familiar within the Mario universe: one of those guys wearing a mushroom cap, or a Koopa minion. In the 8th installment it is a giant alien looking creature with lips so gigantic you’d think it a racist caricature if not for the obvious homage to Willy Wonka from his attire. That may sound like a weird comparison to make, but one look at this thing and you’ll understand why it invokes a strange reaction in most people. It also makes a game that was already very juvenile undeniably so, which does little for beer-swilling twentysomethings who want to bust this title out at parties. Add to this the problem that the guy (along with his wisecracking magic hat) talks incessantly throughout any game, and you slowly begin to dread his presence.
Coupled with this problem is the idea that at the end of every round players must do a mini-game rather than as a power-up or random square to land on. Under such constant repetition, these mini-games become dull very fast.
Ultimately, it’s not as good as other Mario Party versions but it’s still one built for the Wii. That alone is going to be reason enough to buy it for most people. A Goldeneye-esque feature that would let you select the weapons available in any game would’ve gone a long way, and a Mortal Kombat-style selection of characters (including my Miis) also seems like a simple addition. A strong emphasis on players screwing with one another would also go a long way toward improving the quality of the gaming boards overall. But really, the thing about ‘Mario Party 8’ is that it doesn’t matter a whole lot if you yourself like it. It’s not a game you play alone anyway. It’s a game for your friends.