Once again the folks at Nintendo and Hudson have managed to gently pat that formidable bottom of the minigame barrel - but without all together scraping it. Mario Party returns, finally on the system it was meant for. If you ever cared for the Party series, then there's no reason the newest entry won't bowl you over. There are over 70 minigames crammed into the disc, and hey, a handful of them you can even play with your Miis. To keep the fanatics playing, you'll earn Carnival Cards that can be used towards unlocking a slew of items beyond just minigames. (All of which we chronicle in our ridiculously comprehensive guide.)
And it should be said that Mario Party has taken to the Wii like a prostitute to cocaine. Aiming with a cumbersome thumbstick has been done away with and guiding the cursor with the Wii Remote feels like a godsend. Plus the tilt sensing adds a whole new dimension to play. (Sadly, there's only one game that requires the Nunchuk attachment. And it's a flag waving good one too.) From buying property and thrashing opponents for their Stars, the new and distinct boards deliver a little more strategy than what you'd expect from a pick-up-and-play title.
It's all too easy to say the franchise has gotten stale, but you'd have to overlook the very foundation Mario Party was built on. Taking dozens of tired gaming formulas and boiling them to their thirty second essence is what has always made the Party series the best at what it does. It's all very much what we've come to expect from the series, but that's as long as you've come to terms with what not to expect. If you're anticipating an innovative game that rewards you on skill, well, then this may not be the shindig for you.
The game is meant to be accessible to everyone, after all. You friends can easily jump in as instant contenders regardless of skill level. Certain games that declare winners without any rhyme or reason will give some players reason to gripe. As will the game's tendency to charitably level the playing field via cheap spinning wheels and bonus stars. But what really sucks most about the transition is how much better we've already seen it done before, on its home system no less.
Perhaps we're a little ADD, but Mario Party 8's biggest flaw is that it moves entirely to slow. You'll have to read layer after layer of instructive text no matter how many time you've played. It all gets very repetitive. We weren't all raised on Teletubbies, and even the ones who were aren't nostalgic for information and scenes that happened 10 minutes ago.
Every piece of attribute-boosting candy consumed is accompanied by an unimpressive cutscene that runs a little too long, and you'll have to view them every... single... time. Sure, you can turn off compute opponents' cutscenes in single player, but you'll have to endure a deluge of crap before you can get to the action. A 15 turn, four player game takes over an hour to play through. Given that most minigames are around 30 seconds long, this means you'll get a little less than 10 minutes of partying per hour. A shame, because board play is where the multiplayer has always shined brightest.
Some will say that Mario Party is defined partly by its presentation, but all the cutesy-poo pageantry slows the game to a less enjoyable pace. If only Mario had taken a cue from his yellow doppelganger, and the many other games of its sort, maybe we would've scored it higher. It's still plenty of wacky, crazy fun with four human players, but it's still a shame that it doesn't rise above the glut of other minigames compilations on the Wii despite its prestigious pedigree and the most impressive cast in all gamedom.