torstai 26. elokuuta 2010

REVIEW - Mario Party Advance (2005)

Genre(s): Party / Compilation
Released: 2005
Available on: GBA
Developer(s): Hudson Soft
Publisher(s): Nintendo
Players: 1-4

Not so long ago, there was a time I hadn't been an active Nintendo player for years. The final years of Nintendo 64's lifespan passed me by, Nintendo GameCube drove right past me altogether except for its excellent Resident Evil remake - I never played the remade version of Metal Gear Solid - and when the Wii came out, I was very intrigued by its concept, but not very interested in its exclusive products. Thanks to the Game Boy Advance, I found myself interested in Nintendo products once again, and got overwhelmed by information on all the Mario titles I had practically never even heard of: Paper Mario, Super Mario Sunshine, Super Smash Bros., Super Mario Galaxy and finally, Mario Party. The first Mario Party game was released on the Nintendo 64 in 1998, but for some unknown reason I must've just ignored it, since two years ago, I wrote an article, or sort of a blog, on the history of Mario with the help of some additional information I dug up from the net, and realized I had no idea what Mario Party was. Well, a few helpful Wikipedia articles later, I scooped up Mario Party Advance. It was mostly harshly criticized for having crappy multiplayer (just like any other handheld game in my opinion), which had apparently always been the butter on Mario Party's bread, but to me, it sounded fine, 'cause I had no experience with the series. Now I do, and Mario Party Advance turned out a harmless little game. For a lonely 10-year old, at least... with a lot of patience.

Bored of the board

The main character of the game is you, the player. You will take on the guise of Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach or Yoshi as you make your way through Shroom City, trying to return minigames and Gaddgets to Play Land, lost due to Bowser's selfish rampage.

The graphics are of the very basic Mario fare you've gotten used to on the Game Boy Advance ever since its first Mario titles popped out. What's quite impressive is the huge amount of characters they squeezed into this game, and all the different minigame designs. All in all, the game looks very nice in a cute, colourful Nintendo sort of way... and it certainly looks diverse. The music's good, even if it might start to get on your nerves during the last few quests. You'll be spending a lot of time on the board especially in the end, thanks to Bowser and that damn annoying Koopakid, and at that point the main background tune might start to sound like a funeral march. It's a bit loud. Giving each area its own background tune, an ambient one, would've been better.

Poor Thwomp. I... I think there's something
in my eye.
Mario Party is the kind of game which is basically quite easy to explain, but reviewing it from an adult's point of view is hard. Unlike many games on the Game Boy Advance that have been given the informative title of "Advance", Mario Party Advance isn't any sort of port or re-release of an earlier game - it's a stand-alone title in the series, with its very own features and quirks. The game's content is close to zero when you first start to play it, but once you've done with the single-player "quest mode", it becomes a large horde of minigames and kind of stupid, yet harmless applications. If I explain everything I possibly can about the main mode first, you can get some sort of idea of what the game is all about.

See Monkey? Save Monkey!
In every game mode, you start off by choosing your character from the four possible choices of Mario, Luigi (never again), Princess Peach (Toadstool.) and Yoshi. The main game is a board game in which you make progress by completing different sorts of quests. Some are available only for certain characters. These quests sometimes range from working as a messenger or fetching stuff, to just answering some sort of questions correctly, but usually you simply have to beat your employer or enemy in some kind of minigame. 50 different minigames and 60 Gaddgets (the apps) are available to you. All minigames can be unlocked in the main game by completing quests or by playing them once in a random challenge on the board, while some Gaddgets are only available in other game modes. Some of the minigames hit the mark, like Koopa Krunch, which is like Tetris, but with Koopa shells and traditional, multicoloured bricks from Super Mario Bros. 3., and some games based on fast button sequences like Bunny Belt and On the Spot. Some others, like Cloud Climb and Outta My Way! on the other hand, are way too easy and simple, no matter how much their difficulty level is raised in other game modes, while some are just plain frustrating - Chomp Walker and the oversensitive Peek 'n' Sneak come to mind. Trap Floor, which is unlocked as the "final battle" of the game, is by far the only minigame which I can really call difficult after a few plays. Most of the minigames ARE difficult on the first round, since the game's explanation for the games is sometimes extremely vague - you'll have to figure them out yourself. Those games in which your success isn't mainly based on luck, turn out easy as heck pretty soon.

On a quest for a pretty flower... that must not
be it. Oh, it is? Eye of the beholder, eye of the
Most of the game is based on luck, regardless of whether you're playing a minigame or navigating the board. The board is the worst. Your movement is based on mushrooms. One mushroom equals one turn. You can get more mushrooms by beating minigames in random challenges which appear to you as you advance on the board. It's very important to keep winning the minigames to make smooth progress. If you lose all your mushrooms, it's game over, which basically means that you'll go back to your starting point, and if you have an active quest, it will be reset and you'll have to do it all over again, no matter how frustratingly lengthy it is. Hard luck. As you're nearing the end of the thin storyline, Bowser and his lackey Koopakid will start making more and more random appearances on the board instead of your friends, and disrupting your progress. Let's say you're in the cemetary and on your way to the beach, from the northernmost side of the map to the southernmost one. Imagine making it to the beach and that damn Koopakid showing up, telling you he's gonna warp you. Then Bowser appears and sends you back to the cemetary. Imagine this happening four times in a row. You're not doing anything wrong, it's completely random! And therefore, even more annoying than it already is! Double this with that damn guide showing up every two steps on the board, showing you a place HE thinks you should go to, or presenting you yet another challenge of Barrel Peril, Stompbot XL or Chomp Walker. I'm telling you, this game will start to get on your nerves sooner or later, even if you like it at first.

Thank you, oh great Game Mage, but you're
a bit too late.
Koopakid's pranks also include a game of Rock, Paper and Scissors. No, not exactly a skill-based game, but get this: if you lose, on the first couple of times Bowser will block your current route with a rock, EVEN IF it is the ONLY route you can take to your destination. It's there as long as you have mushrooms left. Imagine having 15 of them, and the only quests available to you waiting beyond that roadblock. There's just no way around it, literally - you'll have to reset the game, or move in circles until it's game over. To my knowledge, Bowser can only do this twice during the game. On each subsequent random encounter, he just takes one mushroom away from you if you happen to lose. Koopakid can also show up on his own, with a minigame challenge - it's simple: if you win, you win a mushroom, and if you lose, you lose a mushroom.

It seems hard to collect and maintain mushrooms at first, and you'll probably be seeing the "Game Over" screen once every five minutes, but as the less luck-based minigames become more familiar to you, therefore easier, and you learn to strategize by using the freebies on the board efficiently, you'll be on an impressive roll in no time.

The quests are conceptually simple tasks given to you by the inhabitants of Shroom City, in other words an impressive cavalcade of characters from the whole Mario franchise, as well as a few characters that are more or less exclusive to the Mario Party series, including the extremely annoying duo of Shroomlock, a private detective, and Mr. E, a cowardly adventurer, that show up in several of your quests. All of the characters have backstories that don't really fit into the Mario franchise's canon. It seems everyone's your friend in some twisted way, even Bowser despite the fact of him being the main antagonist of the game. His quests usually involve you doing battle with his Koopakids in different ways, but you also need to do some work FOR him. Like in Super Mario 64, you have to complete a certain amount of quests to be able to face off with/work for Bowser - something you'll have to do on many, many occasions to get ahead.

Do the jungle hump.
One more thing I'll mention about the main mode of the game is that it's deliciously brutal in some ways, I must compliment the developers on that. In a duel minigame called the Slammer, I was using Mario, and pitted against Peach (Toadstool.). The game is all about hitting your opponent with a giant (that's giant, HUGE) hammer before (s)he hits you. It was just so surreal watching Mario make pancake out of Peach! Just a while later, I met Peach again in another minigame called Hammergeddon, which is about fighting it out in classic Hammer Bros. style. Now I can honestly say I've hammered Princess Peach (Toadstool.), more than once! Well, to talk about other things with less sexual/sadistic innuendo, the image of Mario flattening under a Thwomp is quite violent on a Mario game's scale. Also, it's kind of funny that you're sent on a quest as a messenger of love on several occasions, and Goomba is the only guy that actually gets the significant other he wants. You know what they say about brown guys... man, that's brutal. I'll stop right there.

Being able to enter the final battle with Bowser and his Trap Floor minigame means that you've gotten everything you can in the rest of the main game, so after the credits, you're done with the mode forever... if you're not into for some serious masochism. Seriously, the last half an hour of the game will be pure, unadulterated pain. You just want the game to be over. The same minigames keep popping up and they're just as challenging as they have been for the duration of the game - just a few keep changing, like the fun and relatively tricky Sort Stack. That Koopakid's the worst pain in the ass. I can't remember the last time a basically decent game had me begging for an end at any point.

The Jewelry Case Gaddget. Just shake the
treasure and watch the jewelry change
colour. Neat.
So, on to the other modes. They are mostly based on playing customizable versions of the minigames and checking out the different Gaddgets you've obtained so far, so I'll try to keep this short. Game Land is mentioned many times in the main mode, and like Toad says once you try it out, it's a one-stop forum for all content in the game besides the quests. All of the minigames are gathered there for free play, and the player can check out all the different, exciting Gaddgets like Screen Clean - which cleans all the virtual dust from your Game Boy Advance's screen, "very useful"! - and Desktop Golf, or my personal "favourite", Snooze Ewes, which helps the player to sleep by giving him/her virtual sheep to count. Completely useless apps, but also completely harmless - right up until you realize that you went into great distances to get a look at them. In Challenge Land, you can play the very same minigames for coins, which you can use to buy the rest of the Gaddgets you can't get in the main game. The ultimate prize of the game is the Power Star, which costs 100,000 coins. If you're dedicated enough, you can probably force yourself to get it... but forgive me for doubting your dedication in advance.

All the things I've learned about the series and the things I've seen in this game prove the lack of decent multiplayer to be a quite plausible peeve. A four-player game is possible only by using an additional board that comes bundled with the game. I'm not really sure how it works, nor do I have the desire to find out. I don't believe that any portion of the game would be very much more exciting with just two players duking it out. As I said, though, I have zero experience with the rest of the Mario Party series, so I can't really point out the true grief here.

In everything other than the main game, the challenge is up to the player's courage to take on more difficult versions of the minigames. The main game isn't hard. It's damn frustrating, that's what it is, due to the difficulties to advance on the board especially nearing the end of the game - again, you're not doing anything wrong, the game is just fucking with you, plain and simple. Also, it's stupid that if you fail to beat any quest besides the lengthy errands that are frustrating for another reason, you'll have to waste another mushroom to simply retry it. In the worst case, you'll lose all of the mushrooms because of mere bad luck and have to go all the way back to the starting point, and make your way back to the same spot again, even if it means travelling from one end of the map to another. It's stupid, annoying and frustrating. Not hard.

So, my first touch with the Mario Party series was a boring one towards the end, but it started out nice and considering that it's a handheld game, there's a decent amount of minigame madness, even some entertaining games; the simple Koopa Krunch is actually more fun to play than a few critically acclaimed, major puzzle titles - this is my honest opinion. To an old school Mario fan, communicating with all those classic characters is also somewhat of a hoot, even if their "storylines" are quite dumb and naive - even in all their utter irrelevancy to the gameplay experience they're kind of disturbing. A decent compilation of minigames, that really sparked my interest in trying some of the titles on major consoles. Maybe I'll scoop up the Nintendo 64 "trilogy" at some point, huh?

Graphics : 8.9
Sound : 7.9
Playability : 7.2
Challenge : 5.9
Overall : 7.0


GameRankings: 56.42%

Toad was originally meant to be the fourth playable character instead of Luigi. That's why Luigi isn't featured on the game's cover art, but Toad (who "hosts" the game) is.

The only game in the Mario Party series which doesn't feature Wario as a playable character.

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