Mario Party is a series that has been around the block a few times, it’s fair to say. And it’s taken its fair share of criticisms for a lot of its mechanics, including the huge role that luck plays, no online play in a multiplayer game, and a reliance on minigames. Thing is, these criticisms usually come from core gamers who, quite frankly, aren’t the intended audience. So, if you’re here looking for a review of Mario Party 9 from that perspective, stop reading now and go check out IGN, GameSpot, or Game Informer, who do a terrific job of harping on the game for its randomness. If you’re here to see if your family will enjoy the game, well, they will. A lot. But we hope you’ll keep reading anyways to find out all the reasons why.
The Parent Perspective
Party, the main mode of Mario Party 9, is your typical board-game-with-minigames experience, but there are significant changes from MP8. There’s been a significant shift towards “co-operative” competitive gameplay in this edition. On each of the seven boards eventually at your disposal, all players will travel together in a vehicle and take turns as Captain. The captain will roll the dice and control movement of the vehicle, make whatever decisions come up, reap the benefits or suffer the consequences of the space they land on, and collect any mini-stars or mini-ztars (purple mini-stars that drain your mini-star count) they collect along the way.
Also new are Boss Castles (at the halfway mark) and Bowser Gates (at the end of the board). In each of these, all players will work “together” in a boss battle minigame against one of Bowser’s minions. Of course, players are also competing against each other in these battles as you’re trying to score the most points so you get more mini-stars. It definitely skews more towards competitive, and you’ll eventually beat the boss (you can’t actually lose a boss battle), so there’s little use for actual teamwork.
In fact, the “co-op” aspect is rather superficial throughout the entire game itself, though there is the odd time, like 1 vs 3 minigames, or Bowser Jr. minigames where you will need to work as a team. It’s still nice for everyone to be together though, as some might have found the old game rules a bit isolating.
Forget about coins, stars, coins to buy stars, candy, coins to buy candy, coins to buy dice blocks, and all the other things to keep track of in previous games. Candy is gone. Coins are gone. Even stars are gone. It’s now all about mini-stars. Everything you do in Mario Party 9′s Party mode will be about getting and keeping mini-stars, as they determine who the winner is. Candy is also gone, so your only choice to make at the start of your turn is which dice block you want to use (assuming you have a choice). These are really the only special items you can gain and come in interesting variations, like the 0-1, 1-2-3, 4-5-6, slow dice (which basically lets you pick your roll), and the nerd-tastic d10. (Awesome and ironic quote from my somewhat nerdy brother-in-law: “You have to be a real nerd to call it by its actual name like that.”) This has the welcome affect of simplifying the game, making it much easier for younger gamers to play. It also quickens the pace of a game, more on that later.
Since nobody actually talks in Mario Party, instructions and game updates are all done with text, so reading ability is absolutely required. This is amplified by all the minigames, which have rules and controls to read about before you play them.
As for content, the most to be concerned about is the cartoon violence that is the norm for Mario games. Players will get hit with other players, projectiles, and various baddies. There’s also the odd explosion as well. It’s no different than previous games in the series and nothing most kids haven’t already seen.
Do be aware that the large number of random events could frustrate some kids. I heard multiple cries of “it’s not fair!” from mine while playing. It truly is possible for any player of any age to win a game, especially on certain boards. It’s certainly a good chance for your kids to learn how to win with grace and deal with defeat.
On a final note, my kids (8 and 4) could not stop playing this game. There’s something about this formula that works, and it’s a blast to play with them. And lest you think I’m joking about everybody having a fair chance to win, you weren’t there when the four-year-old absolutely destroyed us, despite his best efforts to sabotage himself at times.
Mario Party games typically get a bad rap because random chance can play such a large role in game outcomes. Nobody is going to deny this fact, and Lady Luck is certainly an unseen extra player in Mario Party 9. If you prefer to have your video games put more control of your fate into your own hands, Mario Party 9 is probably not for you. And I will admit that my inner competitive self gets quite annoyed when I suddenly lose half my stars because I made the fatal mistake of rolling the wrong number. But people sometimes forget that you are essentially playing a board game in the main Party mode. Do people rail on Snakes and Ladders, Monopoly, or Candy Land because of all the luck involved with them? It’s also this random element that makes it such a good game for families to play. Everybody has a fighting chance right up until the end. So even if Mom or Dad destroy the kids in the minigames, it guarantees nothing. Plus, in the last quarter or so of every game, the last place player starts receiving certain advantages to give them a chance to get back into the game.
With all that said, there’s a surprising amount of strategy involved with Mario Party 9 Party games, and you have lots of opportunities to try and put yourself in a better position or, even better, totally screw over the stars leader of the moment. There are special dice blocks you can get to give you more control over your movement and perhaps set the next captain up for a big loss of stars. Captain events give the current captain a certain amount of control over player movements to give themselves a better chance to reap its rewards. There are branching paths on many boards that give you a choice that can either benefit you or mess with your opponents. Of course, there will be times when your best laid plans are sabotaged by an Order Shuffle space or some other chance event, but there’s more control over your own destiny than you’d think. Plus, the replacement of big stars with ministars actually takes some of the influence away from the end-of-game nuisance that can be bonus stars.
Games have become a more streamlined experience, which results in a much better paced game. In addition to what I already mentioned in the Parent section, minigames no longer automatically happen after everybody’s had a turn. Oh, they’ll still happen, don’t worry. You have lots of opportunity to get your minigame on. But it’ll happen by landing on spaces associated with minigames, or other spaces randomly if the game thinks you’ve gone a little too long without playing one. The result is a game that just feels like it has a good pace, and the finite length of the boards means you can finish a game in 30-60 minutes. As tempting as it will be to say that it’s the same old Mario Party, there have been significant mechanical changes to the board games, and the result is a better Party mode. Also of note, you no longer are required to fill out a Party mode game with CPU players if you don’t have four. This was a welcome change as we could have two and three player games and not need a special mode for that or an annoying CPU player who just got in the way.
You may want to try each board out once or twice. While the rules have changed and are pretty much the same on all boards now, they do all have their own quirks, with some more forgiving than others. The variety of the boards doesn’t just lie in their locales. Some will introduce danger elements like lava, Bob-ombs that count down, Boos that chase you, and various other hazards that will take half the stars of the unlucky Captain of the moment.
One of the best parts of Mario Party 9 is that while I’ve spent most of the review talking about the main Party mode, there are lots of other play options as well. Mario Party 9 takes a page out of the successful book written by Wii Party and provides multiple options beyond just the board games themselves. The result is a lot more variety than we saw in Mario Party 8. Solo mode sees you playing through the boards with a bit of a story involving Bowser and stealing mini-stars. As long as his representative in your game doesn’t win, you move on. Otherwise you have to play the board again. It’s fine if you’ve got nobody else to play with and are really jonesing to play, but you’re basically just playing against three computer opponents, which just doesn’t have the same feeling, obviously.
Minigame mode actually gives you a choice of seven different ways to play minigames. You can choose to play any minigame (all are unlocked from the get go except boss battles which are unlocked once played), or one of six other games where minigame results either directly affect your performance, or give you a distinct advantage. The amount of time to play these games is typically shorter than the main party boards, so if you’re pressed for time, want more of you time spent in the minigames, and/or want minigames to have more bearing on who wins, these modes could be a good change of pace.
If you want a break from minigames themselves, Extras has four options available for you. There’s the Dr. Mario-esque Castle Clearout, Shell Soccer, Goomba Bowling, and the interesting Perspective Mode, a single player mode which sees you playing 10 of Mario Party 9′s minigames at a much lower camera angle that focuses on the player’s character, similar to 3D action-adventure games like Assassin’s Creed, GTA, and Uncharted. Only one minigame is available at the start, and you unlock more by beating the previous one. On their own, the Extras aren’t anything special, but in a bigger package, they represent nice little alternatives. There’s also a Museum where you can purchase a couple of locked boards and modes once you’ve unlocked them, along with a number of superfluous items like vehicles, music, constellations, and more. These are purchased using party points earned by playing the game.
And of course, there’s the stars of the show, if you will, the minigames themselves. Mario Party 9 boasts 80 new minigames. Many of them are Free-For-All style, where it’s every player for themselves, with the odd 1 vs. 3 game coming up if you land on that space. 2 vs. 2 games do not make a return in Mario Party 9. The minigames are your typical Mario Party fare, and yes, there are still a few minigames that are purely luck-based. Beyond that though, somehow the developers keep finding ways to create fresh-feeling minigames, and you really don’t ever get a feeling of “yeah, I’ve played this before.” Many of the games are a lot of fun, and even the clunkers aren’t too bad. Almost all of them are really easy to figure out quickly, and you always get the chance to practice before you play.
The GamerPops Recommendation
Mario Party 9 is not for core gamers. Of course, by the 9th iteration of the series, you would think that would be pretty well understood by now. It puts an disproportional amount of weight on random chance events that can rip your heart out. It doesn’t have online play which, while an interesting proposition, would take away from the whole “party” experience. What it is though, is a fantastic party game for families that will provide hours of light-hearted entertainment and laughs. I thought Mario Party 8 was a pretty good family game and the kids really dug it, and that game had a number of flaws. Mario Party 9 is by far a better game than its immediate predecessor, and brings back some of the soul that I found lacking in Wii Party, which was a great family game in its own right. With all that considered, Mario Party 9 is an ideal game for families and one I would call a must have for Wii owning families. Yes, it’s the same formula, but it’s a formula that works, and the changes that have been made seem like they were almost specifically made to cater to families with younger children. This is one party you’ll want to RSVP for.
A review copy was provided to GamerPops by the publisher.
ESRB Rating Summary
Content descriptors: Mild Cartoon Violence
Rating summary: This is a collection of multiplayer mini-games (i.e., “party games”) in which players compete against characters from the Super Mario universe to collect the most stars. Players roll dice to move around colorful game boards: landing on certain spaces triggers whimsical combat sequences or boss battles (e.g., characters knocking each other off platforms; hopping on an oversized caterpillar; shooting “cartoony” cannonballs at a giant squid). Damage is indicated by blinking, comical yelps, tiny explosions, and/or “dizzy star” effects.