Nintendo and Hudson Soft must have a secret portal to a dimension stacked with cool minigames. The companies have ruthlessly mined that resource, grabbing scads of tiny contests to lure up to eight players around several cutesy, detailed game boards. While the eight-player option is new to this installment, little else is. Mario Party 7 faithfully offers more of the same gameplay and forces players to swallow cripplingly slow computer turns in the process.
As in a board game, players choose a character to guide around a game map. The goal is to grab stars and coins. Stars win the game; coins can buy valuable traps and power-ups. When players intersect on the game board, or when traps or game squares dictate, a minigame will begin for a varying number of players. At the end of each mini-game, some coins will change hands, fortunes will be made and dreams crushed.
Let's assume you've got four people ready to play. For that crowd, the game is at its dubious best. There are 86 new games to compete in, covering everything from racing to fighting to tag-teaming against other players. If you've tried any of the previous six games, just keep moving along. This one puts the oft-ignored microphone attachment to use in 11 of the minigames, but yapping at things to jump around is hardly worth the cash.
The minigames are drawn from an incredibly broad design style, and the laying of traps can add a much-needed devious quality. They can just as easily get out of hand, though, and the game can become incredibly frustrating for the losing players. Those diversions also stretch out the running time, killing any pick-up-and-play appeal.
With less than four, and specifically in the solo game, the turns become tedious as the CPU actions drag out. That offers time to take in the presentation, which looks very much like every other Mario-themed game on the GameCube: colorful, chirpy and round.
The option to skip right to the mini-game collection would be appealing, if only the games didn't have to be unlocked from the main game boards. That equates to, yup, even more waiting on the computer. Please, if you this at all, do it with friends.
Echoing real life, it's not a party with less than a quartet. Mario Party will frequently substitute CPU players for empty controller ports. Players have to watch the CPU play just like they would another person, only you can't reach over and smack the drink out of the CPU's hand when it steals all your stars. Your smug friends, on the other hand, are just asking for it.
One solution is to just plug in extra controllers and have people play multiple characters. Everyone else is advised to keep knitting handy to pass the CPU turns. You know how much fun it is to watch other people play boring games? Imagine being forced to watch AI opponents run through their turns. Over and over.
It's obvious that Mario Party 7 is aimed at younger players, but it's hard to picture children being any less bored by the slow pace and insistent computer. For the eighth installment we recommend a speed play option; until then the party will have to get along without us.