Mario Party has been a much loved and lauded franchise over the years. The very first Mario Party title was an absolute hit, and introduced gamers to an entirely new genre of gaming. The party game, with the emphasis on mini-games, was a relatively unexplored genre back in the N64 days. Fast forward a few years, and we now have the release of the 9th instalment in the Mario Party series, not including the handheld versions of the game (e.g., Mario Party Advance). There has also been an absolute saturation of party games/mini-game compilations in recent time, and to put it frankly, the Wii has seen far too many of this type of genre.
Despite the saturation of mini-game focused titles on the Wii, Mario Party 9 comes with some major changes to how the game is played. The gaming modes available from the outset remain largely the same. You have a single player mode, a party mode (the main mode), a mini-game mode, and an area (museum) where you can unlock new features. Once you begin your first game in Mario Party 9, you will very quickly realise the major changes that have been implemented. Firstly, you do not take turns in navigating the board in order to reach and buy a star. All of the characters (up to four) now move together in a vehicle that is based on the theme of the board (e.g., boat like vehicle in the ocean board). One player will act as the captain, and it is the captain who gets to spin the die. After each turn, the players swap order so each player has a shot at being the captain. The second big change is that the boards are now linear, much in the same way as the board in Wii Party. No longer do you travel the boards until a predetermined number of turns have elapsed. The game now progresses until you have reached the end of the board. There are no coins either, and instead you collect mini-stars as you play. Mini-stars can be collected by passing them on the board, winning them in mini-games, through bonus events, and through the boss battles. The person with the most mini-stars at the end of the game is crowned the winner.
As has been briefly highlighted, there are numerous changes to the Mario Party formula in this iteration of the game. The changes might polarise previous fans of the series, though they were welcome change to me. There is still a great emphasis on strategy, as you can try and position the vehicle in a way that will benefit you and hinder your competitors. There are no items in the game this time either, but there are many more dice you can collect (when you land on a blue space, rather than getting coins like in previous titles). The standard die only goes to 6 now, and some of the other dice available include a 0/1 die, a 1-3 die, a 4-6 die, a 1-10 die, and the slow die (moves slowly making it easy to a number of choice). There are a number of spaces on the board that you will want to avoid, so using any bonus dice you have to your advantage becomes important. Each board also includes various board specific events, all of which provide additional events to collect mini-stars.
As for the mini-games, they are no longer played at the end of each round. Instead, mini-games now occur when you land on a mini-game space or when a mini-game is found in the chest in which your bonus die come from (i.e., each blue space is a chance to play a mini-game). Overall, you will usually play less mini-games than a typical 20 round game from a previous Mario Party. This, along with the other major changes described, makes the overall length of a game significantly shorter. Boss battles are now included on each board, a minor boss at about the half way mark and a final boss at the end of the board. These are just four player co-operative mini-games involving villains from the Mario universe (Boo, Lakitu etc.) Despite being co-operative, each battle allows you to score points and your ranking at the end of game battle determines how many mini-stars you win. The boss battles are another welcome addition to the game.
The number of new mini-games included is around the 80 mark, which is an impressive number. The overall quality of the mini-games is quite good, particularly considering how many previous Mario Party titles have come before. As usual, there are a few games that don’t quite hit the mark, but most of them are enjoyable, even if many of them are just different variations of the same theme (e.g., just another way to see who can tap a button the fastest). The mini-games include the typical four player game, plus several others including 1-3, battle, and Bowser Jr. mini-games.
Mario Party 9 includes 7 boards, some of which need to be unlocked by collecting ‘party points’. Party points are awarded after you play through the game on single or multiplayer, and they can also be used to unlock other extras such as new vehicles. The boards include a variety of themes, such as Boo’s castle, a bob-omb factory, and the obligatory Bowser based level. Each level provides its own unique challenges and board-specific events that help maintain a level of originality across each board. The character roster for the game includes the usual suspects, plus two additional characters (Shy Guy, Kamek) which can be unlocked by playing through the game in single player mode. The single player mode, thankfully, is much less laborious compared to previous titles. When you play through in single player mode, you always play against a character representing Bowser (Shy Guy or Kamek) and to win you need to finish the game with more mini-stars than them. The number of players used in single player mode varies too; sometimes you play with the standard four and at others it might just be two.
From a more cosmetic point of view, Mario Party 9 is a colourful and well-presented game. The graphics are solid without being outstanding, and the sound track and sound effects used throughout are appropriate. While Mario games are often highly praised for their soundtracks (think Mario Galaxy), the Mario Party titles don’t quite live up to the same standards. Nonetheless, the visual/aural package is more than acceptable.
The Mario Party series, despite its charm, has drawn increasingly negative feedback as the series progressed, mainly due to a lack of originality and the repetition of ideas in the mini-games. It has also been lamented for its slow pacing throughout, with a standard game taking well over 90 minutes in some instances. Mario Party 9 has made some significant changes to the general formula of the game whilst at the same time keeping intact the core elements that first made Mario Party so enjoyable. Whilst these changes might disappoint some traditionalists, they seemed a necessary step to inject some much needed originality into an aging series. The final product, whilst still far from perfect, is one of the better Mario Party titles in some time, and gives hope that the franchise has plenty of life left in it yet.