This review originally went live in 2016, and we're updating and republishing it to mark the game's arrival in Switch's N64 library via the Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack.
Since 1998, the Mario Party series has entertained gamers by mixing the play of traditional board games with frantic minigame action. There have been a great many entries over the years but this is one of the most warmly regarded and fondly remembered. Known for blister-creating rotate-the-stick minigames, Nintendo and developer Hudson Soft delivered a similar experience to the first game in this first sequel, only bigger and more impressive.
Gameplay is straightforward in this virtual board game with each of the four players taking turns to hit the "Dice Block" to negotiate the board, collecting or losing coins depending on where they land. The aim is to collect as many stars as possible (purchased in exchange for coins) before the pre-chosen number of turns is completed.
If that's all there was to it, frankly it'd be rubbish, so it's a good job that Mario Parties feature lots of minigames. After all four players have had their turn, a minigame commences giving players a chance to compete for more coins. Some are four-way free-for-alls, others split you into teams of two and there are also one-on-three minigames. There are 65 in total and whilst they control differently and have different rules, they are all simple enough to quickly get to grips with. If in doubt, you can check the rules/controls before you play and even have a little practice.
There's a good variety on offer here, with the short bursts of fun including a tank battle game, a bobsled race, archery, jumping across sliding tiles, and a climb to the top of a sinking ship's mast. Some games are frantic button bashers such as "Skateboard Scamper" where you race to the end (whilst also having to jump raised sections) but others are slower paced. One highlight is "Sneak 'n' Snore" where barrel-wearing players carefully make their way to the door-release button as a Chain Chomp slumbers; should the sleepy sphere awake, any players not hiding in their barrel are eliminated. If you particularly like a minigame, they can be 'purchased' for repeated play whenever you feel like it.
Given its age, it isn't particularly surprising that Mario Party 2 looks distinctly blocky at times and characters can fail to mesh convincingly with the pre-rendered backgrounds. However, the colourful style works well for the most part. There are six different boards in the game, each with its own theme (pirates, space, etc.) and, as you'd expect, the music adjusts according to the theme. One nice visual touch is that the players' garb changes to match, too. For example on the "Mystery Land" board, everyone is dressed like they are ready for an archaeological dig. Seeing all the characters in costume adds a surprising amount to the atmosphere of each board.
Also affecting games is the use of items, purchasable from a shop or collected if you land on an item minigame space. These include Mushrooms and Golden Mushrooms for a second and third use of the Dice Block, and the ability to send a Boo to steal coins (or even a Star) from an opponent. Clever use of items can help you succeed in the game, but you should be careful not to hold onto them for too long; should a rival collect a "Plunder Chest", they can steal them from you.
With additional spaces mixing up the gameplay (Bowser taking coins, hidden stars), the fortunes of the players change throughout a game and there can be a lot of excitement when someone who seemed destined for fourth place picks up a couple of stars in quick succession. Bonus stars awarded at the end of a game (for things such as most coins collected in minigames) can also shake up the results.
The game is certainly a lot of fun to play, but how you are playing affects how enjoyable it is. It's best suited for four friends relaxing with some snacks, bantering away, and not taking things too seriously. And if you're playing on something other than original hardware, the cable-free nature of modern controllers prevents accidental garrotting should you trip when going to fetch more Pringles.
Should three additional human players be unavailable, their places are taken by CPU-controlled characters and here the enjoyment is predictably lessened somewhat. Should you land one space short of a star which a friend then collects on their next turn, it seems like they got lucky (likewise if another friend lands on the bank and collects the funds deposited within). Should a CPU character collect a useful item or find a hidden star, however, it feels suspicious.
Play alone and a game can suddenly seem very long, even the 20-turn "Lite Play". It's still enjoyable but with no one to discuss the news or your plans for world domination with, there's not much to do other than twiddle your thumbs between turns as the other characters hit Dice Blocks, pay fees, or partake in item minigames. It's not a big problem, but it's a social game by its nature and really needs to be played with other humans. One person does not a Mario Party make.
Mario Party 2's gameplay is simple but a lot of fun as you compete to collect the most stars. The variety of minigames and the different boards with their unique features (gotta love that laser in Space Land) combine to provide plenty of enjoyable multiplayer gaming whether taking part in the "Filet Relay" or trying to bowl over your rivals with a Koopa shell. Naturally, the game loses something in single-player mode, but that's to be expected in a game with 'Party' in the title. Get some friends around and you'll have a ball with Mario and his party.