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Is Mario Party 9 a Horse Race?

Feature
3rd April 2012; By Patrick

One thing that separates video games from other entertainment mediums is interactivity; that is, the ability to control events going on in the game. Several games over the past few years have tried to change this mold by creating a mix of 'video game' and 'movie', where the game attempts to create an experience that it wants you to sit through. The games
Heavy Rain (PS3), Dear Esther (PC), and Jurassic Park: The Game (PC, PS3, X360) all instantly spring to mind. The common thread among these is that they were all marketed as different, and marketed very similarly to how they turned out, which is completely fine. However, when I played Mario Party 9, I experienced many similarities; the difference here being that it's presented as another party game.

I've heard a saying (or variations thereon) many times before: "To experience Mario Party at its best, you need the game, four controllers, and enough alcohol for everyone." This is not to say that the series is traditionally without merit, because that is not at all what I am suggesting. As a matter of fact, I have disagreed with this suggestion for every game until now. The thing about Mario Party 9 is that, as advertised, it is incredibly streamlined. Most of the decisions are made within the game itself as it speeds you and three other characters (be they AI or humans) along the fast track to completion. Stages are not supposed to stretch on, and there are plenty of opportunities to screw with your opponents along the way -- in an ideal world, that is.

You see, with the game taking most of the decision-making process and hiding it from you, it seems to do what any human would do in that situation: cheat. Now, before you complain that I'm just going on about a bad experience, I have spoken to at least three individuals in completely different scenarios on completely different boards and we have all experienced the same general problem: If the game makes an arbitrary decision that you won't win this round,
you cannot win.

Allow me to share a gameplay story. A couple weeks ago, my brother and I were playing a round on the Blooper Beach map. Now, to fully understand the story, you must know two things about the map. The first is that for the first half of the board, either a dolphin or a shark will be present on the board in alternate order. If you catch up to the dolphin, then you get stars, but if you get caught by the shark, you lose them. During the entire beginning of the game I was constantly rolling low enough numbers to be hit by the shark, while rolling high numbers when the dolphin was present so as to allow the CPU to rack up stars with ease.

Additionally, at the end of the board, there is a space that, when landed upon, will take you to a mini-map. This map allows you to pick up large quantities of stars depending on your die roll, with the very end being a jackpot of stars. Once you complete the mini-map, you are put right back on the main map -- which coincidentally also contains a space just ahead that allows you to go back, providing the chance to re-do the mini-map. For up to 15 minutes, all I could do was sit there while the AI took complete control and spammed this level design, allowing for them to gain dozens upon dozens of stars while I gained next to nothing, as the game decided to make sure I only rolled ones and twos. As an isolated incident, this would be forgivable as bad luck. Having talked to many others who have played the game, however, I can confirm that this is largely a game problem, as nobody would bet that there could be seven isolated incidents that played out almost identically in this fashion unless the game were at fault.

And therein lies my argument: if you accept that the game is "rigged" in this way, and you take into consideration the removal of mini-games as a regular and predictable part of the game, you are left with a game that you have little to no influence on. This is why I cannot enjoy it. I cannot have fun playing the game as intended, as it is far too frustrating to put up with as a traditional party game.

There's another more recent saying about Mario Party that comes to mind as well. Recently, I heard the game referred to as "an alternative to horse racing", where it's more fun to just play the game (or rather, watch the game play itself), and take bets with friends over who the game will make win. As it turns out, this is the only amount of enjoyment to be gleaned for me from this title, leading me to my absolute final conclusion: Mario Party 9 is just another horse race.

Feature by Patrick


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