Friday, 30 September 2011

Mario Party 8

Lowdown: Snakes & Ladders set at Nintendo’s Mario world.
On paper, Mario Party 8 for the Wii doesn’t sound like much. As in, why would anyone fuss over playing a very Snakes & Ladders like game on their TV? For a start, by the time we are five we feel like we’ve outgrown such luck dependent games, don’t we?
Nintendo would beg to differ. They do so by setting the familiar Snakes & Ladders theme in the Mario world with all its characters and charms, and by throwing in the occasional mini-game to spice things up. Up to four characters can take part in Nintendo’s party, assuming the guise of their favorite Mario world character; depending on the exact mode chosen, players can utilize their Mii characters instead (if that is their wish). Again, depending on the mode, the Wii might fill with NPC characters to create a four player game.
Your character then commences its stroll down one of five incarnations of a Snakes & Ladders like board. These range from the fairly ordinary to the interesting, like a board that is actually made of train cars and where the cars occasionally change their order. The goal is always the same: capture stars located at the end of the board and gather money as a secondary target. On the way to achieving your target you would encounter many Snakes & Ladders like treat or tricks coming at you in Mario style. For example, Donkey Kong is a treat while Bowser is rather nasty, stealing your stars away.
At the end of each round of play, or as the occasional trick, players go into a bout of mini games. These come in various shapes and sizes: some times it’s just a two player mini game (potentially even two NPCs), some times it’s two against two, sometimes its four each playing separately, and sometimes it’s one against three. The mini games are rather simple yet they tend to make adequate use of the Wii Remote. I have found the mini games to be less than stellar when played on their own (as one of the modes allows), but in the context of the Snakes & Ladders settings they are great fun. What’s more, their relative simplicity allowed our four year old to play most of them, often with results that wouldn’t shame us grownups. Between the kid friendly nature of the mini games, their charming Mario world settings, and the party type fun of an effective multi-player, this family found itself surprised at the amount of fun it managed to derive out of this simple sounding game. Once again I found myself puzzled as to how come Sony and Microsoft, both with significantly superior hardware, are so obviously incapable of creating the simple fun that Nintendo recreates so often and so effectively with its Mario setting on a seemingly archaic console.
The beauty of the mini games is that they tilt the game from being entirely luck based into something that, in the long run of the numerous turns it takes to finish a game, is somewhat skill and strategy based. The strategy comes in the form of buying and using magic candies that allow your character to perform certain tricks, like stealing money from other characters at a duel. But if you think results are predetermined by relative skill with the joystick, think again: between the large variety of mini games, each with its own style of joystick manipulation, and the Wii coming in occasionally to help the less successful players in some creative way, you will find characters keep changing places on the leaders’ table.
Perhaps you might find yourself the way I did: excited. And constantly smiling.
Overall: Not much to look at, so I would have said Mario Party 8 deserves 3 stars. However – given the great fun that us there for all to enjoy, especially little children, I think the game more than deserves 3.5 out of 5 stars. 

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