torstai 4. elokuuta 2011

REVIEW - Mario Party (1998)

GENRE(S): Party / Compilation
RELEASED: December 1998
DEVELOPER(S): Hudson Soft
PUBLISHER(S): Nintendo

The Mario Party series has never exactly been a critics' favourite, but it has such a solid fanbase that a total of ten games have seen release in the last 13 years, and an 11th game is on the way for the Wii. The first video board game crossed with a compilation of Mario-themed minigames was released in Japan in late 1998, and became an instant hit. Even though Mario Party has a lot of troublesome issues related to controls and the total occasional absence of fair play, it still manages to entertain single players and small groups of people alike. Let's party.

Superstars in the making

Mario, Luigi, Wario, Peach, Yoshi and Donkey Kong are engaged in an argument over which one of them is a true superstar. Toad comes up with the idea of having the six embark on an adventure to search for stars and claim superstardom.

Beating Mario Bandstand as the conductor has
NOTHING to do with skill.
Last year, I reviewed the much panned Mario Party Advance, and I somewhat enjoyed the game; I'm usually much pickier than other critics, but I don't know, something about the game rubbed me in a good way, and I ended up writing perhaps the most positive Mario Party Advance review in the world. Before I played Mario Party Advance, I had no idea what the whole series was about. After having a decent experience with the game, I somewhat promised to review the first three games in the series for the Nintendo 64, should an opportunity arise. Here I am, cashing in on that promise, and I must say I'm pleased with this first game. It's far from perfect, and I'm sure to tell you why, but it's just as fun and addictive as it looks on the outside.

The game sports some of the nicest graphics we ever saw on the Nintendo 64, even though some character models look a bit odd, and not in the most flattering way either. The game features 53 completely different minigames with totally different, good looks. The framerate is smooth throughout the line, and the boards (or "maps", as they're called in-game) are amazingly detailed, colourful and neat. The music really isn't too good. There are some heavily remixed, vintage Mario tunes - which form the better half of the soundtrack - and some very generic island jive. I seriously gasped when I heard that Yasunori Mitsuda of Chrono Trigger fame single-handedly composed the music for this game. I never would've guessed. The voice samples are quite horrible, especially those of Peach (Toadstool.).

Pound the cloud to make Piranha bigger and
faster, and able to catch and eat your opponent.
Good friendly family fun.
For those of you still wondering what the hell Mario Party is, exactly, let me break it down for you. It's a board game with dozens of minigames for you to master. There are two main modes in Mario Party: Mini-Game Island, and Adventure. Mini-Game Island is a single-player campaign, which has numbered worlds and levels like a traditional Mario game. Each level is a different minigame, and you need to meet a case-sensitive criteria set by Toad to pass it. This is a great way to practice each game, BUT your progress will most likely end in World 6; Mario Bandstand is infamously nearly impossible to beat. It takes an enormous stroke of luck to beat the game in this mode. Many minigames in Mario Party are unfortunately more dependent on luck rather than skill, and any minigame in which jumping is essential is, without exceptions, a pain in the ass, especially Platform Peril and Teetering Towers. Once I finally figured out I couldn't beat Mario Bandstand - I nailed it perfectly, but still lost the contest - a really sour aftertaste crept to the tip of my tongue, and right down my throat. It was time to move on to the Adventure; one of the most unfair board games I've ever seen, but hopelessly addictive.

The boards look extremely pleasant.
The Adventure is the butter on Mario Party's bread, and you'll definitely get the most out of it by having a full group of four people playing the game, but it's fun even if you're going at it alone or with a smaller group of friends. Your primary goal is to collect stars. Each map has a secondary goal of its own, but what you're basically supposed to do is to move on the board and collect coins. When you pass Toad, you can buy a star from him with 20 coins. The other players may screw you over and steal your stars by bumping into Big Boo and paying him 50 coins. Coins are gained from each standard blue space on the board, from the start space, and of course, minigames, which are triggered randomly each time every player has had his/her turn. The type of the game is random, and it can be an all-out vs. game, a co-operative game in which two, three or all of the players must work towards the same goal, or a single-player game which lets you work at total peace without having to put up with your opponents' bullshit. Bowser's camping on the board as well, and if any of the players bump into him, the confrontation usually results in some unfair Bowser minigame which very often affects all players, or a scene of general misbehaviour by every Nintendo kid's favourite villain.

It's like Hot Potato, only the potato is a live bomb.
There are three different speeds to the Adventure, and Lite (20 turns) is definitely the way to go for a single-player. The two lengthier options make the game last forever and lose its point. Anything less than 20 turns, however, would kill your chances in this game, because it's so unpredictable. Well, sure, it's a board game - just like in real board games, you might start out as a sure winner but be an equally sure loser just two or three turns later - but sometimes, I wonder. You're the closest player to the star space, and all you keep getting from the dice block is 1, while the other players make huge leaps of 10 steps one turn after another, eventually getting the star. Then, the star space moves up right behind you, and you cannot make a u-turn on the board; you can only change your route in intersections in front of you. I smell a rat. There's usually one CPU opponent that spells the most trouble for you - that does everything in his/her power to fuck the game up, for others as well as themselves, but still manages to succeed in the game as far as coins and stars are concerned. Here's looking at you, Yoshi - you stupid, green son of a bitch. He made my first Adventure a freakin' nightmare - and as a twist of the knife, he won the whole thing. Coins, stars, and the three awards. All of them.

Perhaps the easiest memory match game ever.
The same minigames start to repeat rather quickly, and after (you've tried) beating Mini-Game Island once, and perhaps a few Adventures, the game's single-player attraction is all but dead. The map of Mushroom Village looks like it's holding a lot, but it really isn't. The Item Shop is completely useless, it sells some random trinkets that have no actual use whatsoever. You can play minigames freely without criteria in the Mini-Game Shop, which I also consider a filler because there are two main modes with these same minigames, and you can store your items in the Bank - again, those completely useless items. The game is cramped with crap - there are only those two modes that make some sense. As a multiplayer game, Mario Party was made to last, at the very least until the inevitable release of Mario Party 2.

Mario Party has quite an ongoing legacy, and the first game itself has its highly entertaining moments. Some of the minigames are highly difficult or even downright impossible to beat, at least by playing alone, some of them are plain stupid, some of them are hard to understand by just reading Toad's explanations of them, the crappy jumping dynamics kill all games in which they're essential, and the games in which you have to rotate the analog stick at hundred rounds per second to succeed are infamously nasty, both mentally and physically. It still has its moments, it's addictive and with a great deal of luck on your side, you can play through one Adventure without ever having to deal with any crappy minigames. The best thing about Mario Party is that it's one game that's definitely suitable for all ages. That narrows down the search for potential human opponents, which you will want to have sooner or later. 

SOUND : 6.5


a.k.a. Mario Party 64, Mario Party 1

GameRankings: 78.82%

Nintendo Power ranks Mario Party #98 on their list of the Top 200 Nintendo Games of All Time. 

A group of parents sued Nintendo of America for the few minigames which require the player to rotate the analog stick at an extremely rapid pace, because doing this didn't just potentially damage the expensive controller, but caused visible hand injuries to their children. Nintendo was found guilty and was forced to pay fines to the plaintiffs, as well as give out free gloves to anyone who hurt their hands playing Mario Party.

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