Mario now has to count with both hands on the box art.
Nintendo’s Mario Party series, once considered rather innovative, now chugs along at an absurdly stagnant pace. Mario Party 6 boasts such whopping new features as a microphone peripheral, which is barely used in the main mode, and…here’s one to get pumped up for…faster character movement from one space to another on the game board. Regardless of how big the number is getting, this new Mario Party is just as much fun as its predecessors, which comes as no surprise since it’s basically the same game as its predecessors.
If you’ve somehow avoided this series the first five times, here’s the gist of Mario Party: it’s a virtual board game with tons of mini-games, and the more people you have playing, the more fun it is. It also makes for a pretty good drinking game for adults, and due to the game’s simplicity, it’s easy for non-gamers to get into the action and compete.
Over the years, the developers at Hudson have added an item system (now called “Orbs”) to give players more control over what happens and more strategic opportunities. Mario Party 6 contains at least a dozen types of Orbs, and some of them have very interesting effects. Unfortunately, the process of obtaining orbs, learning what they do, and placing them on the board slows the game down dramatically. It’s even worse when new people are playing and need to read every Orb description and figure out how best to use them. All these delays add up to more than negate the improvement in board movement speed in this edition of the series.
The real meat of every Mario Party game is its selection of mini-games. Mario Party 6 has a whopping eighty new ones, divided up into categories such as 4P Vs., 3 Vs. 1, 2 Vs. 2, Duel, Bowser, and Mic. Several mini-games are brilliant and perfectly capture the spirit of the category, such as the 2 Vs. 2 games in which you must communicate very well with your partner in order to win. However, there are just as many clunky mini-games that are either insultingly simple, far too complex, or just poorly explained. A majority of them fall in the middle and are fun enough for the thirty seconds they last.
Most mini-games favor the most skilled player, but the rest of the game is heavily based on chance. The random elements help keep enough balance in the game to allow even novice players to win, but the luck factor goes too far at times. For instance, there is a “Miracle Space” on some boards, and if a player lands on it, he or she will spin a wheel to set up a trade between two players, randomly selected. The Miracle Space usually results in two characters trading stars, which can mean that the player who was leading is suddenly in last place, and vice versa. The person who got jacked is going to be infuriated, having had no input or influence over the process, while the recipient is left with the fact that he or she has won the game on luck alone.
Mario Party 6 is the first game to support the GameCube Microphone, which is included with the game and plugs into one of the system’s memory card ports. The microphone is used for special “Mic Games” which occur once or twice per game of the main “Party Mode.”. There are other things to do with the microphone outside the Party Mode, including a multiplayer quiz game and a weird Track and Field-style race where you issue verbal commands to get around obstacles. The voice recognition for all of these games is pretty clunky. You have to speak very slowly and clearly for it to understand, and there is a noticeable delay between each vocal command and the game responding. It’s also rather easy to cheat when playing against other people, since you can speak commands without holding the microphone button to fake everyone out, or just speak jibberish and hope the game will interpret it as one of the trigger words, which is likely. Needless to say, the microphone support is a gimmick, fun and silly but also poorly executed.
The rest of Mario Party 6 is a mess of stuff to do when playing alone, such as the Solo Mode that encourages you to risk all your winnings in order to unlock rare mini-games and earn a ton of stars. These stars, along with those earned while playing Party Mode, can be used at the Star Bank to unlock dozens of secret items. A few unlockables are quite significant, such as new game boards, but most are miscellany like character taunts and secret words you can say into the microphone for various effects. Neither the Solo Mode nor the Star Bank is enough to make Mario Party 6 fun for just a single player, but they are worth checking out. The mini-game collection is accessible for you to play your favorite games at any time, but the super-simple Bingo and Tournament features don’t add much to this mode.
Most of the new features in Mario Party 6 add little to the overall experience, so it’s hard to recommend the game to owners of either previous GameCube entry to the series. However, if you’re a hardcore fan of the series, the sixth game may be enticing as an expansion pack of new mini-games, which are abundant. Those of you who may have played one of the N64 games but haven’t checked up on the series in a while will find plenty to enjoy in Mario Party 6. In any case, the microphone certainly isn’t a big deal, so don’t base your decision on that.