Mario Party 6 Hands-on

We check out the final retail version of the latest GameCube entry in the Mario Party series.

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Nintendo's Mario Party series has been a solid performer for the company since the franchise debuted on the Nintendo 64 in 1999. The party game series has evolved a bit over the course of the past five installments, but the developer, Hudson, hasn't strayed too far from its winning formula, which uses a board game structure as an excuse to throw heaps of minigames at one to four players. This year's installment, Mario Party 6, actually appears to be a tighter package than its predecessors, with a neat bit of technology thrown into the mix. We recently got our hands on a final retail copy of the game and took it for a spin.

Mario and the gang are back to party on the GameCube.
Mario and the gang are back to party on the GameCube.

The premise of this year's game finds Mario and the gang playing peacekeepers between the sun and the moon, who are a fussin' and a feudin'. Brighton, the sun, and Twila, the moon, are apparently celestial party animals with self-esteem issues who need to know which of the two is the most popular. Mario and company's solution? Harness the power of the stars to shut the pair up. This, of course, means one thing: playing lots of party games.

The usual suspects will all be on hand to participate in the party-game mayhem. When you fire up the game, you'll find that Mario, Luigi, Peach, Yoshi, Wario, Daisy, Waluigi, Toad, Boo, and Koopa Kid are immediately selectable. The mysterious Toadette (did they ever explain where she came from?) is also on hand, but you'll have to unlock her.

What do you do when the sun and moon are feuding? Collect stars.
What do you do when the sun and moon are feuding? Collect stars.

This year's title features a fresh selection of games that is livened up by a neat new bit of technology. Besides the standard one-on-three, two-on-two, four-player, battle, duel, DK, Bowser, and rare games, Mario Party 6 will feature voice-recognition games that use the included microphone. This simple peripheral connects into a memory card slot on the GameCube and works as a controller for the games that respond to speech.

You'll come across these party games when playing through Mario Party 6's game modes. This year's title offers the solo mode, which is for single players; the mic mode, which is where you'll find the microphone games; the party mode, which is a multiplayer mode for one to four players; and the minigame mode, which lets you play different minigames. As you play through the modes, you'll earn stars that can be used to unlock new content, such as Toadette, new locales, new difficulty modes, new minigames, and all manner of secrets.

While we started out with a few of the traditional games, we eventually gravitated to the microphone games. The mic mode features three main options: "speak up," a verbal quiz for two or more players; "star sprint," a voice-directed race; and "mic minigames," a collection of games revolving around use of the microphone. Speak up is a Jeopardy-style quiz game that offers five quiz categories to choose from--picture, memory, variety, counting, and comparison--and prompts you for verbal answers to onscreen questions. The straightforward mode is spiced up by the occasional appearance of Bowser, who naturally takes over the show, and the ability to ask the game to give you a hint if you're stumped. Star sprint lets you direct one of the gang to pick up a star and race to the finish line. You'll prompt your character to haul ass by yelling, "Run," and will be able to direct him or her to jump, reverse, stop, switch positions, and even call the rest of the gang for help.

Go, my faithful minions! Do what my voice commands.
Go, my faithful minions! Do what my voice commands.

Finally, the mic minigames option features a variety of different voice-related games that get a lot of mileage out of the simple mechanics. "Verbal assault" has you directing a mech to attack your opponents. "Shoot your mouth off" has you directing shy guys to set off numbered missiles to take our your foes. "Talkie walkie" has you verbally directing your onscreen character to a treasure chest, while maneuvering him or her around the attacks of your three opponents. "Word herd" has you keeping a horde of goombas from being bopped out of existence by your three opponents. And "fruit talk tail" has you telling your character which types of fruit will be safe spots when the rest of the fruit-based floor falls out. All the games respond to voice surprisingly well and are fun to play. We were especially taken with word herd, since there's something about telling a herd of goombas to "scramble" (one of the word commands) that's pretty funny.

Based on our initial impressions, Mario Party 6 is shaping up to be one of the stronger entries in the series, thanks to its wide variety of games and the addition of the microphone. For the final word on the game, stay tuned for our review of the game, which is coming soon. Mario Party 6 is currently slated to ship next week for the GameCube.

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