Ain't no party like a Mario Party.
It’s been almost five years since Mario Party 8 appeared on the Nintendo Wii, and that’s because Nintendo went back to the drawing board after a mixed reception post-release. New developer Nd Cube is now at the the helm with Mario Party 9, and they’ve brought some new favors to get the party started right and quickly.
You can tell that Nd Cube wanted to leave their own mark on the series, because much has changed with this latest iteration. This party is still built like a board game at its core, but instead of each individual player moving around, up to four players pack into a vehicle and each dice roll contributes to how far vehicle proceeds. This is a double-edged sword; it helps improve the flow of the game and makes for shorter overall playthroughs (seriously, who has two hours for one game of Mario Party?), but at the same time, it takes away any sense of achievement and progression. Essentially, if you have a good dice roll, so does the entire team.
Luckily, the entire game has been rebuilt in such a way that individual progression doesn’t matter as much. There are none of those ultimate stars waiting for you at the end of a stage, or even just at set areas throughout the stage. There are still stars, but instead, they work more like coins have in the past. In previous Mario Party games, you may have been lucky earning 10 stars throughout the entire game. In Mario Party 9, scoring as many as 100 stars isn’t out of reach. Between the four players by the end of a playthrough, there could be a couple hundred stars in total.
There’s a lot of Yin and Yang in Mario Party 9, even with this new star system. Opposite to stars, are zstars (what the hell is a "zstar"?), black stars that remove earned stars from a player. This is yet another good addition to the game; however, the end result is still a broken system. Because all players can earn such a massive amount of stars, there are more stars to lose. Imagine being in the lead for the entire game, winning at all the mini-games, then crap, you land on one space that cuts your stars in half and gives them to the rest of the party. 10 stars in, you’re not going to give a damn. But at the end of the game when you’ve got 100 stars, you’re screwed, and it’s completely maddening.
All of that, and the fact the entire party moves together removes any feeling of accomplishment or skill from the game. It ends up being much more of a game of luck than skill. It’s good for a party with some friends. But play with even one person who is overly competitive (see: me), and it’s enough for you to want to launch a Wii-mote through your TV screen.
Putting that aside, the mini-games and the new boss battles are oh-so-fun. In fact, these are the best mini-games ever to grace the series, and are much more enjoyable than the main board game. The inclusion of boss battles—a first for the series—is pure genius. Not only does it fit well with the game, but it brings in baddies from the main Mario franchise.
And just like the main Mario series, once you get the boss's health meter down to about half, they get all pissy, turn red, and go on an all-out attack. Boss battles also bring much needed finality and accomplishment to the game. My favorite part about them is the versus screen similar to what you’d find in a fighting game showing the players against the boss—it’s a really nice touch.
Mario Party 9 offers little challenge at all, but that simplicity is inviting to children and people who don’t typically play video games. The board game layout and clearly defined rules make it a breeze for anyone to pick up and play with little to no experience in the series or in gaming in general. But in the same breath, there’s not enough here for anyone who takes gaming seriously, unless you are only picking this up to play with the fam. In any case, the mini-games are fun as hell, and some of the new changes are for the better. But taking away any skill requirement hurts the overall experience. In the end, it’s Mario, and it’s a great party game. If you buy it, you’ll get exactly what you paid for.