Forget the elections! Join the best party around—the Mario Party!
Mario Party has quickly become a staple in the Nintendo Universe since it was first introduced on the N64 in 1999. And while many claim the series outstayed its welcome with Mario Party 3, Nintendo ignored them and has made yet another installment, this time for the GameCube. And while very little is added, Mario Party 4 proves there’s still some life in the series after all!
Anyone who has played a Mario Party game before knows what to expect: four Mario characters battling it out for bragging rights. In the standard mode of play, Party Mode, up to four humans compete in a not-so-traditional board game, with computer-controlled characters filling in the empty spaces. The overall goal is to get the most stars, which are usually obtained by beating the others to a certain board space and spending 20 coins, or by winning various awards at the game’s end. Players usually move ahead by rolling a die, though various items and board events also play a key role in advancement.
But things aren’t so simple. As in previous Mario Party games, opponents will have the chance to cheat, steal, and otherwise bamboozle each other in a greedy scramble to be the best. As expected, most boards have devious little details that can make all the difference. Also, many classic items and events make a return, either physically or spiritually, and the newly-added Mega and Mini mushrooms add to the chaos. For some reason Nintendo doesn’t call them “Super” and “Poison” like in every other Mario game, but they do the same thing. Using a Mega or Super Mega Mushroom will make the player’s character huge, letting the character roll two or three dice, respectively. Giant characters stomp over opponents they pass, stealing 10 coins, but gargantuan mascots also pass almost all board events—including stars. Mini and Super Mini mushrooms make characters tiny, meaning their dice only go up to 5. But being mini isn’t necessarily a negative, as smaller characters can fit through narrow short-cuts and play extra mini-games, and tacticians will sometimes find a low roll more desirable. And since it’s Mario Party, there’s also a Mega-Mini Hammer item, used to make an opponent become either Mega or Mini against his or her will and possibly turn the tides! The system works well and is a natural extension to the franchise’s well-founded design.
But no matter what Hudson adds to the board, the meat of Mario Party will always remain in its mini-games. Mario Party 4 contains 43 “real” mini-games as well as another dozen or so single- and two-player games that add a little to the mix. The commonly-played mini-games are broken into three types: Free-for-all, 2 on 2 and 1 on 3. In Party Mode and its marginal single-player adaptation, Story Mode, the mini-game type is determined by what spaces the characters landed on, while the specific mini-game is selected randomly. In Mini-Game Mode, the games are either selected by hand or at random within a chosen type.
While 43 4-player mini-games may seem lacking when compared to previous Mario Party games, it should be noted there are very few stinkers in the bunch this time. Most games still fall into the standard running/maneuvering, button mashing, or timing categories, but each game tends to have its own spin, keeping things fairly fresh. Hudson went a little overboard with the L and R triggers, especially since the game rarely takes advantage of their analog nature, but this quirk doesn’t detract from the gameplay. A few more repeat performances of fan favorites couldn’t have hurt, but Mario Party 4 still has enough mini-games to provide lots of fun.
Graphically, this game is far superior to its N64 predecessors. While it lacked polish at E3 2002, Mario Party 4 now has excellent, high-polygon character models (that will no doubt be used in future games) and a smooth presentation. Environment and board textures show their weaknesses when the camera zooms in, and characters lack the textural detail found in Super Smash Bros. Melee, but overall the game is much more up to the platform’s standards than Mario Party 1 through 3 were on theirs. There are even some nifty FMVs on the disc!
Music is standard fare for Mario Party; nothing is particularly remarkable, but the MIDI tunes aren’t out of place either. The game’s sound effects are about the same as in previous games. Unfortunately, the voices are somewhat lacking. With 1.5 GB of storage, having only one voice clip for each situation per character is nothing short of inexcusable. I can understand the limited samples for Yoshi and DK, but Nintendo really should’ve recruited Charles Martinet for a few more one-liners, even if it meant an extra plane ticket or two. After all, hearing the same exclamations repeatedly is simply underwhelming. Then there’s Daisy, who comes off as so unenthusiastic and fake, it’s downright criminal. Perhaps the voice actress was attempting a “reserved princess” attitude, but that goes against her “tomboy” description, now, doesn’t it? I also think Waluigi sounds a bit too much like Luigi at times, but that’s probably just a personal issue. . .
There are extra little features that make Mario Party 4 the best of the bunch, but nothing that makes it soar above the rest. The Mega-Mini system isn’t a revolutionary addition, but it provides some extra depth that will most certainly be abused by the better Mario Partiers out there. The ability to turn off undesired mini-games is always appreciated, and skipping computer-only mini-games makes playing alone more tolerable, but Mario Party 4 still has the same inherent limitation as its predecessors: it’s only good with friends. Huge Mario Party fans should most certainly buy this game. Those who somehow avoided the N64 games and have at least one buddy they can play with should also consider a purchase. But gamers who rarely have someone to play with or already own a Mario Party game should just save Mario Party 4 for a timely rental, while those who justifiably despise the series shouldn’t even bother.