Mario Party 8
Some of us remember when board games were a ubiquitous important part of everyday life. It wasnít that long ago that a
rainy day meant the possibility of real boredom, for there was no world wide web, no Xbox Live, and the market penetration of video
games were less than 100%. To be brutally honest, most of those Atari 2600 and C64 titles were rubbish. But board games, they were
a different story. Games like Talisman, Space Crusade, and even Monopoly could rally save the day when trapped indoors with brooding youths.
We live in a different world, now. Some board games survive, and even mutate to survive online (Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, etc).
Mutating the idea even further, there are many video games now that perfectly recreate board games that never existed, and never
could exist in the real world. In this culturally recursive field, Mario Party is the market leader. Up to four human players can choose
their favourite Mario characters as avatars, using them as walking, jumping pieces in normal play, and as hands-on combatants
in a scores of mini-games.
There are a variety of game mods, but they all boil down to the same thing: Moving around a board and collecting enough magic
stars to win. To that end, players gain, lose, and compete for coins, acquire and use special magic lollies for bonuses, and fight each
other in randomly selected mini-games. Everything is clearly marked, and every challenge is a straightforward. A child could make
sense of it. But could a child enjoy it?
The on-screen personas are bland and inoffensive in the extreme. Theyíre all so cute, cuddly, and lobotomised. While Wario and
Waluigi have more life that the Shoe or Iron from Monopoly, itís a close-run personality contest. Thereís also the impression that
the admittedly limited Wii hardware isnít quite being pushed to the limit. If these character models have a higher polygon count that in
the Gamecube era, itís not obvious to the naked eye.
It doesnít just look last-gen, it looks early last-gen.
It almost goes without saying that thereís no excuse for a game this simple to have conspicuous loading times, or animated cut scenes
that you cant skip. Nintendoís in-house quality control
is usually top-notch, but this out-sourced Hudson jobbie clearly not up to snuff this department.
Complexity and depth are not the same thing. For all its 60-odd minigames, Mario Party 8 delivers the same consistent level of challenge
throughout Ė very little. The game encourages those falling behind, and gives them bonuses to catch up. In other words, it rewards
failure. Although, thatís not a bad thing; it gives players a reason to play until the very last turn. Then thereís the pacing. The baffling
design decision to try and sand the edges off danger and daring backfires, as all the challenges work to a slow fuse of tension. If it
takes n entire hour to play through a board game challenge to rise a rank on the ladder, every mistake could be your last.
Single-player bites that way.
If nothing else, Mario Party delivers variety. Tons of variety. Pre-tweens should find dozens of hours of multiplayer fun in its structured,
mildly competitive board game environments. Older gamers (aside form the odd exception) will find none of the intense, knife-edge
challenges that their packed schedules and
adrenaline-addicted brains demand.
Mario Party is a childrenís franchise. Adults will only find plasticine-flavoured desolation within.