Long time Mario Party developer, Hudson is no more, finally absorbed by Konami, headquartered in the U.S. in Los Angeles, CA. In a similar mode of consolidation Mario Party 9 is now a product of Nintendo’s in-house ND Cube. Though many from the development team came from Hudson, Mario Party 9 is a reboot of sorts. Don’t worry it’s still a virtual board game with your favorite Nintendo mascots and lots of mini-games. In many ways, it feels much more like a real Nintendo game than recent Mario Party games that have felt almost like knockoffs.
For those who haven’t yet tried Nintendo’s iconic party series, the premise of all of them, including Mario Party 9, is that Bowser is causing some kind of trouble and all of the Nintendo mascots need to team up to stop him. In Mario Party 9, Bowser and Bowser Jr. have managed to steal all of the Mini Stars with a machine and Mario and his friends need to get them back. There are a couple fewer friends on the mission this time. Mario, Luigi, Princesses Peach and Daisy, Toad, Koopa, Yoshi, Birdo, Wario, and Luigi are playable characters with Magikoopa and Shy Guy unlockable.
The most obvious change to the gameplay is the road trip style of movement although, also noticeable, is immediately after starting up the game, the graphics and art style scream first party development. Gone is the noticeably poor frame rate and decidedly last-gen look. Instead of each player hitting dice blocks to determine their movements on the board now, all of the players ride together in one of the various vehicles, depending on which of the seven stages you’re playing.
Initially, players will hit dice blocks, by shaking their Wii remote, to determine the order. The highest roller becomes the leader, with the rest taking turns in descending order. Only that turn’s leader will hit a dice block to move the group and as such, can reap rewards or suffer consequences. Each player does need to have their own Wii remote though a good number of the minigames use it in its NES controller format (held sideways.) It is also worth noting, that parties no longer require four players or computer controlled players to round out your group. Games can now be played with as few as two players.
Winning the game is done by collecting the most stars. Stars can be collected and lost on spaces in one of the 80 or so minigames and each level’s boss and mid-boss fights. Events like landing on a haunted portrait will send a boo chasing after you in Boo’s Horror Castle. Whoever is the leader when the Boo catches your magic carpet, will lose stars. Leadership can also offer star bonuses in minigames in addition to the rewards for landing on certain spaces.
Mario Party 9 has no online functionality and should not under any circumstances be played alone. There are an infinite number of better ways to waste your time but, regardless, Nintendo has included a single player mode. What made Mario Party fun in the first place was the easy board game type gameplay with near equal parts luck and minigames skill, determining a winner. That is still the case and non-gamers have a pretty good shot at beating their “gamer” friends at least once particularly since Mario Party 9 has made these mini-games random and occasionally replaces them with cooperative boss fights.
Nintendo may have saved this franchise by reclaiming its development. Some may object to the number of the changes made in the gameplay but, its predecessor might as well have been a bootleg. The poor quality of the graphics, the silly waggle mechanics and the useless inclusion of Miis have been replaced with a solid first party game. While skill may now have an even smaller effect on the outcome, Mario Party is about making sure everyone has fun regardless of age, gender, or blood alcohol level and that is where Mario Party 9 largely succeeds. The smaller cast is unfortunate but the overall quality upgrade nearly makes up for not being able to play as a Boo or Dry Bones.
Mario Party 9 is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB for Mild Cartoon Violence.