It’s no secret that the Wii’s best days are long behind it with decent releases now few and far between. It’s for this reason then that I suppose I was a little more excited about Mario Party 9 than I ought to be, especially considering the fact that the series has been on a downward slope since its Nintendo 64 debut. This ninth instalment however looks set to finally give the plumber’s parties the fresh lick of paint they deserve and after just a few rounds you’ll feel like you’re at an event definitely worth RSVPing.
For those who’ve never attended one of Mario’s bashes before, they focus on playing a mixture of mini games whilst collecting stars and coins on a board full of obstacles, bonuses and general board game style shenanigans. Nintendo have stuck with this formula for well over ten years which sadly has not helped the credit of the once great multiplayer series, however…
… as soon as you load up your first game on Mario Party 9 you soon realise a lot has changed, and for the better. First of all developer Hudson are out, and in to give it their all are developer Nd Cube, the team responsible for the pretty good Wii Party. The way the main party mode plays out is also altered from the usual ‘play for a set number of turns, collect coins and trade them in for stars’ method seen before. Now the aim is to collect more mini stars than your opponents which can be earned via winning mini games, collecting them in bunches (or losing them if you’re unlucky) whilst travelling on the board or landing on particular event spaces. The boards themselves, rather than looping round and round now have a start and finish point which gives a nice sense of progression as you play. Boss battles also highlight the midway and finale with players teaming up to battle (through a mini game) the likes of a giant Blooper, Wiggler and plenty more. Moving around these boards is now done together via one vehicle. Taking turns to be the captain (driver) of the car you’ll roll the dice and move the set number of spaces with anything you pass, collect or land on affecting you and you only. Even though you’re never roaming alone, in reality you’re still playing for yourself and interestingly you’ll often find situations where it’s even possible to screw over other players. If for example you can see a hazard two spaces away and you happen to be in possession of a special dice that will only roll a one or zero, using it will save yourself and hinder the next unfortunate player when they are captain of the car. Mini games occur when you land on particular spaces and never become too plentiful or too few, delivering just the right balance for each full playthrough. They also reward you mini stars based on your position rather than just the winner getting the bounty. It helps keep things even and stops players from taking too far a lead.
Overall the entire experience appears to have been stripped and streamlined to create a much more accessible and faster paced game. If there was one problem with past Party titles, it’s that they tended to drag thanks to a mixture of long animations, too many mini games over the course of a single playthrough and stupidly long instructions. Thankfully Mario Party 9 doesn’t fall into these traps.
Of course the highlight of any Mario Party title is the mini games and thankfully they make a triumphant return offering far more fun examples than duff ones. You’ll find the usual cliché styles, from your button bashers and platformers to games that rely entirely on luck and ones that feature racing. One example of a game that stands out for me; titled don’t look, sees arrows pointing in one of four possible directions (up, down, left and right) on screen with the goal being to make your character look in a different one. It’s simple but can get tough when you get three arrows thrown at you at once leaving only one direction you can look. Even ones that require you to just count passing goombas can be good fun as you panic to figure out if you just saw three or four run by at the last second. Three-on-one games return requiring a good amount of teamwork if the trio are to defeat the lone soldier. Oddly two on two games have been taken out this time but to be perfectly honest it’s something that will be forgotten quickly.
As previously mentioned boss battles occur twice on each map and offer some of the best moments of all. While you are essentially teaming up with the other players, it’s still very much every man for his or herself as mini stars are awarded based on how well each person does, even right down to who got the finishing blow. When fighting a giant Chain-Chop for example, you’ll be given a brief couple of seconds to view the layout of five interlinking train tracks; some leading to cannons that will give you points and others leading to the Chain Chomp himself where you’ll lose them. It’s then a matter of picking the correct mine carts that lead you to said weapons. As a team you will deplete the Chomp’s health bar together, but individually you’re trying to find the most cannons and it’s these moments of team work/selfishness that shine brightest in the game.
With such a high amount of mini games (around eighty) there are bound to be some that fail to deliver and while there aren’t too many overall, you will find yourself coming across the odd one that either has dodgy controls, is irritatingly based on pure luck or just isn’t much fun.
As always these kind of titles excel when you’re with more people, but if you want you can tackle each board alone against the computer, complete with a bare-bones story. As you can imagine it’s not a high point for the game. The lack of online may also disappoint some but having your opponents in the same room to taunt and laugh with is an experience that cannot be beaten. There are a few more options outside of the standard party mode that allow you to focus on the mini games themselves with an expanded version of goomba bowling and some throwaway unlockables rounding off what will probably keep you and your friends happy for some time.
Visually the game is bright and colourful looking pretty much in line with previous Mario spin-offs. The boards look a lot more expansive than previous games with it feeling less like a flat, lifeless board and more of an actual world. The music isn’t anything special and it seems a shame that the series continues to never really capitalise on all the awesome music from the Mario universe. Instead we get one or two okay remixes and a lot more fairly forgetful carnival style tunes. On the bright side, the game handles really well. Moving around the board is a piece of cake and mini games, for the most part control fine, probably due to a focus on tradition control schemes as opposed to inaccurate motion based ones.
A handful of misfiring mini games and a boring single player can’t stop this ninth iteration from being a great comeback for Mario Party. What was once a series in danger of becoming stagnant and forgotten has been given the shake-up it so desperately needed. While you could argue it’s not exactly revolutionising the party game genre, gather four people together and you’ll discover one of the best multiplayer experiences on the Wii yet.