E3 2002Mario Party 4 hands-on

We took the new minigames in Nintendo's upcoming party bonanza for a spin.

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In the past, The Mario Party series has focused on providing players with the video game counterpart of a classic board game--entertain a group of friends by moving around a board while providing enough distraction from the die-rolling to have a fun experience. We had the chance to check out a ton of Mario Party 4's new minigames at the Nintendo E3 booth this year.

Many of the play mechanics that worked well in previous versions of Mario Party have remained unchanged in this fourth game. The domino challenge had each of the four characters pounding on a target on the floor with a hammer controlled by repeated tapping of the A button. The more times the hammer struck the target, the more dominos would be knocked down, with the winner being the character who could nail the most. The target to pass the test was 80 taps in the 15-second time limit, but we were able to knock down well over a hundred after a few tries.

Another minigame had three characters in gigantic carved wooden suits in a jungle arena with a fourth character, who was penned in with the log-bots. Monkeys hanging from trees nearby then tossed banana peels into the ring, and it was up to the character on foot to avoid slipping on a peel, with the other characters limiting mobility and routes of escape.

One particularly interesting minigame was based on the classic concept of the memory game, where objects or symbols are revealed for a brief moment, then hidden from view, requiring the player to later remember which things were where. In this game, the four characters were paired off as two teams of short-order delivery cooks, working with Toad, who was taking customer orders. At the outset, a pair of circular tables were covered with a variety of food items, including ice cream cones, hamburgers, pizza slices, and cake. Packaging boxes then fell down, and Toad turned around with his order of two items. The first team to select the two correct foodstuffs wins that round, and the game progresses until a team reaches three wins.

Another minigame challenged two teams of paired-off players to leap and butt-stomp on inflated thwomps. When both characters landed on the thwomp at the same time, it deflated much faster than when stomped by alternating characters. Some of the simpler games were based on the four characters onscreen simply moving around frantically, avoiding various types of peril. In the snowball fight game, the four characters were on a slippery rink, where the surrounding snowmen began to heave their snowballs. If hit by a snowball, the struck character became frozen solid, impeding the dodging ability of the other players.

Other games focused on players gaining leverage based on bumping other players out of the way or simply knowing which direction to go in at the right time. One minigame placed all four characters on large colored ink stamps atop a sheet of white paper. As your character moves over the white area, your stamp puts down the appropriate color, often turning the match into a fiercely competitive challenge to trace over your opponents' previously colored areas, with the winning player often being the one who avoids the heavily contested middle and instead lines the playfield's borders.

Mario Party 4 features 50 all-new minigames for players to explore as they race around the game board. While the play concepts and minigame mechanics haven't changed remarkably since the first game, those familiar with the series will feel at home and will likely enjoy the new games. We'll have more on Mario Party 4 as it approaches its October release date.

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