Okay, secret time, kids… I once loved Mario Party. I think it was because I used to play it with floormates during my freshman year of college. We'd sneak booze into my room (the "nerd room," thanks to my game collection) and settle into hour long sessions of Mario Party.
This is where most college kids would chime in with, "and we made the best drinking game out of it." But, for us, we just drank while we played. Because of the way Mario Party is structured (or, was structured), the booze was consumed in moments of frustration or anger. Not the beat-the-kids-and-go-out-for-cigarettes kind of anger; no, this was the friendly, you're-killing-me-with-these-dice-rolls anger.
See, Mario Party was a game based almost entirely on luck. The way the board favored chance and mini-games counted for practically nothing in the final tally of obscure awards added up to an explosion of "What the heck!?" every time a game ended. That was both the fun and fury of Mario Party, and it's part of the reason why the formula had grown exceptionally stale by the time the 8th celebration rolled around.
Mario Party 9 came in the mail last week. I opened the package, saw the game staring me down from within and called fellow gaming editor Mike White over for a few rounds to get going. He did, we did and, honestly, it was a whole heck of a lot more fun than I thought it would be.
Well, at the most basic level, this game is exactly like its predecessors. Mario and is cronies go head-to-head in separate board games built around small challenges, dice rolling and collecting stars. There's the standard batch of Mario humor mixed in with goofy tropes that make the Mushroom Kingdom gang what we know and love.
But then there's also this extra level of refinement and balance. Previous Mario Party titles tended to take good sense and fair play and just toss them right out the nearest window. The best gamer rarely held an advantage over the party goer that just so happened to roll the best dice. Mario Party 9, however, manages to blend luck and skill really well.
And, quite frankly, that's all because of one new gameplay element; players are together in a car while cruising the board. You're not rolling so that you can move as an individual. Instead, the whole team moves together. No one gets left really far behind, and games wind up happening much, much faster than they used to.
There's still that fair bit of luck involved; but, this party seems to be particularly good about balancing things out as the finish line approaches. It really comes down to a mix of luck and mini-game skill. For folks that have played a ton in this franchise, that's fantastic news.
The mini-games here are mostly strong. Of course, a few weak entries hit from time to time, but you always get a choice between three when they come up in the game. That helps avoid the bad ones once you've played them all.
Finally, and kudos to Nintendo for adding all of the goods, there's a good heaping of stuff to unlock through all that partying. Playing games, either full on matches or rounds of mini-games solo, will earn you points to spend in the bonus area. That unlocks more cars, extras and all sorts of nerdy stuff that we love to see.
Here's the deal; Mario Party 9 is, at its core, the game we all expected it would be. Nintendo worked hard to find ways to eliminate all the frustration and randomness that comes from the experience, and that added up to a final product that's a lot better than its predecessors.
You know what you're getting when you buy Mario Party 9. Nintendo knows what they're doing when they sell it. Is it the best game you'll ever play? No. But for families, friends or groups of awkward nerds (that's the Crave staff), it works perfectly well.
Mario Party 9 is the best fiesta this plumber's thrown in a good while.
Full Disclosure: We received a review copy of Mario Party 9 roughly a week before writing this review. We dumped around 8 hours into the game across several parties and a few rounds of mini-games. We played alone more often than in a group…soooooo lonely.