It’s hard to believe that by the time Mario Party 9 releases on the Wii it will have been close to five years since the last game in the series landed on a home console. In fact, it’s a little crazy considering Nintendo had released eight console versions, a GBA and DS iteration, and even card-based adaptation for the failed e-Reader device all in a nine year span.
Whatever Nintendo’s reason for the break in the series -- whether it’s the fact Wii games have incredible shelf life, Mario Party 1-8 developer Hudson Soft has all but been swallowed by corporate Konami, or the plain realization that the series hasn’t brought anything new to the table since part 2 (though I find this the least likely) -- Mario and friends are back and this time the party has changed.
Mario Party 9 (Nintendo Wii)
Developer: Nd Cube Co., Ltd.
Release: March 11, 2012
It doesn't take long to see how things have been mixed up for Mario Party 9. The previous titles all followed the concept of moving a character around a board game, collecting coins and stars, and then competing in some sort of crazy mini-game for extra rewards; the winner being the one with the most stars at the end. And while the core spirit of Mario Party is unchanged -- you still travel around a board (now called stages), collect things, and compete in a multitude of hectic mini-games -- the experience has been streamlined so much that Mario Party 9 feels almost like a new game.
The first, and biggest, change to Mario Party 9 is the way players travel the game’s seven distinct stages. Instead of moving one at a time, players now proceed together as a cohesive unit in a vehicle. As each player takes their turn, rolling the die, they assume the role of the vehicle’s captain and therefore collect the benefit (or punishment) of whatever surprise awaits them at the end of their turn. This can be special die that guarantees a player a certain range of numbers on a future roll, extra mini-stars (the new currency and ultimate determinate for the winner), or the activation of one of the 80 new multiplayer mini-games.
The mini-games I competed in ranged from typical 1 vs. all matches, like “Pizza Me, Mario” where the goal was to be the first player to land their topping on all slices of a pizza spinning by, to the occasional 1 vs. 3 match -- which now scale depending on the amount of players since CPU controlled characters are not required to fill the available slots in any multiplayer outing. While these games have always been the heart and soul any Mario Party experience; they are by far the least unaltered.
Where Mario Party 9 shakes up the formula the most, in this department, is with the addition of boss and mid-boss battles. No longer do players go in circles, trying to collect the most stars over a pre-set amount of turns; instead each stage is one big level (hence why Nintendo doesn’t refer to them as boards anymore) where a player’s goal is to be the one with the most mini-stars by the time they reach the Bowser gate and defeat his end level boss. These cooperative yet competitive battles, were by far some of the most engaging games I’ve had in a Mario Party title in quite some time; thanks to the mind games required to be used by players to be victorious.
In the mid-boss battle during my preview, called “Whomp Stomp,” each player is given a section of a circular platform that sits in front of a giant menacing Whomp. To defeat the Whomp players must avoid his stomp and thus proceed to attack him with butt-stomps, on his exposed backside, until his life bar depletes. The psychology and most devious part of this battle comes prior to each opportunity to attack, when everyone casts a secret vote dictating how much the platform moves; either zero or one positions. Be the unfortunate person to be rotated in front of the Whomp, and watch your character get flattened, losing the chance to attack for mini-stars and possibly land the final blow for a nice little bonus.
This and the end boss battle -- a fight against King Bomb-omb -- were by far the most fun I had with any mini-game since the tension and added strategy really upped the trash-talking. In fact my short time with Mario Party 9 -- it took roughly 45 minutes to finish a four-player match -- was some of the most fun I’ve had with the series since I burned holes in my palms with the series’ first endeavor.
My only complaint, one I share with the Mario Kart series, was the stage’s cruel way of letting the player in last place catch up and steal my -- what I thought was an assured -- victory in the final rolls of the die. As the group makes it near the end of a stage, Bowser appears and litters most of the remaining spaces with his own diabolical squares. Landing on these squares can result in a player being forced to give some of their mini-stars to another player, or having to ante-up half of their stars towards the prize in a mini-game (something that cost me my 20 star lead one roll before the final boss fight). There’s is some less devious outcomes to the Bowser space, such as reverse mini-games, where you win by actually losing, but I found all the hard work I did in the beginning was highly susceptible to many of the hazards that plagued the end of the stage. Now granted I only had the chance to play one stage -- which I had blast doing until my luck ran out -- so I can’t really pass a fair judgment on the entirety of the game.
Mario Party 9’s does a nice job of breathing some fresh air into a long, but stale series. While some fans may be turned off by the removal of the board game structure -- which to them I say go play any of the eight other entries -- I, for one, am looking forward to tackling more of the game’s new, adventurous party spirit when the game launches this March 11.