For gamers seeking fun with friends Mario Party has long been a good series to visit. Although multiplayer is preferable for the games, there are occasions where you may play alone whether just for practice or because everyone's avoiding you after you mistook that drinking fountain for a bidet. For Mario Party DS (on Wii U at least) there's another reason. With no good way to replicate the wireless multiplayer of the original release, single player is the only option available.
Stripped of the multiplayer modes the game suffers, but it's not quite as disastrous as it could have been. Originally released as a portable title there are a number of gameplay options here featuring brisk gameplay, and what suits quick bursts of play also prevents a session on a board from outstaying its welcome.
There's a wide range of enjoyable minigames included in the usual formats: four-way free-for-all, two-on-two, three-on-one and one-on-one (for dual battles). You'll find yourself trying to outrun a vacuum cleaner, pressing a sequence of buttons to jump across blocks, hammering a button to extend as much lead from a pencil as possible and trying to climb out of a erupting volcano. Other minigames are focused on racing, whether trying to reach the top of a clock (via platforms and moving cogs) first or completing a lap in a raft or a pedal car.
These are the kind of slices of frantic fun that could have been provided by the previous games in the series, but being a DS title there are some new options too. The touchscreen is used for many minigames (and quicker menu navigation) in a variety of ways. There are games where you trace something with your stylus, others have you tap things, one has you ripping leaves out of your path, but making sure to massage the ladybirds on them so they'll fly out of the way. One has you rubbing your character to keep them warm and there's also a game where you must turn the handle on a music box at just the right speed to lure Goombas to your side of a wood.
As well as touch and traditional controlling minigames some make use of the microphone too, so whilst there is a game where you avoid falling Thromps with the d-pad/control stick, another has you huffing and puffing to try and topple them over. The lack of human competition is something that frequently nags, but the wide variety of minigames helps to keep things interesting.
The game is well presented, with fun and bouncy tunes and the usual bright cartoony visuals you'd expect from a Mario game. Each board has its own theme so you'll have a variety of things to look at; hopping across piano keys on Toadette's Music Room or being crushed by barrels on the DK's Stone Statue board. Being a DS game blown up for larger displays, the visuals can look fuzzy and very messy but enabling the screen smoothing option helps considerably. There are still some low-res scenic elements that stand out and characters can lack clearly defined features, but the game still looks OK. There is another issue, however, and that is that this is a game designed for two screens.
How to display the two DS screens on Wii U is a frequent question with these Virtual Console releases. The usual range of display methods are available in the options menu, but whereas usually you find one you like and stick to it, here you' may be changing quite a bit. In truth the Large Screen Display option (top screen on TV, touchscreen on GamePad) works well, but as this frequently confines the action to the smaller screen you may want to try something else. For the most part the side-by-side methods work best (changing which screen is larger depending on where the gameplay is taking place) but sometimes switching to a stacked display helps if the action is split across two screens, such as when avoiding footballs or casino chips.
The main mode of play (at least as far as menu placement is concerned) is the Story one. Here the story plays out across five boards with each game lasting ten turns. As always Dice Blocks determine how many spaces you move, coins are collected (from spaces and mini-games) and the aim is to finish with as many stars as possible. The winner of the game goes on to a boss battle, but CPU-controlled characters are unsuccessful in this fight so you must go back and win the board game to progress.
In theory the story mode can be cleared quickly, but who's leading can change quickly in a game; with so few turns should something go wrong you may not have the time to fix it. Halfway through Bowser shakes things up by giving a bonus to the fourth placed character such as a star or the coins needed to buy one, and this adds a bit of strategy to proceedings. It's not unusual for the participants to have a similar number of coins/stars at the halfway point, and if you adjust your performance you can ensure you pick up Bowser's bonus.
This doesn't always guarantee success, however, as should someone have a hefty haul of coins they can quickly acquire multiple stars. Stars can also be collected from Star blocks (up to three stars paid out) and can be wagered in duel mini-games that occur during the last five turns should you land on a dual space. Hexes are also collected during play and these can be placed to steal coins and stars from other players. There's a lot that can affect the outcome of a game that can make it challenging, and also frustrating should victory be snatched away repeatedly during the last couple of turns.
Using the same boards, there's greater fun to be had with the traditional Party Mode where you can increase the number of turns (up to 30) and there are other customisation options too. The CPU character difficulty can be adjusted (individually for added variety), bonus stars can be awarded for performance and there's a handicap option - allowing players to start with up to three stars. A slightly different way to play Party Mode is also available as a Tag Battle, where the four participants are split in to teams of two or you can play versus a lone CPU rival.
Elsewhere there is a Minigame Mode menu that strips out the board game aspect and just has you competing in minigames. There are a few options available, requiring you to win a set amount or converting your performance into points as you compete to win. If you have a few favourites any minigame you've already played through (including the boss battles) can also be tackled individually.
Finally a number of puzzle games that had featured in previous Mario Party titles are included in a Puzzle menu, such as Piece Out (grab pieces from a conveyor belt to fill a space) and Block Star (move coloured blocks around aiming to connect five of a kind). These can get quite addictive, particularly Stick & Spin (from Mario Party 7) that has you rotating a cylinder to connect the coloured balls constantly dropping from the top of the screen, and there's replayability thanks to the fact your highscore is recorded. Highscores are also kept for minigames so there are plenty of records you can aim to improve on.
The puzzle games can get addictive and there's a wide variety of enjoyable minigames (over 70 including the puzzle ones) to play, from rapidly slicing cucumber to running around a maze snapping photographs of your rivals or blowing out candles for your character to hop across. The story mode can annoy if victory is snatched away in the last few turns, but Party Mode provides the usual entertainment - although the fun is lessened somewhat by the lack of multiplayer. Ultimately not being able to invite friends to join you in a game reduces its longevity, but there's enough content in Mario Party DS to keep the solo player occupied for some time.