There Ain’t No Party Like a Mario Party 9 (Review)
This game was reviewed on the Nintendo Wii.
Rolling a powerful 10 on the dice block is Mario Party 9, Nintendo’s latest in its popular party game series. After eight other titles, does this party still have some life in it, or has everyone packed up and gone home?
In this iteration of the series, our cast of Mario and friends are enjoying the starry night sky. This celebration is abruptly ended when our usual villain, Bowser, shows up to steal the stars right out of the sky. It’s then up to our team of heroes (including a few of Bowser’s spies) to set out and take them back.
This is the main theme behind gameplay, which takes the form of a life-sized virtual board game. Players roll a die and move the number of spaces shown. Different spaces have various events or prizes for the character that lands on it, and can be either good or bad for anyone. In this title, however, things are a little different than some players may be used to as many aspects of gameplay have been changed.
Traditionally, the goal in any Mario Party game was to have the most Stars at the end of the game. Stars are bought at certain parts of the board with Coins which can be picked up or lost at various spaces or won in various Mini-Games. These short events would occur when the last of the four players finished their turn. Each character would also stay on their own space on the field, like in any real life board game, and would only move on their turn. The round would finish after a certain amount of turns, determined ahead of time.
MP9 changes pretty much every aspect of this play style. Instead of playing on a looping track for a set number of turns, players now all ride on a single giant vehicle on a linear board with a definite end. A character may only interact with the board when it’s their turn as captain, being dragged along the board when it’s not, and mini-games are only triggered when a player lands on specific spaces. Coins and Stars have also been mashed together into Mini-Stars and Mini-Ztars, which are placed at various intervals around the playing field. The former version adds to your star count, while the latter takes away from it. Whichever player has the most Mini-Stars at the end of the game is the winner and declared the Superstar.
While I applaud the developer, Nd Cube, for not simply pulling a Call of Duty and slapping a new face on an old product, this system actually feels like a step back for the series. The amalgamation of Stars and Coins into Mini-Stars actually takes away from the game, making it feel smaller, as if they only took our Stars and limited the number of Coins. Where before, players would battle to have the most of both items, carefully balancing the quantity of each in the long run, they now only have a single currency to fight for, limiting the overall depth of each round. It’s like if Monopoly took away buildings, leaving players with only money to fight for.
The single vehicle concept mentioned earlier adds a new strategic element; players need to think ahead and adjust their dice rolls to ensure that they get to the next set of Mini-Stars or land on certain spaces, and that their opponents don’t. This system in itself is an interesting concept, but the actual play fields make it lose a bit of its shine. The boards are essentially one big winding line, with only a few branching paths, all of which simply come back to the main line after some extra spaces. What made other MP titles great were their alternative routes and optional passages, which gave each course a large sense of diversity – even after multiple laps around them. While looking good on paper, this new setup diminishes the game’s replayability and customization, which is a key aspect of party games.
Not all changes in MP9 weaken the game though, as quite a few actually step it up; the most obvious being the Boss Battles. At certain points on the field, players will be forced to stop and play a boss mini-game. Here, all four players work together to battle a powerful enemy, by taking actions like “ground pounding” certain weak points or using cannons to damage the foe, while also competing for the most points. Although the linear design of the maps isn’t ideal, the Boss Battles definitely help take the edge off.
Your standard Mini-Games are also incredibly fun, using the Wii-mote in a variety of ways. Whether you’re flicking the Wii-mote in various directions to look at certain points, holding it sideways to use the D-pad to avoid being crushed by falling boulders, or point-and-shooting various objects, the Mini-Games stand out from one another and are very entertaining. There is a wide array of team setups as well, ranging from free-for-all, to one vs. three, and even co-operative games where two players take on Bowser Jr. in a fight to not lose Mini-Stars. These Mini-Games can even be played from the main menu, without having to start up a full game. All in all, these games are a blast, regardless of how you choose to start them.
Should your plans with friends or loved ones get canceled, but you still feel up for a game, MP9 has you covered. A nice little feature called Solo allows you to play through all the courses in a kind of story mode, where the character of your choice attempts to get back the stolen Mini-Stars. This is also where those spies I mentioned earlier come into play. One of your three AI-controlled opponents will be a Bowser Spy, and if he wins you’ll have to play the entire level over again. As long as anyone other than the Spy wins, however, you’ll move on to the next board. Those looking for a bit of a story-based adventure will find it here, and it’s a very welcomed addition.
When you’re not rolling dice or kicking butt at mini-games, the Museum is probably going to be your hangout location. Here, players can use points rewarded for playing rounds to buy new boards, vehicles, music, and even put constellations back up into the sky. The latter features are standard for any game, but the constellations are a nice touch, allowing players to physically complete their goal of repairing the scenic views of the night sky. It’s a worthwhile objective if there ever was one.
Visually, the game is easy on the eyes, but a little lacking in the imagination department. There are no graphical errors or hiccups anywhere; it’s a solid build, but the character and level design feels uninspired and lifted from other games. You have your typical characters like Mario, Yoshi, and Peach, with no new personas (either new to Mario Party or any news games from Nintendo series, such as Rosalina from Super Mario Galaxy) to be found. There are actually less characters in this game than there were in the last one, and MP8’s characters were more imaginative, including Blooper and Hammer Bros. of all people. While only four players are able to play at any given time, a wide choice of characters gives every player a chance to pick a different favorite and ensures that every round feels unique; and this title’s characters just doesn’t feel motivated enough to deliver.
The same can be said of the level design, which is missing some creativity as well. You have your typical grasslands, beach area, mechanical factory, and haunted castle – all of which are settings you’d find in other Nintendo games like Mario Kart or even other Mario Party games. The general design is really nice overall, with several aspects of the level interacting with players (such as Boos attempting to catch you and steal your Mini-Stars) but players will feel like they’ve seen these already. Altogether, it feels like the inspiration that went into making a new gameplay design was lost when it hit the artists.
Thankfully though, the audio is quite sublime. Characters only say a few lines or make some sounds here and there, but they’re authentic to the Mario universe (such as Yoshi’s unique language) and they never become annoying. However, the highlight of the game is the soundtrack, which ranges from familiar themes to new ones. For most of the game, you’ll hear your usual orchestral works that the Mario series is known for, using syncopated rhythms to get that upbeat feel, and slower, haunting tunes to bring suspense to a creepy area.
Every once in a while, you’ll also be treated to melodies you’ve heard before, but in a new form. My personal favorite is the Museum music, which reworks the original Super Mario theme into a beautiful piano waltz. Other times you’ll hear bits and pieces of a song broken up over a new accompaniment. To be treated to some of the most familiar music in gaming history, yet have it still feel like the first time you’ve heard it is an impressive feat.
At the end of the board, Mario Party 9 is a fun game that attempts a new twist on the established formula. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite reach its potential, and the inspiration found to redesign it is lost in the level and character design. Still, it’s an entertaining game overall and if you’re a die-hard Mario Party fan (or a player new to the series) then you will certainly enjoy it – especially its wonderful soundtrack. If you’re still on the fence about it, however, you may want to wait for a price drop.
Final Score: 4.0 / 5.0 and a shiny 10-sided die.
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