Game Rant's Riley Little reviews Mario Party 9
It's been nearly half a decade since partygoers have been invited to one of Mario's infamous shindigs, but Nintendo has finally decided to give the pudgy plumber one last party on the Wii. In what may be one of the last notable games on the system, Mario Party 9 is hoping to deliver Wii owners one last must-have Mario game before the Wii U takes over during the holidays later this year.
Thankfully, Mario Party 9 takes an old formula and makes it fun again, but it's still not the exact experience fans of the series may have been hoping for.
For those that have remained blissfully ignorant of the Mario Party series' existence during the past decade and a half, the game throws Nintendo's main man Mario and his cohorts into a board game-esque romp. Each player takes turns hitting a floating dice block that appears above their heads so that they can progress across a board. Whoever manages to collect the most in-game currency and collectibles wins the game, and as a result, they net some serious bragging rights.
Mario Party is, and has always been, a party game in the most literal sense of the word, and Mario Party 9 is certainly no exception. The game supports up to four players locally, but offers absolutely no form of online multiplayer. This is one of the few games that can get away with a lack of online support though, because it's really at its best when played in a room filled with your friends.
Those who can't manage to get a group of buddies or family members together to enjoy the game can look forward to a 'Solo' mode. As one might expect from a mode called 'Solo Mode', one player is tasked with playing games against computers. The single-player option doesn't just throw players into a game and tell them to win, fortunately, and it actually has a loose story that should motivate players just enough to actually complete the game. The mode as a whole feels a little unnecessary though, and development time may have been better spent on adding a new map, mini-games, or playable characters.
Mario Party 9 sticks to the bare bones premise of all the other games before it, but very little of the game feels the same as its predecessors. Fans will immediately notice that players no longer move around the board separately, and instead will each take turns driving a vehicle with all of the players in it. For every number a player hits, the entire group of players is moved up the same number of spaces, which is a radically different approach to the game. As a result of everyone travelling together in a vehicle, the boards have been altered too. Many of the game boards are a 'get from point A to point B' affair, which actually makes traversing around them a lot more interesting due to their less stagnant scenery.
Given that the game boards and method of transportation have received such an extensive overhaul, it's only to be expected that the changes didn't stop there. First and foremost, the objective of the game is no longer to travel around the board, collect coins, and cash them in for stars. In lieu of those, collectables called Star Bits will be the main focus of all party-hungry gamers, and they're obtainable by winning mini-games or happening upon rogue star bits while moving across the board. Replacing coins and stars may seem illogical at first, but it does simplify the objective a little more and shifts the focus of the game onto a more competitive and chancy affair.
A lot of gamers have problems with the all-or-nothing chance aspect of Mario Party, and this hasn't changed in the franchise's ninth installment. A mild amount of strategy and opportune special dice usage is key in screwing over your friends-turned-rivals, but luck still has almost everything to do with who manages to claim first place when players reach the end of the game. A few more strategic options would be nice, because as it stands the game feels a little bit like a gambling simulator for kids. If the game was a little more cerebral then it would certainly be based a little less on luck, but it's hard to change that without completely changing the core mechanics and basic premise of a Mario Party game.
Mini-games have also been slightly modified, and they will no longer occur after every player has hit the dice block. That's not to say that there aren't plenty of mini-games (there are 80 after all), but each game feels a lot shorter as a result — which actually might be a plus for those who get bored if the game runs a little too long. While most of the game is left to chance, the selection process for all of the mini-games is not. Players get to choose which games they play, and that makes avoiding crappy ventures a hell of a lot easier.
Even with all of these changes, the most prominent addition to Mario Party 9 has got to be the new 'Boss Battle' mini-games that will occur twice every board. Famous baddies from the Mushroom Kingdom like Wiggler, Dry Bones, Lakitu, and King Bob-omb are all there. Each battle plays out more like an extra long mini-game with a health bar, but the formula seems to work just fine. A couple of fights are a little boring, but for the most part it's a fun addition that'll keep veterans and newcomers interested.
Regardless of whoever walks away with the metaphorical belt around their waist, the game's owner benefits by earning star points. These points can be used to purchase hidden content such as a new stage, new vehicles, music, and the purely aesthetic Mushroom Kingdom-themed constellations. It's nice to have something to play for, but other than the Donkey Kong stage and a handful of vehicles there's not much that players are going to feel the need to unlock.
I've also got to get something off my chest, the lack of a playable Donkey Kong is still extremely frustrating, especially given the fact that he has his own stage that can be unlocked. Even Diddy Kong shows up in what feels like a poor attempt to keep the big ape involved with the Mario Party series — despite the fact that they don't even seem to want to make him a playable character. Nintendo, you've made the effort of including Donkey Kong's character model in the game, so is it really too much to see a playable version of everyone's favorite primate?
Mario Party 9 is a much needed breath of fresh air that made me feel like there's still a lot of potential for a franchise that began just under 15 years ago. If finding time to get three of your closest friends in a room together is a challenge then Wii owners may want to pass on this one, but it seems like one of the quintessential game for anyone who lives in a college dorm. Kids who have siblings to play the game with will also have a blast with Mario and friends, but anyone looking for a little single-player Wii action should probably hold off for a game like Xenoblade Chronicles and/or The Last Story.
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