Mario Party DS Preview

Four-player board game action is on the way to your handheld courtesy of Nintendo and Hudson.

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Nintendo gave us a few minutes with Mario Party DS at its press event a few weeks ago, and now we've gotten our hands on a prerelease version of the game to subject it to further scrutiny. Not that too much scrutiny was really necessary--this is 100 percent, grade-A Mario Party. Anyone who has played the recent console versions should know exactly the sort of minigame/board game action they'll find in the DS game. But that's probably the most impressive thing about this package, from what we've seen so far: Hudson seems to have crammed the full Mario Party experience into the handheld, even if you have only one copy of the game.

Like its console predecessors, Mario Party DS is for four players, though you can play against up to three computer-controlled opponents if you don't have any friends. You roll the dice and then move that many spaces on the board, and the type of space you land on determines what happens to you. You might get some coins or lose some coins, face Bowser's wrath, take a shortcut to another spot on the board, or visit an item store to purchase a power-up that will help you out. The ultimate goal of any Mario Party is to have the most stars at the end of the game, and you pick those up as you make your way around the board. Again, this should all be old hat for veterans of the series.

It wouldn't be a Mario game without Bowser and his cronies causing trouble.
It wouldn't be a Mario game without Bowser and his cronies causing trouble.

At the end of every round, you'll jump into a four-player minigame. This is where Hudson seems to have provided the most meaningful new content in the game, since a lot of the minigames take advantage of the DS's touch screen or microphone. One game we tried had us racing against our foes to hop across a series of candles--but we had to use the microphone to blow out each candle before we could jump onto it. Another game had all four players using a bow and arrow on the touch screen--by pulling back the bowstring and aiming with the stylus--to hit targets on the top screen. Some of the games are three-against-one, such as one where three players run around on a disc with jets of water shooting across it, and the other player rotates the disc with the stylus to make those players get knocked off by the water. The computer-controlled players in the games we played were laughably easy to beat, but the minigames were quite a bit more fun against three other real people.

Surprisingly, it looks as though you'll get the full Mario Party experience with only one copy of the game via the DS's download play. We were able to have those three friends join in with the standard download play option, and it only took a minute or so to get into the game and choose one of the same five game boards you'll find in the single-player game. It seems like all the minigames will be available during a download-play session as well, since the game would transmit data for a few seconds each time we started a new minigame. We can't say what kind of multiplayer options you'll get with multiple cartridges, since we have only one copy of the game in-house, but we'll tip our hat to Nintendo's generosity for giving you such a robust multiplayer option when only one cartridge is present.

This is classic board game Mario Party, through and through.
This is classic board game Mario Party, through and through.

As we mentioned in our last look at Mario Party DS, the game offers some other gameplay options outside of the main board game, such as the ability to play all of the minigames you've unlocked at will. There's also a puzzle mode where you can sample a number of puzzle games from previous Mario Party games, such as Bob-omb Breakers, Stick & Spin, and Piece Out. These seem like moderately entertaining time wasters that follow established puzzle conventions, drawing from games like Tetris Attack.

Mario Party DS isn't reinventing the franchise's wheel, but if you're into this series, now you'll have a DS version you can take with you anywhere. The game has a nice art style, with full-resolution 2D cutscenes featuring some attractively rendered artwork. The game is out in the latter half of November, so look for a full review soon.

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