During my school days I used to be a bit of a Nintendo fanboy. I think we all did it at one point; pick a side and stick with it, at least until you had enough money to branch out from owning a single console. Given my Nintendo fanboy status during the Nintendo 64 era I obviously bought Mario Party and played with my Nintendo fanboy brother and friends. While I have memories of having a good time, looking back it all seemed a little forced. Thinking about it, was Mario Party ever a good game?
I think passable would be a better way to describe the series, that is until this rather lazy Wii debut. Back when games were simpler Nintendo could get away with charging £40 for a fairly dull set of board games, but not any more. Despite the inclusion of Wii-mote controls that are bound to see Mario Party 8 sell to everyone now classed as a gamer because they can swing a remote wildly in Wii Tennis, this is a game that will have players young and old wondering what went wrong.
Mario Party 8 includes a single-player mode but it's barely worth counting as a gameplay option. It's so dull and tiresome that the only reason to play is to unlock the small number of unlockable characters, if you're desperate to beat the entire game. This is a multiplayer game through and through (for up to four players), but little effort has been made here either.
Played on a variety of boards (the kind you'd see in such classics as Snakes and Ladders) the goal is to collect stars. Usually these stars need to be bought rather than simply picked up, so you need to spend coins on them. Coins are handed out as you move around the board, but at certain points you can lose coins and, more severely, one of your stars. At the end of a pre-determined number of dice rolls the player with the most stars wins.
The simple board game gameplay is really only one half of the game, with mini-games being where most of the limited fun can be found. At the end of each round you're whisked off to play in a mini-game (in 1vs3, 2vs2 or all against all varieties) where the winner is awarded coins. Had these mini-games been good fun then Mario Party 8 would probably have been an enjoyable multiplayer game, but most of them are badly thought out and make very little use of the Wii's trademark motion controllers.
Oddly, a vast number of mini-games have you playing using the Wii-mote as if it was a standard NES controller, and the small number of games that do offer proper Wii controls simply show the rest as the lazily constructed games that they are. As well as the standard mini-games, a small number of Mii mini-games are accessible from the main menu, but they're largely inferior to the less than spectacular games found in Wii Play.
One of the biggest problems with Mario Party 8 is the random nature of the game. How you perform is entirely dependent on the number you roll and the squares you land on. You could argue that using bought candy power-ups at the right moment adds some element of tactical play, but it really doesn't. Youngsters are unlikely to care too much about the randomness, but anyone old enough to know what's going on will likely grow tired of the experience extremely quickly.
It doesn't help that the game's presentation is poor. For starters there's no widescreen support and the visuals could easily have been achieved on the GameCube. Considering the majority of Nintendo's Wii titles have at least impressed with their character, if not technical quality, Mario Party 8 feels like a hastily put together product.
With the Wii Nintendo's goal is to bring games to a wider audience. The problem with Mario Party 8 is that it's hard to see it appealing to anyone. With the core gameplay being dull, the mini-games uninspired and the presentation severely lacking, this is a game that only the most die-hard Nintendo fans will find any worth in.