Mario Party was a great game when it first came out. It has all of the trimmings of a great kid-oriented game, and it certainly appeals to that audience too. But I remember our neighbor and one of our other friends, back when I was in college and in my 20’s, coming over to play until all hours when my wife and I were exhausted too. There were times Heather and I would go to bed and others would stay up playing it. The idea behind a video game that operated like a board game made for quick set up and tear down time, easy save options so you didn’t have to worry about trying to put a board in a safe spot until later, and introduced minigames that made the experience more interactive and skillful than say, a game of Monopoly.
There have been a lot of different Mario Party games over the years – and we picked up number 8 not too long ago for our Wii. Our kids have always enjoyed the series, and while we haven’t gotten every iteration of it, we’ve owned several. And let’s be honest, the big kids (my wife and I), enjoy them too.
Graphics – 4:
Going to have to be brutal here. The Mario skin over top of it is cute in its own right, but the graphics themselves are underwhelming. Recently I reviewed a game called Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn and complained about how the combat textures and graphics overall looked like they would be right at home on a Gamecube. Well, this game fails to even meet that standard. At least some of the art in Fire Emblem had some nice art, but really here everything feels a bit ‘chunky’ – almost like it was designed for the Gamecube and not a higher end system (and let’s be honest, of the current gen systems, Wii is the weakling of the group, so when a game doesn’t even live up to those standards? It’s a problem). Another oddity is the game doesn’t push widescreen – you get black bars along the left and right sides. The bright colors and familiar Mario themes help save this game from taking a dive to an even lower score, but all in all, a pretty disappointing effort here.
Sounds and music – 4:
The melodies are not so bad I guess, but the music quality seems really low-end. It just feels like the music should be a lot better than this. Another problem – the sound effects. They are really, really repetitive. The board ones are a bit worse than the mini game ones, but they are pretty underwhelming to begin with, and when you mix them up so seldom, they grate just a bit more.
Gameplay – 6:
There’s a wide variety of minigames, but the control schemes are actually quite a bit more limited. This is actually not a bad thing, it helps keep the games from getting too confusing, and they generally make good use of the Wii control’s movement support. You’ll be waggling away on a lot of them, though there’s several games where you hold it like a regular controller and use the directional pad and the 1/2 buttons (usually the more combat oriented mini games). I did not have many problems with the controls, but I play more games than any of my other family members. Even my wife commented on several occasions that she felt like the controls were not responding very well. Menus navigate easily enough and the boards have some interesting variety to them not found in older versions of the game, so that helps. Some people whine that there’s too much luck involved, but it’s supposed to emulate a board game, and those often rely on little more than luck. So, with that in mind, the minigames provide a level of skill to the proceedings that negate the ‘too much random luck’ argument, in my mind.
Intangibles – 8:
Pretty much the one thing the got right. The game has a nice, solid Mario theme going on. That’s always a good place to start. There are a ton of minigames, and they do a good job (most of the time) of integrating the Wii motion controls. There’s quite a few modes and you can customize your game settings a fair amount. Also, as a multiplayer game, it works so much better than a single player game in my opinion. It would benefit from some online play, but honestly I doubt that there are that many people who are online and playing this game anyway, so the option (or lack thereof) might be a relatively moot point.
Overall – 5.5:
Now, a lot of points are lost on the technical side of things. There’s a good chance that the audience won’t mind – so that makes a huge difference here. I’ve got 3 kids. Every time I’ve proposed we sit down and play the game as a family activity, at least 2 and my wife quickly volunteer. Of course, that’s when you notice things like questionable controls or the odd graphics. It’s a flawed game with a great premise and the potential to charm an audience like my household provides. This of course helps, but it does not completely mask the shortcomings of the game itself. It’s almost more of a teaser of what could have been, than what was.