Mario Party is a game of chance. You romp around a board grabbing collectibles and playing minigames, all of which is determined by the roll of a die. While this may be expected from a board game turned video game, Mario Party 9 takes this concept and brings the level of luck to an entire new level. Unfortunately, this new level of luck hurts the game more than anything, and even the drastic changes that were put upon the standard formula can’t help that fact.
After a five year hiatus, Mario Party 9 comes back with a bang, this time taking the formula of the series and changing some of the fundamental elements that have been around since the original game on the Nintendo 64. Gone are the coins and stars, as they are now replaced by Mini Stars that are collected as you travel down a linear board together with all your opponents. Players all move in a single vehicle, meaning that while the freedom to move wherever you like is gone, there are many more possibilities to work together with your opponents, as well as to screw them over. It’s a bit of a change for veteran Mario Party fans, but it is one that helps freshen up an old and tired formula that has been used since the beginning.
However, while there may be numerous changes, that doesn’t mean they all fare very well. Mini Stars, as well as the subtracting Mini Ztars, are scattered across the board, and it is anyone’s game to get them. It is a matter of luck whether you land on a certain space or make it to those coveted Mini Stars. This should be expected as it is a board game, but the real problem begins when we look at the gimmicks on the boards themselves.
Nearly every board in Mario Party 9 has a “lose half your Mini Stars” mechanic. Whether it is a Boo in Boo’s Horror Castle or the rising magma in Magma Mine, you are bound to reach a point in your game where you will lose half your Mini Stars. To add insult to injury, the amount of Bowser spaces dramatically increases near the end of the board, and you can expect to feel Bowser’s wrath two or three times in the final moments of the game. Again, Bowser gives the option to take half your Mini Stars away, but worse, he might pull out “Bowser Revolution” and equalize everyone’s Mini Stars count. It gets to the point where you don’t even worry about your Mini Star count or anything that happens on the board, at least not until you are in the final stretch of spaces. This is a serious issue and a fundamental problem.
The car mode itself is not the problem, but what it does offer comes off as lackluster. The idea is that players will take turns moving the vehicle and hoping that they stay out of danger or make it to a Captain Event. These special events have all the players line up for some kind simple task in which rolling the dice block determines the outcome. For the most part, these events consist of complete luck, and any strategy is pushed aside as the entire event and its outcomes are in favor of luck.
The car mode also introduces special dice blocks, and in a way get rid of what we previously knew as items. These dice blocks are deemed the strategic element of the boards, but even these can’t help the madness of luck that is ravaging the players on a regular basis. Different dice blocks limit different numbers that appear on the die, and while this can be used to your advantage, the opportunities to do so do not present themselves enough. Instead of trying to find strategic ways to use items, you will most likely find yourself with the wrong dice block along with whatever disastrous event the board throws at you.
By now you might be thinking why Mario Party 9 is even worth your time. Fortunately, the minigames of Mario Party 9 are its saving grace. Where the board play is based on complete luck, the minigames are where any kind of skill and strategy is used. When playing on a board, minigames no longer appear after every set of turns and instead are played when players land on specific spaces. Playing minigames during board play is your best bet for earning Mini Stars and advancing the game in your favor.
The minigames themselves are some of the best you will find in the entire series. Each minigame is unique to innovative, and offers a fun and exciting experience every time they are played. You will find platforming games, racing games, memory games, motion games, strategy games, mind games, and the list continues on. Boss battles add an interesting mix into the collection of minigames, allowing players to fight off bosses in a larger and much more epic environment. The weak controls from Mario Party 8 are nowhere to be found as the minigames in Mario Party 9 use the appropriate amount motion controls while others simply take on the NES styled control orientation of having the Wii Remote on its side. And most importantly, each minigame feels natural and plays exactly as it should.
Jumping into a game of Mario Party 9 has never been this easy. Load times have seen major improvement since the last entry in the series, and booting up the game and getting into the action should not take more than a minute. Menus are easy to navigate and options are clearly explained. Additions like turning off guide messages and the ability to play in groups of two, three, or four are greatly welcomed. The theme of stars and the night sky can be seen throughout the minigames and especially within the menus of the game. This neat little theme helps keep the game connected and it is a nice treat to have the different unlockables and modes bridge together with this theme.
Playable characters have always been an important factor for fans of the series, and Mario Party 9 comes with a decent selection of Mushroom Kingdom representatives. The game features 12 playable characters, but some noticeable favorites have been taken off the roster. Some have gotten boss roles, while others have taken a role on the board. Still, the game has taken a step down in terms of size when compared to its predecessor, and characters like Toadette have completely disappeared without a trace.
Speaking of the characters, the models themselves seem to have finally gotten an upgrade, with many sporting new animations and updated graphical appearances. The boards of the game are the most lively they have ever been, with vibrant colors bringing the boards from a stale backdrop to a living environment. Each minigame hosts its own location and each one is unique and pretty in its own way. Mario Party 9 finally feels like a Mario game, with references from the Galaxy and New Super Mario Bros. series. The game runs smoothly at all times, and never sees a hiccup in any of its gameplay. The same cannot be said about the audio in the game. While some voice samples are notably new, most are simply reused from other Mario titles or recycled from the last game. However, the voice samples will be heard over and over again, but the horrendous taunt feature from Mario Party 8 has completely vanished and saved a few Wii Remotes from being chucked across the room.
Mario Party 9 boasts an impressive 80 minigames, all of which are fun and very enjoyable. Aside from the main party mode consisting of seven boards, the game offers plenty to keep the party going. A variety of different minigame modes help spice up the minigames and give an alternative to playing through the boards. Garden Battle has players competing in minigames to fill their gardens, while Choice Challenge has players secretly picking minigames and facing different opponents for an array of points. The Extras Mode features three extended minigames that players can spend some extra time into, along with the Perspective Mode that takes 10 minigames and zooms in the camera for an interesting take on your favorite minigames. A basic game like Shell Soccer has alone consumed an hour of my time and is a blast to play with friends and family. The Museum is home to all the unlockables in the game, and there are quite a few to keep playing for. Unlockable vehicles, music, stages, modes, and special constellations are just some of the reasons you will be coming back to play. Needless to say, Mario Party 9 has a lot to offer.
Of course, Mario Party 9 has also missed some important elements in terms of replay value. The Solo Mode, a mode that has you playing through each of the boards while following Bowser’s attempt to get away with the Mini Stars, comes off as unimaginative, and the incredible emphasis on luck is frustrating as winning is required to continue on. Forcing players to play through the Solo Mode to unlock the two hidden characters, Shy Guy and Magikoopa, was unnecessary. A lack of an online mode is very disappointing and is quite frankly expected at this point. Online leaderboards, as well as the opportunity to play with friends from across the world is something Mario Party 9 lacks and definitely needs.
It has been a long five years in the making and Mario Party 9 has shown promise for the future of the series. I applaud ND Cube for taking the risk and trying something new for the used and abused formula of Mario Party, but the added level of luck has become the greatest downfall of Mario Party 9. The game is still a blast to play, but do know that luck will have a major place among the many new and cool features of Mario Party 9.
(7.5 out of 10)