Release Date: February 8, 1999
Platform: Nintendo 64
The Good: First party game starring Nintendo's popular group of mascots; Over 50 wild mini-games; Multi-player is thoroughly enjoyable.
The Bad: Luck plays too large a role in winning; Board games take quite awhile to complete; Not all mini-games are engaging.
First off, I just want to mention this particular game has a unique place in my collection, largely because of how well I remember the time when it was released. I recall viewing the commercial on television with my friend and checking the local Blockbuster constantly to see if the game was available to rent. (which led to disappointing results several times) Then, one day after kindergarten, I asked my mom if she had had any luck finding it at the video store. To my astonishment, she replied, "Guess what I rented for 5 days?" I was overjoyed by the news and that afternoon I immediately started playing, what I believe is, one of the best multiplayer games ever created.
Mario Party for the N64 began a long chain of party games that branched across multiple game systems. The game's popularity and success led to spin-offs on portable devices such as the Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS all the way to home consoles including the Nintendo Gamecube and Wii. It also prompted the release of many half-baked wannabes trying to match the game's superb multi-player appeal. Mario Party for the N64 happens to hold its own in the crowd of imitators, though, and remains a fantastic example for party games even today.
As far as the story goes, Mario and co. argue over who is the superstar of the gang. Toad suggests that in order to be the ultimate superstar one must collect stars from several locations across Mushroom Village. (which sparks the question why it wasn't referred to as the Mushroom Kingdom. Maybe Toad's screwing them over so he can win the title). Any who, the crew dashes off to a nearby Warp Pipe, eager to compete against each another and come out on top.
The game offers 6 main boards (and 2 bonus boards) to play on in Story Mode. Several other modes are offered as well, including Mini-Game Island and Free Play (which is somewhat limited, allowing players to only choose up to 7 games in a single round). A total of 56 mini-games can be unlocked through Story Mode and purchased to play at the appropriately titled "Mini-Game House". Gamers can also visit the local shop, bank, and option house for various purposes such as purchasing special coin holders, viewing your total star sum, and listening to songs and sound bits from the game.
At the time of its release, Mario Party's graphics were pretty standard fare. Being a young kid at the time, I enjoyed the bright visuals and textures. While not fully detailed, the design gets the job done and is pleasing to the eye.
The tunes are upbeat and aplenty. Each board has its own melody, with the stand-outs being Yoshi's Tropical Island and DK's Jungle Adventure. The opening theme is also quite catchy, mixing original beats and ones from the series past with $tyle The harmonies that accompany the mini-games are above-average and fit the silly tone of the game well.
Mario Party also offers the welcome feature of including a respectable character roster. Characters like Luigi and Peach were fully playable for the first time in 3D. (if you don't qualify kart racing as completely controllable) Although future installments integrated even more mascots, this game allowed for some slight flexibility in terms of character selection.
This isn't to say the game doesn't have its shortcomings. Odds of winning a board game can change dramatically in the last few turns, even on the easiest of settings. And this leads to another dilemma. Only 3 different amounts of turns are presented, with 20 being the shortest of the three (the others being 35 and 50). The Al can easily punish players through Boo and Bowser, who steal coins and stars, and with Chance Time, which changes the fate of two board players.
In addition, there are some unforgiving mini-games like Crane Game, with its outcome resulting in one participant losing 1/3 of their coin collection. Another setback is the inclusion of merciless button mashing in several mini-games. (Paddle Battle, Skateboard Scamper, Handcar Havoc)
Overall, Mario Party's pros easily outnumber its cons. There's definitely some fun to be had, with several gems in the mini-game department. Tipsy Tourney, Face Lift, and Bombsketball are just a few that come to mind. The multi-player component will allow for the most entertaining experiences, but single player is amusing too.
By now you've probably moved on to more recent editions of the series but revisiting the original may reevaluate your perspective on which is the best of the bunch (it did lay the framework for future party games after all). Mario Party's solid set of mini-games may warrant the dusting off of your N64 for a weekend of play with some friends. You may be pleasantly surprised.