|Review by||:||Ken Gagne|
Nintendo's most recent release was The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. How could they possibly top the "Game of the Century"? Nothing could could compete with Zelda — so Nintendo went after a genre that has no competition, and succeeded in producing Mario Party, a delightful and bizarre title for Nintendo 64.
Mario Party is incomparable to most of today's games. Four players — any combination of human and computer opponents, but always totalling four – compete by moving around various game boards, collecting coins and stars, and occasionally contending in action-packed mini-games.
That's right: Mario Party is a 64-bit board game.
The object is to be the player with the most stars at the end of the game, which lasts 20, 35, or 50 turns. Stars are bought with coins earned in mini-games. A medium-length game can last at most two hours, but can be saved at any point for later continuation. Players can be Mario, Luigi, Wario, Donkey Kong, Princess Peach, or Yoshi.
At the core of the game is its 50 mini-games, which occur after every round, and other times. One or four players participate in cooperative, competitive, and team events to earn coins. Some games are as simple as rotating the control stick or pushing buttons repeatedly; others require timing, racing, or memory skills; all require a lot of luck and a good sense of humor.
Colorful graphics create the settings, from Donkey Kong's Jungle to Mario's Rainbow Castle. The mini-games have smooth scroll rates, easily-identifiable sprites, and automatic cameras with few flaws. Facial expressions, character reactions, and other graphical performances convey the game's light mood.
With fifty mini-games, the soundtracks are repeated often, but are unobtrusive to gameplay and often simple and cute. Sound effects add to the experience, but the characters' speech clips are often rushed and unintelligible.
Game controls are presented at every mini-game's opening, and are remarkably simple, not involving the player with most of the N64 controller's buttons. This display can be disabled for practiced gamers familiar with each mini-game.
There is a one-player mode which progresses from one game to the next, and a stadium in which players compete in the mini-games without board game's trappings. But it's when many players (the more the merrier!) find themselves on the main board that the real fun is found. Team-ups, sabotage, strategy, and action create a game that is both wonderfully simple and addictive.
Mario Party is a unique title, and a good one. The lone gamer will find little with which to occupy his time, but add a few friends and the party begins!
This article is copyright (c) 1999, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.
Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 15-Feb-99