I definitely played my share of Mario titles during my life. It all started with Super Mario for the Gameboy, since only later in my life was I introduced to the classic Arcade Game itself. Other titles followed, more titles for the Gameboy including Super Mario 2, one of my all time favourites I still play these days, the various Mario titles for NES and SNES and recently we have seen Super Mario Sunshine being released on the Gamecube. But the Mario franchise was never limited to these “classic” Mario titles only. Starting with the Gameboy again many will remember the Tetris clone Dr. Mario or maybe the hard, yet fun, Mario Tennis. The Super Famicom (the Japanese name for what we call SNES) featured other titles bearing Mario’s name like Mario Paint (a paint program using a special mouse), the great Mario Kart (we are working on reviewing the all new Mario Kart: Double Dash as we speak) and sadly an only released in Japan great RPG called Mario RPG featuring the-one-and-only plumber. The Nintendo64 finally was the first system to feature a special new Mario brand: Mario Party. Developed to heavily depend on multiplayer gaming a total of three Mario Party games – Mario Part 1 to 3 – were released on the N64 before the N64’s time was finally over and the Gamecube stepped in to fill the gap. Last year we have already witnessed the release of Mario Party 4 on the Gamecube and now although not yet available worldwide, Mario Party 5 is beginning to hit the store shelves.
For players of earlier versions of Mario Party I can pretty much sum everything up that’s new in a few words: more mini-games, new boards, more game modes and a lot of bonuses. If you loved Mario Party till now, you will love the newest title as well and can leave for the store already. Everyone else lean back - we are departing to Dream Depot.
(Mario Party) x 5
Not on this plane of existence, beyond this world is the Dream Depot. Here we come when we are dreaming. The “nice” dreams are protected by various Star Guardians that protect this world of fantasy from evil-doing intruders that want to cause us terrible nightmares. None-the-less Mario's arch-enemy Bowser has intruded the Dream Depot and begins to wreak havoc in the dreams of innocent people. In this time of peril the Star Guardians call Mario to the rescue (who luckily was paying a visit to Dream Depot at this time anyway) and now ourselves, Mario and friends have to defeat evil Bowser!
Ok, I admit it is not the greatest piece of storyline yet you HAVE to come up with something explaining what the game is all about, don’t you? Just leave the storyline aside and you will be happy with the game.
Many, many, many games
While Mario Party in truth consists of many different games of various sizes, the main game is all about different board games. In single player you play against three Koppa Kids in multiplayer against your friends and enemies from the various Mario games that are controlled by (real) friends of yours or by the AI.
In single-player the game is really simple yet not all too easy. After “hitting” a dice block you move around the highly detailed boards and at this point of your turn, you only have to choose which way to take in case the “road” splits up. Although if you come across a Koppa kid during your turn – even if you wouldn’t land on the same field – you have to duel him. Playing a mini game you decide who will lose some of his coins under the additional condition that the attacker (a.k.a. who’s turn it it) will always loose less coins than the defender. If anyone reaches zero coins this way he is thrown out of the game. If this happens to Mario you have to retry the level, but if you can throw out all three of Bowser’s kids this way you may proceed to the next level.
Certain fields on the board trigger special events that can either be good or bad for the one that triggers them, like giving or taking away coins to or from the player, teleport you to another field or swapping places with another player. The possibilities are numerous and you can even sabotage your enemy by means of placing your own events if you have the right item.
In Multiplayer other rules apply. The boards are larger and more complex, and you don’t duel every other player you come across. Instead you are hunting for “stars”. One star at a time is randomly placed on the board and whoever reaches it first may buy it for twenty of his hard earned coins. Once a star is collected a new one is placed. Reaching a star depends on tactics like taking the right path at the right time and using special actions (so called capsules, distributed by various capsule machines on the board) against your opponents - but a HUGE portion of luck is needed too. After every turn a mini game is played and the AI randomly chooses a game from its library. The possible game modes are everyone for himself, 2 on 2 where you temporarily team with another player and finally 3 versus 1 where one poor player has to compete against everyone else. The winners will be awarded with the desperately needed coins.
The games are numerous – over twenty 4 player games, and the 1vs3 and 2vs2 modes each featuring an additional dozen games of their own – and fun as it takes quite a while before you will replay a mini game. There are racing games, in others button bashing is the way to win, sometimes quick reactions are necessary, and sometimes it’s just luck that decides who is the winner in the end. There are also rare special games like the random “Battle” games and the by special events triggered “Donkey Kong” and “Bowser” games. As you might guess in “Bowser” games you can’t really win anything – all you can hope for is that the other players get of worse than you :-)
As the game progresses you will get near the end of the game that is reached once a number of turns - that you can decide on in the options - is completed. But beware during the last 5 turns Bowser will cause some serious havoc. He will not only change the rules based on a random selection but from this moment on duels are introduced to multiplayer. Only this time, unlike in single-player, you not only battle for coins but also for stars! A single duel can cause a serious change in ranking when e.g. the former 4th placed player comes in first after defeating the former leader!
The last 5 turns are mean and unfair – but hell of a fun.
Other things to do and places to see
The board game, even if you choose the minimum of 15 turns, can take quite a while to finish, and if you need some fast action because you or your friends lack the time – or maybe just want to try out something new – you will be happy to see that there are other ways to play the game(s) as well.
3 game modes that concentrate on the already known mini games are the Mini Game Circuit, the Decathlon and the Mini Game Wars. The Decathlon is pretty simple, for every played game points are awarded and the player with the highest score wins.
The Mini Game Circuit is similar but reintroduces a little tactics. Players “race” on a track. Every turn a mini game is selected and played, and only players that won in the mini-game may role a dice and move forward on the circuit. Each player is given 3 mushrooms – capsules that allow you to roll one or two additional dices – and may decide to use them AFTER the game was selected, but BEFORE it actually starts. So if you are positive that you will win the game, you will likely use a mushroom, but don’t forget that if you loose you'll have wasted one of your precious “boosts”.
The Mini Game Wars are similar, only that you play on a field of hexagonal fields and for every game you win you may “tag” one field with your colour - but beware that an opponent can “steal” back your fields sometimes. It takes no genius to guess the winning condition for this mode – most tiles win.
One unique game mode on the other hand is Super Duel Mode. This mode has nothing to do with the duels you play in the board game - instead it is a very simple racing-shooter game. With points that you gather in the single player and multiplayer games you can purchase parts for a unique vehicle. Choosing a chassis, engine, tires and a weapon you can play against a friend’s vehicle – if he has taken his memory card along – or against the Cube. In the VERY basic arenas – plain and square holes in the landscape – you battle it out shooting at each other until one of you runs out of lives. Again not an extraordinary yet nice “gimmick”.
But we are not done yet, an additional 3 games that have nothing to do with the mini-games need to be mentioned before we come to the end. “Card Party” is played in a labyrinth where stars are hidden. The different fields of the labyrinth become visible only once you reach them and sometimes when you thought you are almost at a star you will be disappointed because you have reached a dead end.
I take that the other two game modes – “Ice Hockey” and “Beach Volleyball” - don’t really need an explanation. They are there and they are fun, so give them a try.
The basic multiplayer game will keep you and your friends entertained for many hours or more likely weekends. The single player campaign – no matter if you play against the Koppa kids or are playing a multiplayer game against AI enemies - is somewhat different, but while it is good for training, the various mini games and getting to know the capsules and boards - it is just not the same fun to beat the Gamecube as opposed to beating the crap *cough* - I mean coins out of your friends and relatives. A great multiplayer experience and a fun, yet not as good, single player experience makes Mario Party 5 a worthy candidate for every “Gamecube Party selection”.