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The Botching of Blooper Beach

Feature
3rd April 2012; By KnucklesSonic8

If you've played any kind of digital board gaming experience, then surely you have experienced the frustration that can stem from an AI's all-too-convenient actions. No doubt, you've also fallen victim to a set of taxing circumstances that happened at the worst possible time. How would you feel, however, if you observed a series of recurring events on the verge of being predictable? Over time, surely you'd feel more than just a little bit of irritation. Perhaps cheated? Victimized? All of the above? At the very least, I'm pretty sure anyone would be turned off from playing that game, board, or mode for the long-term (especially if high blood pressure is involved). Well, never before in any digital board gaming experience -- Mario Party or otherwise -- have I felt many of the responses just described, with feelings of shock also added to the mix. In playing Mario Party 9 these past couple weeks, I have witnessed a very concerning number of such eyebrow-raising occurrences on the Blooper Beach board, to a point where something about the equilibrium of core mechanics and the influence of luck just does not feel right at all. Could the resulting situations be the result of poor handling on the part of the development team?


Board Fundamentals
Here's a brief rundown of the main things you need to know about this board before we begin.
  • Dolphin/Sushi System - Up until the first Boss Battle, a friendly Dolphin on the move will award a small amount of Mini Stars to anyone who can catch up. Once he leaves, he'll be replaced by an aggressive shark known as a Sushi that will come from behind to cut your Mini Star count in half. This cycle continues until either you or the aquatic animals reach the first Boss Battle space, whichever comes first. Both of these NPC's move four spaces at a time.
  • Huckit Crab Event Space - This particular trigger found in multiple spots just after the first Captain Event will turn all of the Mini Stars into Mini Ztars that will subtract from your total.
  • Lucky Spaces - Along the final stretch of the board just after the Almost There marker lies three of these triggers that, when landed on, will take you to a separate star-shaped island away from the main route for a chance of continuously rack up Mini Stars.

Logistics
Fair warning: In the interest of providing a full scope, what you are about to read is a detailed log on some of my experiences with this map; the very same sessions that signalled to me that something about this board was up. Thus, if you're not as interested in visualizing these situations, you can choose to skip ahead. The events described below in the first session took place during a two-player Duel Party against a CPU player where he (Luigi) would go first with me going second. With those logistics out of the way, let's get into the meat of what took place.

Case #1
On my first turn, after Luigi made his first roll, Toad specified that I needed to roll a 5 or higher to
catch up to the Dolphin. However, I came up short as my roll resulted in a 1. This meant that Luigi would get the first batch of Mini Stars, but I figured no lasting harm would come to me. After Luigi gave it another shot and similarly came up short, I had hopes my next roll would lead me to the Dolphin. Instead, I got another 1. At this point, I was thinking to myself "Two times in a row isn't bad" and I therefore had little reason to think the game was stifling me at all. That didn't happen until later on. Once Luigi caught up to the Dolphin on the next turn, Toad warned me that if I didn't roll a 2 or higher, the Sushi would catch up to me. As it turns out, I rolled a 5 and did the same again after Luigi rolled a 2 on his turn thereafter. I half-expected the game to try and pull a fast one on me as it's done before under very similar circumstances, so by the time we reached the Boss Battle space, I was feeling good about dodging the threat but I was a tad miffed that I had not managed to get a single Mini Star from the Dolphin.

Once the fort had been demolished and board play resumed, next up was a small number of Mini Stars. As it turns out, I ended up
getting a 5 for the third time in a row and collected the available pick-ups. Not long after that, I found myself four spaces away from the Captain Event, and after rolling a 4, I landed on the space exactly. This doesn't relate as much to the point I'm trying to make, but it is worth noting for the sake of knowing what my rolls were. After a successful salvage, Yellow Toad brought up that if we were to land on an Event Space up ahead, the Mini Ztars would come out to play, as it were. After Luigi went, I found myself situated just one space away from the Event Space. I rolled and, low and behold, I got another 1. "What, back to this all over again?" I thought to myself. When it was my turn at the wheel once again, I ended up rolling a 5 while the Mini Ztars were four spaces away. I'm sure that by this point, I already had the thought going through my mind, "What is it with this game and giving me the same numbers over and over again?" Interestingly, I actually landed on an Event Space, which turned the Mini Ztars back to normal just in time for Luigi to conveniently zoom ahead and collect the 10 Mini Stars right in front of him.

The turn that followed was the first time I got a number that wasn't a 1, 4 or a 5. This time I got a 6, placing me on the VS Space after the path split. This then led to Luigi collecting another bunch of 10 Mini Stars, with me running into 10 Mini Ztars. As if I wasn't in enough of a need for a miracle! As it turns out, Luigi ended up losing half his Mini Stars after landing on the Bowser Space just beyond the Almost There marker. It was that this point that I decided to use the Slow Dice Block I received from the aforementioned marker space so I could see what the Lucky Space was all about. I rolled a 3, and after a few short turns, I managed to collect the 10 Mini Stars in the center of the island before getting shot back to the main route. Now here's where things got interesting. Luigi ended up rolling a six and we landed on the Back Space, and when prompted to roll again, he got another 6 and we were then sent back to the Lucky Space! And as for the rest of the game? Well I'm pretty sure you can guess who ended up winning even without considering the results of the end-of-stage Boss Battle.

Case #2
As a point of emphasis, I also wanted to point out a four-player game I had two sessions after the last; the details of said session are as follows. This one started off a little differently, with Mario first rolling a 6 and
immediately snagging the first set of Mini Stars from the Dolphin. (I could've sworn I saw the left side of the die reading 6 just before the number appeared again in the center.) This left me to victim status if I wasn't able to escape the path of the Sushi that just appeared. As it turns out, I got a 1 when I needed a 2 to escape and was hit. Later, when the Dolphin re-surfaced and it was my turn once more, Yellow Toad advised me that he was four spaces ahead of me. I rolled, and got...a 1, again! I landed on a Dash Space, and thinking I still had a chance to get the Dolphin after all, I rolled and got a 2. Even after that, I was still one off! Later, when the team was approaching the first Boss Battle fort and my character's name showed up on the screen again, I was seemingly in the clear as the Sushi was a number of spaces behind us. Not quite. As I realized there was Back Space one space ahead of me, I instantly had a bad feeling I wouldn't get off scot-free. I ended up getting a 1, rolled a 2 to move in reverse, and I was no longer free from the Sushi's wrath -- off only by one space!

Aside from the fact that, once again, the Mini Ztar event was part of the equation, the rest of the game wasn't worth detailing. However, this session was yet another case where we were towards the end of the board, the Captain at the time landed on the Back Space, and with just the right number on the die, we were sent straight back to the Lucky Space we just got out from two turns ago. As I played additional sessions on this board, I later realized this wouldn't be the last time that would happen.

What's Going On Here?
I'm hoping that after reading all that and digesting it, you can understand what I'm getting at.
To spell all of the above out in layman's terms, it's as if the game itself were the ringmaster -- the one calling the shots -- seemingly orchestrating plans to purposely sabotage you as though it were dead-set on seeing you fail. It's not even the fact that the game appears to be in the computer's favor. It's the fact that, with the first case, I was getting the same numbers consistently which led to the computer deriving benefits from the Dolphin while I was often left getting attacked by the Sushi. Looking at it now, I can't help but smirk at the description for this board on Nintendo's microsite, which reads, "If you're lucky, friendly dolphins will help you find [the Mini Stars]". It might as well say, "If you're a computer, friendly dolphins will help you find [the Mini Stars]." Obviously, this changes once humans make up the full picture, but you get the point.

The layout and all the happenings that have taken place in my own experiences on this board by means of the implemented systems seem way too fish to be passed off as mere coincidence. If it's not over missing the Dolphin's generous supply of Mini Stars or having your collection repeatedly cut in half by the Sushi, the strangely huge probability of triggering the Mini Ztar brigade or having the Lucky Space get "abused" in some fashion will do you in. And it's not like this is a one-time occurrence. Otherwise, I clearly would not have picked up on it, let alone gone to the extent of drawing attention to it in this feature. In situations where it seems like the game is more balanced or at least more reasonable in the level of control luck plays into it, this may seem like a bit of a stretch. But in all honesty, after having what I've described above happen to you again and again, what this ultimately does it puts players on a defensive stance every time they play it, projecting an anxious mentality with the added element of skepticism. All of this jeopardizes the entire board's effectiveness of creating a good time.

More Than Just Bad Luck
You may very well be thinking I'm off my rocker right about now. Had I been in your shoes of reading this article instead of writing it, I would be inclined to think the same. However, in examining multiple gameplay YouTube videos of Blooper Beach, these occurrences are still common. Just take the Mini Ztar-triggering Event Spaces. The fact that such a large percentage of the videos I've seen depict players running into similar scenarios (with slight variations, of course) makes me think they might as well have made this a mandatory stop! And then there's the whole "Lucky Space, Back Space, Lucky Space" Syndrome which is clearly not something that was isolated to my own gameplay sessions. I've gathered a couple videos exemplifying both these scenarios and embedded them below:



Scenario A, Example #1
Point of interest: Skip to 8:30.


Scenario A, Example #2
Point of interest: Skip to 20:05


Scenario A, Example #3
Point of interest: Skip to 21:12


Scenario A, Example #4
Point of interest: Skip to 20:00


Scenario B, Example #1
Point of interest: Skip to 33:40


Scenario B, Example #2
Point of interest: Skip to 32:09


Scenario B, Example #3
Point of interest: Skip to 14:48



What This All Means
You might have already figured this out, but there's more to this than just the obvious push towards rage quitting or even just being mildly ticked off over the favouritism the computer receives. It goes without saying that with these problems overriding any kind of fun, they strip an otherwise suitable board down to size. Even if not all of them may occur in a single match, it's the fact that they occur with such regularity and predictability that they can't be quickly dismissed. When you think about it, it's ironic to see a board to suffer from these issues since the attempted vision was to create an unpredictable gameplay experience. In reality, this board's structure is reflective of a lack of sound composition and a full realization of the attempted craft in the board game component at large in
Mario Party 9. And when that's called into question with clear cases to support such claims, there is no other conclusion you could possibly arrive at except that Blooper Beach's design is detrimentally flawed.


Feature by KnucklesSonic8


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