Ever since then, Hudson has been releasing iterations of the same game each year, each more monotonous than the next. Year after year I would give the latest one a try, and then leave, feeling disappointed and unconvinced that the latest party outing was worthy of my time or consideration. Frustrated and disillusioned, I left the Mario Party scene and moved on to other games.
Recently I dug up the Nintendo 64 and brushed up on a few of the games I loved back in the day. I hadn't even thought of Mario Party for a few years, and to my pleasant surprise, Mario Party 2 still makes for a great party. It arose my curiosity... what has the series has been up to recently? I picked up Mario party 6 and loaded it up. At first it kinda looked like another crappy iteration. But as I played, I found something a little different.
For the readers who have yet to play a Mario Party Game, there are basically two aspects of the formula. First, a cast of Mario characters take turns rolling dice on a virtual board game, where the goal is to collect coins by various means, which in turn can be used to buy stars. The player (out of 4) with the most stars in the end wins. The second aspect is Mini-Games. These simple yet fun games are activated by landing on certain spaces on the board, and are hosted after every turn sequence. The winner of the mini-game is rewarded with coins. Mini-games have been a staple of the series and are accessible for anybody to pick up and play. That aspect of gameplay, along with the random nature of board games in general, make this a great game for kids, older players, and other contenders, who might not have experience with video games, making it a perfect party game.
Mario Party 6 has not strayed from the core mechanics in this respect at all. For the most part, that is a good thing because the core mechanics allow for the foundation of a great game. But the problem with previous games in the series was that there were little to no meaningful additions to the formula, which was beginning to show its age. While the quality of mini-games decreased, the real issue was the board game aspect, which suffered from pacing issues and increasingly uninteresting, monotonous gameplay.
Mario Party 6 is now here and seems to offer solutions to those issues. The first major addition is an improvement of "item" use. Items, which are objects usually used to benefit the users, are now called "orbs". While some orbs are intended to benefit the user directly, many can be thrown onto nearby spaces to hinder other players and steal their coins. If a player lands on their own space, they gain coins. It is reminiscent of monopoly, and in its own way reinvigorates the board-game aspect of the series.
Another big addition is the new boards that actually completely change the way games are played. For example, on the Snowflake Lake board, each player stars with 5 stars. The catch is that the board is entirely based upon stealing stars from other players by summoning Chain Chomps from their homes, which can cost different amounts of coins depending on the situation. These innovative boards offer refreshingly different ways to experience the board game.
Finally, board activity has been sped up a whole lot, improving (but not solving) the pacing issue. All of these factors combined do make a much needed difference in the failing board game aspect of the series.
The mini-games in Mario Party 6 also seem to be an improvement over its predecessors. Mini-games in previous iterations traded quantity for quality. So there were a lot of mediocre games and plain bad games. In Mario Party 6, there seems to be fewer stinkers even though there are over 80 mini-games. Some are so fun you might just skip the rest of the experience and want to just play them in Mini-game mode, which allows players to play only mini-games. A microphone is included for additional mic-based mini-games but it is a gimmick. You might have a little bit of fun for a few hours before it gets obnoxious, but luckily the microphone is not required and can be omitted completely.
It should be noted that this game will only be fun if it is played with friends. Players who go into this game looking for a decent single player experience will be surely disappointed. The game is funnest with all four players and the fun decreases as there are less human players (actual human players will be replaced by CPUs, which are passable but not very fun). This is just an unfortunate truth that exists in all Mario Party games going back to the ones I loved as a kid.
Graphics are utilitarian, meaning they serve their purpose. They are not impressive by any means, but they are clean and unoffensive. Music and sound are not great either, but they do not detract from the experience. The whole presentation is a little childish and juvenile. Nintendo is obviously trying to appeal to younger audiences, so you might be discouraged to play with your macho friends. But if you can look past that, the gameplay will more than make up for it.
Mario Party 6 takes me back to what I loved about the series as a kid. It's that same competitive yet imaginative wonder I shared with friends as we partied 'till dawn. It attempts to solve many of the issues plaguing previous iterations with considerable success. Those who aren't fans of the series will not be convinced otherwise, but those willing to give this game a chance will find a fun little gem, a definite must for your next party.