As the Wii enters its twilight years, Nintendo are out to prove that it can still party with the best of them with Mario Party 9, the latest incarnation of its long running virtual board game series. The tried and tested Mario Party formula remains the same. There are twelve characters to choose from including all the usual suspects such as Mario, Luigi and Yoshi, as well as two secret characters, Shy Guy and Kamek. The objective is to make it to the finish line with the most mini-stars in order to win the game. Mini-stars can be earned by winning mini-games, found scattered around the board or lost as you encounter whatever obstacles the game throws at you. However, there are a few notable changes.
Rather than individually moving around the board, all characters move at once on a vehicle (which ranges from a simple car on one board to a magic carpet on another). Each player takes it in turns to be the captain, throwing the dice and deciding the fate of the party. Donít let that fool you, however, as itís every man, woman and toad for themselves. Formulating a strategy can be key, particularly whenever you have Boos or BoB-ombs chasing you threatening to take half your stars away. To make matters worse, there are also mini-ztars scattered around the board which will deduct stars from the passing player.
There are seven boards in total, all themed around different worlds in the Mario Universe and each with their own set of star-stealing enemies. From the classically inspired Toad Road to the Super Mario Galaxy-themed Bowser Station, Mario Party 9 provides enough Mario mythology to make each time you play feel different enough from the last. As youíd expect from any board game, each board has spaces that are designed to help or hinder your progress. Towards the end of each board, Bowser will tend to enter the mix and add a few interesting twists to the game, such as granting the captain with ten thousand mini stars, or forcing them to give half their stars to other players. Cheeky git.
The mini-games are at the heart of Mario Party 9. Whereas Mario Party 8 relied on the gimmicky movements of the Wii remote, Mario Party 9is a compromised blend of ridiculous motions and traditional D-Pad style gameplay, making Mario Party 9 into one of the more accessible Wii games for non-gamers. Thereís plenty of variety to suit any taste, no matter what the preferred genre. Speeding Bullets is like a very simple version of Mario Kart, as players use their Wii remotes like a steering wheel to guide their character around a track in order to get into pole position. Skyjinks is a platform based mini-game that requires players to use the Wii remote much like a classic NES controller, bearing striking resemblance to a level in New Super Mario Bros. Pizza Me, Mario requires the controller to be flipped causing each character to toss their toppings onto pizza slices in order to win, whilst Goomba Bowling is exactly as it sounds and would fit right in with the Wii Sports generation of gamers. With eighty-two in total, itíll take several parties to give them all a go.
Another big change is the addition of boss battles. Each level contains two bosses ranging from Bowser and King Boo to Diddy Kong and Donkey Kong. These play out similarly to the mini-games, and by following the instructions the players must work together work to defeat the boss. However, as is the case with the mini-games, stars are awarded based on performance, and it is still a race to see who gets first place. The inclusion of these boss battles is a great feature, as it rounds off the Mario Party franchise to fit in with the rest of the Mario games.
Party mode is the main focus and the game supports up to four players at a time. Alternatively, the game can played solo with the computer controlling up to three more characters. On paper, itís the perfect way to unlock those extra characters and boards. However, as the title suggests, this is a party game and playing solo makes for a rather dull experience, particularly when the computer characters conveniently have the advantage. An online mode wouldnít have gone amiss here, particular seeing as previous Mario party titles such as Mario Kart and Mario Strikers Charged Football were so keen to boast about it. It may not replicate the party experience, but it would have at least made for some entertaining match-ups.
When the party ends, there are still plenty of reasons to keep the game switched on with a few optional extras. Mini-game Mode allows you to freely play through the catalogue of mini-games, and can even be set up as a competition to keep the competitive fun going for a little longer. Extra Mode has a few more mini-games, such as the Bubble Bobble-esque Castle Clearout or 3D platformer Perspective Mode. Museum Mode is where you go to spend your winnings and unlock all those extra features the game has to offer, including extra vehicles and the Donkey Kong themed level Jungle Ruins. As for all those stars you picked up during the main game, they return to the sky in the form of constellations, adding a collectability aspect to the game as a whole and giving players a reason to keep going back to Mario Party 9.
As much as the Wii graphics are beginning to severely look their age, especially compared to its HD rivals, Mario Party 9 still looks fresh, what with its intense colour scheme and well-drawn characters. Itís very clean-cut, similar to Super Mario Galaxy 2 or New Super Mario Bros. Sound clips are mainly recycled from other Mario games as youíd expect, and can get a little tedious, especially when Bowser constantly bellows a laugh at your misfortune. Mario Party 9 is a refreshing well-deserved update to the series. The inclusion of boss battles, the updated vehicle style of gameplay and the graphical overhaul are exactly what the series needed. Take the serving suggestion in the title as a given and stick to the party side of things, as the single-player experience doesnít even begin to compare to the fun and banter than can be had with a few mates, a few beers and Mario Party 9.
Review by Leigh Forgie
Fight for your right, to Mario Party!...9