The Mario Party franchise has been running for years and no doubt will continue to be present on all future Nintendo consoles; it even appeared on the sparsely known GC e-reader. The N64 had the original and two sequels in its lifetime, now it is continuing to evolve on the Gamecube. The first being Mario Party 4, but also at the time of writing this review there are two more recent follow-ups (MP 6 & 7). It is normally assumed that newer is better, this maybe the case but this review will focus on number four as it own game especially considering the ongoing debate about which is better in the series.
This being the series’ first game to enter the GC market, and also be the first this reviewer has ever played, I was intrigued to learn the concept of the game, and why so many gamers of all ages have praised it (or one of its predecessors) so highly. The reason is apparent from the very outset, with the introduction movie showcasing all of the most famous characters from the various Mario games throughout the years. Mario has invited all of his friends to this party. What’s a party without some friends to join in with the frolicking? So there is room for three of your mates. In the typical sense, four people won’t make a great party but this is where Mario Party thrives.
The concept of the game in both single player and multiplayer is the same. Players start on a board very similar to a traditional board game and use a die to determine how many spaces they will move towards a goal. The goal in question will be familiar to Mario gamers in the guise of a star. The singular star is randomly placed on the board and will remain there until the quickest player reaches it and collects it, as long as they have the 20 coins required to purchase the shiny beacon. A new star will then appear in a new location. The star placement is randomised and can sometimes result in one player being able to get multiple stars in quick succession; the game does not seem to take in to account the current leader board, or proximity of players. Although this is a fair way of doing things, it doesn’t help to balance the game out; automatic handicapping would have been a nice addition. This process will carry on for as many turns as you set. The smallest amount of turns will take around 40 minutes and the most will take around 3 hours so book the venue well in advance.
Plodding along the board is not the only way to get to the star. The introduction of a shop gives you the option to buy items such as the magic lamp which transports the player to the star (after an annoying long cut-scene involving a genie with an unusually sized navel). When you pass by the shop the contents are again randomised which allows struggling players to obtain a star easily, but as mentioned before it can give the leading player an even greater deficit. Another item found in the shop is Boo’s crystal ball; this lets you steal another player’s star, if you can afford the hefty price tag. Players will have to constantly forward plan on the best way to get stars and consider their purchases wisely.
Yet another opportunity of changing the stakes is the ‘Reversal of Fortune’ space where a player has to give/swap coins and/or stars with another player, decided by a pinball machine from which no one is safe. These spaces are normally tucked away in hard to reach areas reducing their frequency and saving the players from heartbreak. With all these features constantly disrupting the flow it makes it very uncertain as to who will be the winner, so it is not guaranteed the more experienced gamer will win; a lot of luck, logic and planning are required.
It is not all board game fun; the main and most fun part of the game begins after all players have taken a turn. It is time for a party game. In total there are around 40 different short games playable, ranging from sports to reaction games, and the occasional button basher. The team will vary from all versus, 1vs3, or 2vs2 (unless you set it to one before you start). Everyone will have strengths and weaknesses as the mini-games are for the most part, completely different. Most require skill which balances out the randomness of the game board, so all party goers should have a chance
There are other games playable that are activated by landing on certain spaces. There are normally three or four ‘Battle’ spaces scattered around the board which require an entry fee of up to 50 coins from each player, although if you don’t have it you don’t get left out. The winner of the game gets most of the coins, with 2nd place bagging the rest, and with up to 200 coins on offer it is an important contest and yet another way to chain the stakes.
A lottery is also available with another 100 coins up for grabs each time. Some spaces allow you to win prizes if have been miniaturised by using a mini mushroom. Big Bad Bowser also makes an appearance if you make him angry by landing on one of his spaces. This can result in playing a game but more often than not he will just steal some of your hard earned coins.
The boards are diverse with so many different space types, mini games and each with their own layout and characteristics. All six levels have a Nintendo character as host with textures and triggers suited to them. In Boo’s level there is a ghost train that will transport you around the board. Goomba’s level has a roulette table which separates the board into four sections. This division is common with most boards and can stop players from exploring the whole board, as special circumstances have to be carried out to move to a different part. These levels can get tedious if the other players are progressing and after 10 rounds, you are trapped without a chance to gain a star.
After all the turns are over, there is an award ceremony where you can receive stars for winning the most games, collecting the most coins, and landing on the most happening spaces. These stars reward the players who have played well, and those who have been lucky, so it remains balanced. This can feature can be turned off if you if you prefer.
If you are a ‘Billy-no-mates’ or simply fancy a game on your own there is the option of a single player game, but this proves to be like sitting in a group of your grandma’s senile friends. The reason is that the short sighted AI does not plan ahead. Each character has a particular shop item that they prefer and because of this they use it every chance they get, even if it means them losing out. For example Donkey Kong has an obsession with mega mushrooms and goes stamping about even if it means passing over the star. Maybe he has used too many magic mushrooms and has hallucinations of a Mrs Donkey Kong on the horizon. We will never know.
You will want to set it to hard mode after you have got used to the different mini games, and once you have unlocked it; expert mode. Even in the difficult settings they behave erratically though. It is far from unplayable but is very frustrating after experiencing the game with human intelligence and competitiveness. You will need to use these CPU players if you have less than four people too, as the game is compulsively a four character game; you can’t have a quick game against your mate.
Even more mini games are available to play on their own in ‘Da Extra Room’. These games are mainly one play time trials of already existing ones expanded, including a 50 piece puzzle instead of the normal six. Some games even surpass the ones in the main game and it is a shame they have not been included. Additionally you play best of five mini games or another format of your own design if you are in need of a quick game without the board system against a human or CPU player.
Mario Party 4 is a definite party favourite. The sheer uncertainty and the many features and games will keep it enjoyable for a long time. The essence of this game is multiplayer, while the single player is just a dull add-on. It can be played for short and long games which are both fun and easy to play.
There is no urgent need to seek out the sequels as the fourth incarnation has stood the test of time and already evolved in to a near perfect multiplayer party game. It is worth showing your face at this party, as the party bag contains way more than just a paper hat. This is worth looking at, even if you do show up fashionably late.