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Mario Party 9 - Wii Review

Game Info
Mario Party 9

Wii | Nintendo / Nd Cube | 1-4 Players (local multiplayer) | Out Now
Controller Compatibility: Wii Remote (pointer); Wii Remote (sideways)
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Review
3rd April 2012; By KnucklesSonic8

Whether you did or you didn't think the series needed to do a full backflip, many figured Mario Party 8 would mark the end for the franchise. So when Mario Party 9 was revealed last year
, I was in stunned silence. This surprise move gave me renewed hope that, regardless of how off everyone felt Mario Party 8 was in the grander scheme, the long hiatus would prove beneficial. Sure enough, Nintendo took active measures to produce such drastic changes in the formula that you'll be hard-pressed to accuse them of wanting to beat a dead horse. Because of all this back and forth conflict between wanting change and not wanting it, Mario Party 9 is very much the kind of game you need to settle in with. Even just with myself, I've honestly never been this conflicted over a game in quite some time. Nevertheless, I'm confident that those who try Mario Party 9 are very likely to develop a huge love/hate relationship towards the game's design choices.

    The game is divided up into the usual batch of modes, with Party being the main option of choice, Minigames mode offering the standalone activities along with a couple bonus games, and Solo serving as the usually one-time single-player experience. You also have the Museum area which is full of unlockable goodies that you can purchase using Party Points, and an Extras section with bonus games for your enjoyment.

    
Instead of rigidly sticking to a four-person only affair seen in early entries, future efforts in the Mario Party series have since adapted to the changes.
Mario Party 9 is no different, allowing you to play with two or even three people under its main Party option if you so choose. Board play now sees more linear layouts where the end of a game is marked by reaching and destroying the Bowser Gate at the end of the track. Along the way, you'll be recovering Mini Stars with a single Star being awarded to the player who collects the most overall.

    Even your methodology of accomplishing this task has changed dramatically, with all participating rivals sharing and riding in a single vehicle, with each taking turns as Captain -- the person who is mainly affected by the board happenings. Where you would initially expect a mini-game to come after each person takes their turn is instead replaced by a continuation of the turn cycle. Mini-games are now triggered, under normal circumstances, by landing on a VS Space. These are just some of the new punches you'll have to roll with. One thing that hasn't changed is the sometimes idiotic CPU's, who perform actions that what would be the equivalent of rejecting a Star when they clearly have enough to buy one. Aside from that, those of you who have trouble dealing with change in a franchise may find that Mario Party 9 will rub you the wrong way from the get go. Although it can be tempting to reject the entire system pretty early on, it's important to go into this with an open mind in the interest of giving the fair chance it deserves. After all, it has been five years in the making.

    
Additional changes manifest themselves in the decision to simplify things, but it's done in such a way that the game doesn't feel bare. Take items for example. You can now use four different Special Dice Blocks that can work the dice-rolling mechanic in your favor, available in the following increments: 0-1, 1-2-3, 4-5-6, and 1-10. These can be used strategically for avoiding an upcoming string of threatening spaces or an event trigger, such as delaying a Bob-omb that's about to explode. Instead of getting items the usual way players have been accustomed to, you now have Dice Block Spaces. Upon landing here, presents are opened, and much like the mystery blocks in the classic titles, an occasional surprise can surface in the form of Mini Stars or a mini-game. That's all well and good, but I was really bothered by the fact that Item Shops have now been removed, thus minimizing the degree of strategy that items usually have been able to afford.


    
Even more of such changes can be seen in some of the board spaces you'll encounter. Lucky Spaces are the best example of this in a returning element. With a totally different approach, landing on these will either send you to the Toad House for a quick memory game or inside a pipe for the chance of obtaining (count 'em!) three Mini Stars. I strongly disliked this new treatment for the simple reason that the Lucky Spaces in
Mario Party 8 felt way more special when stacked up against this new simplification and even the unnecessary usage of Unlucky Spaces (which are often just Event Spaces in disguise).

    
Taking the place of the "Last Five Turns" bonus session, each board has an "Almost There" marker about three-quarters of the way through. At this time, the last-place player is given a Slow Dice Block, while Bowser will also jump in and take over a couple of spaces along the final stretch. The bonuses previously doled out during this block in the game are definitely missed, with the above serving as adequate replacements, albeit not nearly as excitement-building. Adding to the odd layout decisions is the existence of Blank Spaces that produce no effects at all, Shuffle Spaces that randomly shuffle the turn order, and a Spin Space that acts kind of like Chance Time where you can steal Dice Blocks or shuffle Items, but without the whole ceremony behind it. With these and other spaces,
Mario Party 9 doesn't always feel like it has made natural progressions, which is a real shame. Even favourites like the Battle Mini-Games no longer have big payouts and are a complete disappointment as a result.

    There are a couple things concerning this component of the game that I adored, though. The first is that players are always given the choice of three different mini-games when these surface. I can only assume this was done to counteract that uncomfortable situation of playing a mini-game that the entire group hates (which may or may not be luck-based in nature). The same goes for the decision to have the person in last place choose the next mini-game at a certain point during the match. Both of these are what can be seen as tributes to Wii Party, but they are positive elements to the gameplay to be sure. Secondly, instead of sitting back and watching players figure things out on their own, I really appreciated the MC's regular notifications of what was to come. Yellow Toad, the host of this mode, would often lay out in front of everyone what upcoming Event Spaces would spell out. This means that you no longer have to take unnecessary risks like you might've had to before in earlier versions, or suffer from a mild case of OCD over never getting to find out what an Event Space does.

    
Mario Party 9
comes packed with six boards to play on, with an additional unlockable one. Toad Road, the first one of the bunch, is a charming and playful standard level; Boo's Horror Castle has you running away from mischievous Boos as you rush in and out of a creepy mansion; and Magma Mine, set in a volcano, contains a high risk factor that makes it one of the best boards in the game in spite of the frustration that can ensue. The other three boards suffered from one problem or another. With Bob-omb Factory, I kind of liked the threat posed by the Bob-omb situated atop the vehicle, but to have this done three times is a bit much. In addition, it's somewhat disconnected and uninteresting layout turned me off. Blooper Beach presented an interesting Dolphin/Sushi event that can create a bit of tension amongst the otherwise calming atmosphere, but the overall structure is flawed in more ways than one. Bowser Station has some interesting elements in the style of Wii Party's Bingo and Spin-Off modes, but between mixed Captain Events and a luck-based Boss Battle, it's still largely unattractive for repeat plays. And finally, DK Jungle Ruins just doesn't have a lot of substance to it and feels more like a half-baked mini-game mode.

    While it's been a pattern for Mario Party titles to reflect creativity mostly in the mini-games (if not exclusively), this time around, it's the structure that reflects more creativity than what is seen in the mini-game selection. It's been touched on a bit already, but in considering the remaining common elements that make the boards they way they are, there is definitely more to be said in the way of positive changes. Bowser's presence in this game is but one example of this. Truth be told, I used to hate it whenever Bowser would show up with the worst timing, but here I found myself doing more than just not minding these encounters. Sometimes, I actually looked forward to them! Crazy, I know, but it's through this that players will find one of the best examples of creativity in the overall revised structure.

    
One of the options Bowser holds out is a Reverse Mini-Game, where you have to come in last place to earn rewards. Even if Bowser has clearly turned into an all-out masochist, this is something that makes the simpler activities even more fun to play. Ordinarily,
Thwomper Room is a really basic mini-game with little fun factor to be had, but having to be the first player to touch the spiked enemies obviously alters the strategy players will employ. It's surprising how the feeling of tension is felt in these otherwise boring mini-games, and I for one am very happy to see this feature present. Other events include having to play for half of everyone's Mini Stars, which is exactly the kind of tension that the normal Battle Mini-Games should have had! While I liked the way a last-place player could have their Mini Star count doubled if they got the "Lose Mini Stars" option, having to give a paltry five Mini Stars to the person in last place is hardly a game-changer. But overall, through the positive changes described above, the developers have kind of made Bowser Spaces more desirable and that's most definitely a good thing.

    
As nice as it is to examine the tweaks in the formula, it's more interesting to observe the new landmarks introduced in
Mario Party 9's boards and they affect they have on the gameplay. To start off, one of the most obvious new inclusions seen on each and every board are Captain Events. These are short activities in an area that breaks off from the main path with the player who initiated the event getting to control things in their favor. For example, in the Scaredy Rat Race found on Boo's Horror Castle, the ability to strategize who hits the dice roll and when allows you to jump in at just the right moment. In a considerable number of these, though, like Sunken Treasure and Dice Block Chicken, I couldn't understand why everyone couldn't roll at the same time instead of this roughly-ten-second process as each person confirms they've looked at the upcoming spaces and then hits the dice block one-by-one. Frankly, the Captain Events are an altogether underwhelming fare with players being put through boring circumstances just for little pay-off, and while I did like the idea, the execution just left me wanting a lot more.

    
Taking after his father, Bowser Jr. now has his own mini-game space that replaces not only Duel mini-games, but also 2-vs-2 mini-games. With both of these now gone, this new set attempts to fill the hole by essentially meeting the styles of these two former categories in the middle. Again, going back to the choice component in the mini-game selection, Bowser Jr. gives you the option of declining his first pick but in rejecting this offer, you'll be forced to take whatever's given in its place.

    There's a notable split amongst the activities seen in this selection: either they're tricky or really easy. Zoom Room was one of tricky ones where, much like Wii Party's Rodent Rundown, you have to try and corner Bowser Jr. in a pretty big maze environment. Sand Trap was probably the best one of them all, requiring both players to work together and highlight a row of sand-covered platforms to destroy the sole one at the intersecting point. All others weren't nearly as demanding or even fun. Mecha March has you swinging the Wii Remote down alternatingly with your partner, and Pair of Aces just has you firing cannonballs at Bowser Jr. in the sky. The tension that was often felt in the Duel mini-games is missed, but Bowser Jr.'s presence is a decent, albeit slightly underutilized replacement to that competitive component.

    
Another new addition (at least for the console releases) comes in the form of Boss Battles. These mini-games are found at roughly the halfway mark and at the end of each board. Hosted by both Bowser Jr., the first of these is represented by a small stone castle where you'll face off against one of Bowser's less threatening minions. A bunch of these actually have very weak substances to them, like throwing shells at a giant Cheep Cheep underwater, or using matching-coloured cards as a means of attack. I did, however, enjoy playing the Lakitu boss fight in a multiplayer setting along with the strategy-focused
Whomp Stomp, even if they were both on the easy side. The second instance of Boss Battles occurs at the Boss Gate at the very end, and this time you'll have to deal with one of Bowser's actual allies. In King Boo's Puzzle Attack, you need to match three or more of various Mario-themed power-ups, while Blooper Barrage will have you shooting cannonballs while also deflecting sea urchins in a surprisingly fun bout. Again, some of these lacked substance, but they can be pretty fun at times.

    Just to add to all that: With the exception of Bowser's custom board, you're always given three different fights to choose from in the first scenario, just like you would be if it were a normal mini-game. Granted, you still have the final boss remaining the same each time, but at least the first encounters go back to the unpredictable nature of the game -- the vision they tried to carry in their various executions of the individual elements -- so it's great to see that brought to the fore in this scenario. When it comes to the scoring of Boss Battles, I really liked how they rewarded the player who delivered the final blow with a Final Attack Bonus, and for being the Captain who initiated the event. However, they should've allowed players not only earn Mini Stars for actually winning and (possibly) for being the current Captain, but I feel that the base results should have definitely been factored in too.

    
There is tangible evidence that suggests the game's changes
have been for the better. This is principally seen in the fact that gameplay no longer drags at all, making Mario Party something everyone will want to stick to until the end -- which wasn't always the case depending on the audience and the gaming styles of the persons involved. The, shall we say, curtailing of gameplay has resulted in a more long-standing experience for those who don't consider board games their forte or can't be bothered to give this aspect of the game the patience often asked in previous entries. Previously, playing three boards in a row was unheard of amongst most groups, but now it's so much easier and inviting to participate in. And after the last console release, the fact that Mario Party 9 doesn't drag at all is an even greater accomplishment. But in all honesty, not all of the changes made have been to the franchise's betterment.

    One thing that I cannot deny is the omnipresent, stingy allocation of Mini Stars, making this one of the biggest problems I have with the game. I must first offer the following preamble and state that the divvying up of Mini Stars in nearly all mini-games results in a much more encouraging perspective where no longer is the clear winner the only real "winner" of the game; the winnings are now shared amongst the pack. Having said that, though, I was really bothered by the fact that the process of amassing Mini Stars (previously Coins) through mini-games has now been minimized, as shown by the fact that winning 1-vs-3 mini-games can earn you a whopping two or three Mini Stars at most. On the boards, Mini Stars are now fashioned after Orbs and Candy in previous iterations by means of a regeneration space, but it would've been better to have more given out on a regular basis seeing as the standard spaces now give you Dice Blocks. All of the above reflects an almost short-sighted vision on the part of the development team; one that has proven costly in the context of how reward-oriented goals have now been made significantly less attractive.

    
Now, all of this ties into the new approach of having incredibly tight competition throughout the playing of the various game boards, which some may like. I know for me, anytime I'm involved in a Mario Party session, friends and family make comments about me "always winning" at mini-games, which would often bode well for me securing Superstar status too. Not so here. Through and through, it really is anybody's game, as a sudden landing on an Unlucky Space or an upcoming set of Mini Ztars can change things around in a snap (even more than before).
But getting back to the issue at hand, it's truly upsetting that mini-game wins are treated like regular board tasks in the degree to which you can be rewarded for your efforts. I'm all for close competition, but when the so-called rewards are so minuscule, it forces players to be make concessions for a system that's more governed by luck than skill, thus making the loss of any scavenged collectibles way more frustrating than it ever has been. To put things into perspective, many have hurled accusations at the franchise as a whole, commenting that the prevalence of luck makes Mario Party a flawed undertaking. However, that has never actually stood up in court...until now. The presence of luck in this series has now become a dominating factor over skill with this entry in particular, bringing with it heaps of frustration for certain (not all) kinds of players.

    
In terms of the quality of the mini-games, I find it hard for me to have a set opinion on them. There are some examples of unique approaches, like being the first to throwing your set of pizza toppings onto all the slices (
Pizza Me, Mario) or using a twig to create temporary circles to cage your opponents in a beach environment (Line in the Sand). Carrying over from past efforts by both Nd Cube and Hudson combined, we once again see mini-games where you're tasked with finishing puzzles or fixing scrambled images, along with a couple luck-based ones as per usual (Mecha Choice, Pier Pressure) and a few that either copy what was seen in previous titles (Hole Hog) or are clearly lacking a lot of creativity (like Magma Mayhem).
A big hit for me personally was realizing that there are only two or three 1-vs-3 mini-games in the whole bunch I actually can say I enjoyed, with almost all the rest feeling totally uninspired. One positive thing I can definitely say is that aside from one or two instances, I was really happy about not encountering any control issues this time around. However, creative muscle is the more important topic for discussion here. Looking at the mini-game efforts as a comprehensive element, I strongly sense the developers went in with a more child-oriented focus. This isn't necessarily a bad thing in itself, but as a result of this, I was rather easily able to realize that the magic isn't all there. It's as if the core fun factor and creativity got somewhat lost in the translation from Hudson Soft to Nd Cube, and to see that penetrate into both the boards and mini-games is disappointing to say the least.

    
Stemming off that, the actual mode designated for just mini-games has a predictable amount of bonus gameplay options if you're much bigger on the mini-games than you are on the board component. If you're like me and have felt that earlier iterations have had dull bonus modes, you'll be pleased to discover there are some surprisingly good ones this time around. One in particular worth drawing attention to is Choice Challenge. This mode has players secretly choosing three of five games they want to participate in, giving you the opportunity to choose games you know you're good at to increase your chances of winning the most points overall. This is easily one of the best bonus inclusions to be featured in Mario Party in years.


    The Extras area has four additional slightly-more-fleshed-out challenges to choose from. You have your usual puzzle fix served this time around by Castle Clearout, along with a largely unappealing repeat of Goomba Bowling, as well as the very short-lived Shell Soccer. In an interesting twist, however, the developers thought it would be fun to offer a single-player venture where a change in camera has made ten select mini-games more interesting to play. Some of these didn't do much for me, but I will say that the last one, Mob Sleds, took me a long time to clear because of how challenging it became with the fixed camera angle. By the end of it, though, you won't see value in returning to this mode often (if at all), so don't be surprised if you catch yourself saying "Big whoop!" once it's all over.

    
In light of the above, it might be hard to see how Nd Cube's push was ultimately for the best, but one area where the team made indisputable improvements has to be the presentation. With its much cleaner visuals, appealing font choices, and just generally cohesive visual design,
Mario Party 9 is leaps better than Mario Party 8. And, perhaps best of all, no ugly borders when playing on widescreen! I really dug the music as well, and not just because it avoids the sometimes garbled mess that was Mario Party 8's techno-styled soundtrack. Although there were some tracks that were pretty flat (Bob-omb Factory's theme comes to mind), the range of songs created for this game feels consistent, easy on the ears, and often use a combination of various instruments utilized in soundtracks from previous iterations. Because of these and other efforts, Mario Party 9 can rightly be described as a good-looking game.

    
The way Nintendo has gone about levelling the playing field more than ever before has resulted in a totally unpredictable affair and a faster pace, but the list of caveats associated with this is enough to turn off long-time fans. The backwards omission of elements like Item Shops and weak new additions like Captain Events will leave such persons with very mixed feelings. That said, some of the creative approaches seen in the board structure along with the improved balance of mini-games give
Mario Party 9 more of a leg to stand on. Kids will undoubtedly get the most out of the game and p
urely on the merit of quality family-friendly gaming, I can, therefore, still recommend this game to such an audience. For everyone else, Mario Party 9 can be seen as a mostly good effort, but the ability to actually derive enjoyment is highly dependent upon your taking the good with the bad. And when you consider the large number of things that can rule over your experience, it's easy to see that this revival is not as strong as it should have been.


21/30 - Good

Gameplay 6/10 - Vehicle system creates a better pace, weak Captain Events, fun Boss Battles, questionable new elements, issues with the board structure
Presentation 8/10 - So much better-looking than MP8, wonderfully cheerful soundtrack with some addicting tunes, level layouts are mostly good
Enjoyment 3/5 - Great for families, oversimplifications hold it back, a lack of progression in some areas, magic isn't all there, luck carries a strong presence
Extra Content 4/5 - Good selection of mini-games, repeat plays will reveal flaws that can become off-putting, surprisingly decent extra modes

Equivalent to a score of 70% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System


Review by KnucklesSonic8