Let's get this party jumpstarted.
If you've already experienced a previous Mario Party, you'll find things largely unchanged. This one includes some cockamamie story about the sun and moon getting in a fight about something or other, but it never really steps into the gameplay. Beyond that, one new feature and tons of simplistic-mini games make for yet another familiar bash.
The basics are identical. Mario Party takes place on game boards made up of blue and red spaces, which give and take coins, respectively, along with Event, Duel, Bowser and DK spaces, which cause players to gain or lose coins and/or stars. Players roll dice and move around the board. At the end of each round, they engage in a mini-game for another opportunity to pick up some cash. About two dozen different power-up orbs can also be snagged from various spots on the board, giving players the ability to steal items, increase their roll or even stop opponents dead in their tracks.
Of course, it's all about the mini-games. A whole host of 'em (roughly 80) are available in Mario Party 6, and they're all simple and casual-gamer friendly. Games are categorized as Free-for-All, 1-on-3 or 2-on-2 and the variety isn't bad. Some are action-oriented (Granite Getaway, which makes you race to escape a runaway boulder) while others require quick thinking (Odd Card Out, which makes you choose the picture card that doesn't belong).
The bad news is that the games still haven't changed their original formula and too many of them, like Black Hole Boogie and Blooper Scooper, rely on button-mashing or dumb luck. This makes it great for non-gamers, but can be frustrating for those who actually want skill to play a part in their gaming success. At least the games themselves haven't simply been lifted from the previous versions.
In fact, Mario Party 6 marks the first major enhancement in years - the inclusion of a microphone. The mic plugs into the memory card slot and can be used with a handful of Party mode games, though there's also a Mic mode with a few extra mic-specific games. The voice recognition is pretty good, but the games are far too simple, just requiring you to shout a variety of things into the mic. It isn't very impressive.
The heart of any Mario Party game lies in its Party mode, and this no exception. As in past games, it absolutely requires that you play the board game with four players. If you can't dig up three friends, the CPU will control the others. This is just as much of a bummer as it ever was, since watching and waiting for the CPU to take its turn can be a real buzz kill.
Alternately, you can always try playing it in the game's meager Solo mode. Here you choose from three game boards of varying lengths and attempt to unlock the rare mini-game at the end. You'll participate in the same games that you would in the Party mode against three Koopa Kids, only this time, victory will net you a bunch of stars for use in the game's Star Bank. This is great for unlocking stuff, but pales in comparison to the Party mode with three other friends.
Mario Party 6 looks and sounds just like Mario Party 5, which didn't look much different from Mario Party 4. The graphics are fine if a bit dusty and the board designs aren't very thrilling. Most of the sounds have been lifted straight out of the last game.
There's no doubt that Mario Party 6 is a decent multiplayer offering, but for the most part, it's no different from last year's party. The inclusion of the microphone doesn't have any notable impact on the quality of the game and the whole formula is starting to look its age. Maybe our host can serve up some more interesting grub next year.