We’ve come a long way as far as the Mario Party series is concerned. It’s not every video game series that reaches its 10th installment…and that’s not even including the handheld titles in the series. Speaking of handheld Mario Party games, the latest game in the series, Mario Party Star Rush, is fast approaching. What keeps this series going for as long as it has? Let’s go down the long road that the series has taken, from The Good, The Bad, and The Party.
Mario Party: The Beginning
Where else to start but the beginning? Full disclosure: this Mario Party was actually not the first I personally played. That honor would go to the sequel to this game, Mario Party 2. I did play this one eventually; I purchased it sometime after playing some of the GameCube era Mario Party games. So, what were my thoughts coming to the original after so many more polished entrees later in the series? Well, I applaud the first entry for coming up with such a great formula that would end up becoming such a charming one for party games.
The game is simple, yet engrossing. Players play on a digital board game where they collect coins to purchase Stars. The one who has the most Stars at the end wins the game. After each player has taken their respective turns, they play a mini-game where they either compete or cooperate to victory, gaining coins, and then the board game resumes. The process repeats until all turns have passed. What’s more, there are other modes aside from the main mode, usually with a focus on the myriad of mini-games. Best of all, playing these various modes grants the players Stars and coins to spend on bonuses to improve on the game further.
The series could not have started at a better time in Nintendo’s history for one simple reason: the Nintendo 64 was not the first system to introduce more than 2 players playing together, but it surely was the system that popularized it. Having a game that featured one of gaming’s most beloved characters front and center in a game literally built to have some friends all get together and play was perfect for all players involved, and cemented the popularity of the series. Sure, the game had plenty of room to grow, (whom among the fans of the original can ever forget the infamous control stick rotating games?) but it was just the beginning of something great. For a time.
Mario Party 2: My Beginning
Now we come upon my first Mario Party game, so as you can imagine, this brings back many fond memories. The most notable addition to this entry is items. Now, players can obtain items from special item mini-games, or spend coins to buy them at shops around the board. Items have a variety of effects, from granting additional die to move more spaces, access to locked routes, instant movement to stars, etc.
One thing I most enjoy about the Mario Party series as a whole is simply how each entry not only makes additions to the original Mario Party concoction, but each one has at least few aspects that makes each entry unique, making them just fine to return to even years later. What’s unique about this entry? Each board has unique outfits for each of the game’s six playable characters, based on the board being played. In addition, the boards feature Baby Bowser, who will provide minor inconveniences for the players, but can be instantly grown to Bowser using a specific item, allowing him to steal all the coins from a very unlucky player! Among the many Mario Party games, this is one of the few available on the Wii Virtual Console. So make sure to grab your friends and have at it in Mario Party 2!
Mario Party 3: My Favorite
This brings us to my favorite game in the series. This game introduced a story mode, the ability to now hold up to three items, and the addition of new characters to the roster. The most notable distinction of this entry was a special duel mode. This mode was exclusive to two players as opposed to four, but featured special boards that had players recruiting party members to attack their opponents. This board would end either when all turns ended, or one of the players lost all their HP. Between these interesting features and boards, and the fact that it was one of the last great N64 games, words alone cannot justify my love for this particular entry.
Mario Party 4: Evolution To The Next System
So begins the series on a new system, the Nintendo GameCube. This entry took the theme of partying literally. The players are aiming to become party stars, and each board is based on different types of parties. Items on boards now could now make characters larger to literally stomp the competition, or make characters smaller to access hidden games or routes. Lastly, a new addition was an Extra Mode that featured bonus mini-games and boards.
Truth be told, this game is my least favorite of the traditional Mario Party games simply because of the boards feeling less organic. The boards themselves are branching paths that are above the actual “worlds” of the map. As a result, each map feels more like a backdrop than part of the actual board. Still, this was just the beginning of the GameCube era of Mario Party, and it only got better from there.
Mario Party-e: The Lost One
Mario Party-e represents the only arguably mainstream Mario Party game that I myself and I presume many others have never played. This is due to the fact that it was released for the ill-fated e-Reader accessory for the Game Boy Advance. Nevertheless, this entry featured cards that could be scanned to play certain mini-games, and even a physical board with which to play with other friends. A shame that the e-Reader didn’t take off, as this entry blended both physical gaming and video gaming in an interesting way.
Mario Party 5: The Amazing Dream
Mario Party 5 brings us to the world of dreams. As a huge fan of the original Paper Mario, the return of the Star Spirits from that game was a huge hook right out of the gate. Each board is based on different dreams, bringing a sense of wonder and joy. Unlike the last console entry, the boards and maps really do feel as one.
Items have been replaced by capsules, which function like items, but can also be thrown on spaces to create traps and such. Three new characters have joined the roster, replacing mainstay Donkey Kong, who takes on a new support role on the boards, helping players. Lastly, unique to this entry is a Super Duel Mode, which allows players to construct a battle vehicle to battle other such vehicles. With a charming setting, characters, and modes, this definitely stands as one of the stronger titles.
Mario Party 6: The Voice Of Reason
The 6th entry of the franchise came with some interesting ideas. The standout was the few usages of the Nintendo GameCube Mic, and certain mini-games took full advantage of the peripheral. An argument between the Sun and Moon was the main theme in the game, and this translated to the gameplay of the boards. Boards would now switch between day and night, changing things like events, music, and paths.
Since Mario Party 3, the ability to earn points from gameplay had been removed. As of this installment, the feature returns to stay. Plenty of rewards to collect, including another playable character!
Mario Party Advance: The First Handheld
Mario Party Advance represents the first full attempt at making a title in the series for a handheld. But does a series optimized for playing with friends translate well into a handheld? Mario Party Advance has a few features made for multiplayer, but it’s impossible to ignore that this was a game made for bringing the experience anywhere for someone who may not necessarily have others to play with.
The game has a single board, significantly larger than any boards, but firmly built for one player. This board serves as the game’s story mode, and is the key to unlocking the various modes. Among the modes, the game features “Gadgets”, interesting little games made for quick play. Included with the physical game is a physical paper board, akin to what was included with Mario Party-e.
This rather unique Mario Party game has found its way onto the Wii U Virtual Console. If you’re looking for a Mario Party game more suited for single player, this will fit the bill.
Mario Party 7: The Cruise Of A Lifetime
The last Mario Party for the GameCube took players on a cruise. Each board took the cast to different tourist locations, from villages to pagodas. This game introduced some new ways to play depending on the board. Examples include a board that played like traditional Mario Party, a board with a focus on racing to the finish and so on. With slightly different rules on each board, each board becomes all the more unique. The compatibility with the GameCube mic has now become more ingrained with the main game, adding optional button controls for those that would rather not use them.
The standout feature of this installment was the inclusion of Deluxe Mode. This mode, by having two people sharing a GameCube controller, could allow up to 8 players to simultaneously play on each board!
Mario Party 8: Party Game for The Party System
Mario Party 8 is everything coming full circle. The first Mario Party game helped establish the N64 as a system for friends. With Mario Party 8, it released on the Wii, a system that hosted many different party games in its own right. Fitting then, that a quality game from the long-running Mario Party series would join the fold.
On the Wii, boards and mini-games alike took advantage of the motion controls famous for the system. With many new options, the series looked as it may have found its perfect home on Wii. Or did it?
Mario Party DS: Hudson’s Last Hurrah
We come to Mario Party DS. The second handheld Mario Party. The sole Mario Party game for the Nintendo DS. And the last Mario Party game to be developed by Hudson Soft.
Unlike Mario Party Advance, Mario Party DS was a traditional Mario Party game, simply made for a handheld system. As a tongue and cheek homage to the state of a full Mario Party game being on a handheld, the characters themselves have been shrunk! As such, the boards and mini-games featured the cast in settings where they walk on top of pianos, small gardens seemingly big, etc. The bosses themselves are just regular Mario series enemies made threatening by their relatively large size!
A bonus puzzle mode plus the wireless features really rounded out this game. The series would go dormant after this entry, as this would be the last one developed by Hudson. So, what happened next for the series? Well…
Mario Party 9: A Wrong Turn?
After Hudson’s departure from the series, the series would be helmed from this point forward by Nd Cube, a new studio made by former developers from Hudson. With veterans from older Mario Party games on board, players were overjoyed that the series would return under good hands. In the end, the series found its fandom split.
Mini-games were as strong as ever, especially on the Wii. Extra Mode remains a fun bonus for players. The split exists within the core of the series, the boards. In an effort to keep players constantly engaged even off their turn, Nd Cube came up with a compromise. Boards now have a single linear path, and players all board a single cart to traverse the path. Each turn, the driver changes, and they alone reap the bonuses or consequences.
One overall benefit was that computer players were no longer as necessary. If less than 4 human players were available, only two or three players could also play the board and mini-games. But, with the linear paths, and the drastic overall gameplay change, a large divide came among the players of this series.
Mario Party Island Tour: The Old And New
The first Mario Party game to grace the Nintendo 3DS. This entry felt more like a return to form with each board having different rules, similar to 7 and 8. However, the game does possess a glaring flaw: the wireless functionality is not perfect. When playing with friends, the game will simply lose connection. This is especially prevalent in a board that involves shuffling cards. Ultimately, while the ideas were fun, this flaw makes for a dark point in the franchise.
Mario Party 10: The Ultimate Split
The latest entry for the consoles much like Island Tour before it, was a game with good intentions, that did not succeed as planned. The controversial car-based board gameplay made a return, though a new mode came with it. This mode, called Bowser Party, allowed one using the Wii U Gamepad to play as Bowser and defeat the other players. This mode came with one major downside: fewer boards and mini-games were available in this board.
The amiibo figures based on Mario characters also had a use in this game. A mode allowed players to use their amiibo to play a board game similar to more traditional ones.
Between the fact that the Wii U console did not sell very well, and yet more people are split in the direction of the series, the feeling that the Mario Party series is falling into a decline is difficult to ignore.
Mario Party Star Rush: Redemption?
We finally come to present time. Mario Party was once a series that any who played considered it the ultimate party game series. As time went on, we know that the series has had its ups and downs, especially in recent years. Mario Party Star Rush has shown much potential in its unique premise. Each player plays as Toads, and find the series regulars, recruiting them to their side as other playable characters. Taking advantage of each player own 3DS screens, all players move at the same time. The solution to the problem of keeping all players engaged while keeping more traditional gameplay may have finally been found. We’ll know for sure when the game finally launches very soon.
It is difficult to expect much revolutionary in the way of a handheld Mario Party game. This is even more difficult considering the controversy with recent entries. But with such a powerful legacy behind it, it makes me all the more hopeful that the series will return to greatness.