Ah Mario Party! Most of us have a love-hate relationship with these games. I've played my share of the series. I've pitted myself against Bowser's wily tactics of destruction for the first 5 Mario Party games and for Mario Party 8 as well. While each game has only made minor improvements over the last, I always felt like the series was a blast to enjoy with friends. I was pretty surprised to find out that the newest installment would not only be on a portable rather than the Wii U, but that it would only support local multiplayer. Now keep in mind I live far away from all my friends who own this game or would be willing to play it, so the multiplayer component was a total waste for me. That being said, the game still excels at the single-player.
The first thing that really stood out to me in this game was the return to having individual movement on the boards. This made me extremely happy. The second thing I noticed was that each board tells me how much luck, skill and minigame density is involved. This is a very nice touch that allows me to play what I'm in the mood for. It even tells me the average time each board will take to complete! VERY CONVENIENT!
The core of Mario Party consists of two things: good board design and fun minigames. Both of these was fulfilled with this game. Let me begin with the minigames. While I'm not familiar with most of the newer iterations of the series, I felt like this game did a good job of taking a lot of previous concepts and then melding them into the functions of the 3DS. There is a good balance of motion based, touch based and button based games. I never felt bored with any of the minigames either. I felt like each one had its place and I could enjoy each one in its own way. The boards are really where this game shines though.
Each board has its own unique theme that the whole style revolves around. For example: there is one board that is dependent on the player trying to avoid getting to the finish line first (so you must try to get low rolls where you can); there is another board that involves trying to get to the finish as quickly as possible. Making each board different means that I can choose the board that caters to the experience I wish to have at the moment, rather than having each board function the same but only to have a different visual theme. I hope the series retains this great level of variety moving forward, because I will certainly start buying them again.
While the boards express a high level of variety, I felt like the game modes were lacking in this regard. You essentially have party mode, free-play mode (for minigames) and minigame tower (an endurance game essentially). There are also no meaningful things to unlock aside from one character and one board. Everything else comes in the form of little bubble figures that you can buy. You buy them with points you acquire by playing the game (winning or losing). Coming from Mario Party 5 and 6, I was hoping for more things to earn. That is usually what made the single-player worth playing for me. After I beat every board once in this game I felt like there was no reason to come back and play it since I couldn't play it with my friends. Therein lies this game's biggest problem.
So in the end, this is definitely a worthy entry into the series, and is a very welcome step in the right direction. I just wish they could have had online multiplayer and a more compelling reason to play the single-player. Admittedly, the local multiplayer only requires one cartridge...which is a definite plus...but it still doesn't solve the other issues.
If you are looking for a fun portable party game to play with locally with your 3DS friends, this game is a must. For everybody else, you might want to decide on how much enjoyment you can get out of playing against AI players (I sold the game after I won in every board on the highest difficulty).