Release Date: May 29, 2007
If you've never played a Mario Party title before, the concept is very simple. Imagine taking a board game, like Sorry! or Parcheesi and bringing it to a video game screen. Sounds simple enough, right? Well, the Party franchise tends to do things a bit more complex than your average board game. Winning isn't usually a matter of getting all your pieces to home or traversing the entire board. Instead, players race around the circular boards, seeking Star Pieces from various sources.
Star Pieces are basically the game's point system, and whoever has the most, wins. You can get Star Pieces by buying them from game characters, winning them by landing on certain spaces, or even stealing them from other players. Of course, getting to the Star Pieces is the real challenge. As players move around the board, they'll encounter various obstacles, ranging from tricks and traps that can send players flying across the map to interactive mini-games that allow players to put their gaming skills to the test to earn some extra money.
For such a simple concept, Mario Party can be a lot of fun. When you have four players all playing together, the game is fun just for the enjoyment of challenging friends. However, if you're not going to be playing with friends, you may want to reconsider Mario Party 8. The game offers computer-controlled opponents and even a customized single-player Duel mode, but if you're not playing with friends, none of this matters. The computer-controlled opponents rarely offer enough of a challenge to be fun to play against, and even defeating them feels hollow and empty. There's no satisfaction or challenge; the mini-games are not designed to be played by anyone other than humans, and it shows very clearly. You might have fun playing the single-player mode for a few minutes, but it will quickly turn to apathy and boredom.
Mario Party 8 brings a number of new stages to the mix. Set in locations ranging from Donkey Kong's jungle to a mixed-up magical train run by Shy-Guys, these stages are fun and well designed. They have you jumping, swinging and running around familiar Mario-inspired areas, and each is filled with amusing little references and touches, including cameos by various Mario characters. Depending on which game mode you play in, you can be running around the stage attempting to grab stars, impressing a movie star or trying to turn a profit by investing in hotels. Unfortunately, while these ideas are fun the first couple of times, they quickly wear out their welcome. Generally, you're either collecting stars or collecting coins, and the various ways that this is done doesn't change the fact that the main gameplay is basically the same. While there are some clear attempts to spice up the formula, particularly in the hotel board, they just don't manage to overcome the overall dull design.
Of course, in a Mario Party game, one of the biggest draws is the mini-games, and Mario Party 8 does a pretty good job in this area. Divided into a number of different genres, such as Free For All, 3 vs. 1, Challenge and Duel, these mini-games are the only thing that keeps Mario Party 8 from descending into total frustration. They're all fairly well designed, ranging in gameplay from simple shooting galleries to a bizarre mini-game where you skateboard down a half-pipe while one player attempts to activate traps to knock the others down. Like the rest of Mario Party, these games are best played in multiplayer mode because the AI is simply not skilled enough, even on the higher difficulty modes, to provide much of a challenge.
One thing does stand out about the mini-games, though: They play well and they're amusing, but they lack creativity. Compared to other recent Nintendo offerings, such as Warioware, they feel like they were thrown together in a few minutes. They feel less like games designed for the Wiimote and more like GameCube games that were modified for the Wii, which is very frustrating, as the Wii control is one of the few advantages Mario Party 8 has over Mario Party 7. Not all of the mini-games suffer from this (In particular, I couldn't imagine playing the shooting mini-games without the Wiimote's super-accurate firing), but it is enough of a problem to cause disappointment.
The biggest complaint I have with the Mario Party 8 is how the entire game is based on luck. Now, in a board game, luck is always a key because what dice you roll has a major factor on what happens. However, Mario Party 8 takes that to the extreme. With one unlucky roll, all of your hard work is for naught. Different spaces can take away coins, candy or even stars, and there is very little you can do to avoid this. Your skill in mini-games and your planning in using candy can help alleviate this a bit, but in the end, you never feel like you've accomplished something by winning.
Victory almost always comes as the result of an unfortunate twist of fate. This is made even worse if you choose to leave on the Bonus Stars option. At the end of every game, three different Stars will be awarded to players who achieve certain conditions, like moving the most spaces or landing on the most green tiles. It sounds nice, but the conditions are randomized, and I have seen games won by a character in last place simply because the game decided to be nice and give him three stars while no other character got a single one. Thankfully, this option can be turned off, but I can't see a single reason to keep it activated.
Graphically, Mario Party 8 looks like a GameCube game. Granted, this could be said for quite a few Wii games, but Mario Party 8 doesn't even look as good as those. The models are nice, but simplistic, more reminiscent of Luigi's Mansion and other early GameCube titles than the more impressive showings seen toward the end of the system's lifecycle. The stages are well designed but often feel sparse and empty, aside from the few cameos and minor details. There are even odd cases of graphical slowdown when certain special effects come into play! To make matters worse, Mario Party 8 doesn't even support a widescreen view, something present in most current Nintendo offerings; instead, it simply covers the view with borders. The Wii isn't as powerful as the PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360, but it has already proven itself capable of rather nice visuals. Even for a GameCube title, Mario Party 8 would be graphically unimpressive, but as a title on the GameCube's successor, it's just sort of disappointing.
Mario Party 8's music is fine. It's simple, peppy and fits the board game mood quite well, including a few amusing remixes of classic Mario-related themes. However, there is one glaring and annoying flaw in the audio: the voices. Some are reasonable, like the classic Mario and Luigi voices, but others, such as Princess Daisy, are so terrible and annoying that you'll avoid ever using those characters just so you never have to hear them speak. However, there is one character you can't avoid: M.C. Ballyhoo, the host of this edition of Mario Party. His voice is annoying on its own, but the fact that you have to hear it nigh constantly, including his ear-grating laugh, is enough to drive you bonkers. It isn't so bad during multiplayer games, when you have friends to distract you, but my attempts at single-player gaming almost made me hurl my Wiimote through the screen, strap or no strap.
The first Mario Party game was released in 1999 for the Nintendo 64. Now, eight years later, we're on Mario Party 8, meaning one game has been released each year. The problem is that the Mario Party franchise hasn't really evolved or changed much from its days on the Nintendo 64. Yes, there are new characters, stages, and mini-games, but despite their clever designs, they're quickly growing repetitive and stale. They were fun the first couple of times, but we're on the eighth game in the franchise now, and other than the Wiimote support, there is very little to recommend this title over others. On the Nintendo Wii alone, various other games have done more interesting things with the Wiimote, such as Warioware and Rayman: Raving Rabbids. Sonic and the Secret Rings even included its own mini party game, which comes bundled with the main adventure, and Mario Party 8 barely does the minimum required to be a better game than that! If you're desperate for a party game for your Wii, Mario Party 8 isn't a bad choice. However, if you've played any of the previous iterations, any shine that Mario Party 8 has will quickly wear off.
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