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Note: Mario Party 10, though I presume it has similar complaints as Mario Party 9, is not included as I haven’t played enough of/don’t know enough about it.
When beckoned with the question “who are you?” I usually have a couple of responses ready. I often reply with my name, sometimes I reply with the role I play in whatever setting I happen to find myself in (such as a committee meeting), or sometimes I just look into the distance with a blank face and say “I just am.” I make more friends than I lose.
But another way I could respond, and this is a way that actually pertains to the content of this article, is by saying “I am one of maybe three people on Earth who likes Mario Party 9.”
I cannot name a single person I’ve spoken to who doesn’t have a general distaste for Mario Party 9 off the top of my head. Whether it be the move-together mechanic or the substitution of several collectable Mini-Stars for full purchasable Stars to determine the victor, everyone I know has something to complain about.
Though I will admit, I do find its predecessors to be superior games. The classic, cutthroat, luck-dependent saga of Mario Party 1-8 in particular are some of the funnest and infuriating multiplayer experiences around. There’s nothing better than giving each other hell for four rounds before jumping into a myriad of minigames that play to different abilities of the player themselves; it’s mesmerizing! However, just because Mario Party 9 is different, does not necessarily mean that it’s a bad game overall.
So, armed with nothing more than a decade and a half’s worth of Mario Party experience and a knack for talking about video games in general, I will argue a case in favour of Mario Party 9, following which you may proceed to agree, disagree, or threaten me. Whichever floats your boat, really. Let’s a-go!
So, in Mario Party 1-8, the games always followed the same Party Mode formula. Each player would hit a dice block, move around the board, use various power-ups to help themselves or hinder opponents, and collect coins. Once every player finished moving, a minigame would start up, and the winner of the minigame (assuming it’s a free-for-all type minigame; I won’t get into the multitude of different game types), receives even more coins. Coins are then used to buy Stars that are encountered on the board, and whoever has the most Stars by the end of the game is the winner.
Mario Party 9, however, decided to completely rework the Party Mode, and I mean completely rework it. Now, instead of a typical game-board type map, each board took the form of a singular path with determined start and end points. You also no longer moved as individuals, but instead you all occupied one large vehicle, and took turns being the “leader.” Whatever happened during that turn only had an effect on the leader. The Stars were gone, and were instead replaced by Mini-Stars that were picked up by the leader as your group progressed along the map-turned-trail. Unlike Stars, Mini-Stars could be collected free of charge. Finally, a mini-game would not start up after every player had a turn, but would only appear if specific spaces were activated.
Now, before I continue on, we should determine what the Mario Party series is all about. The best answer I can come up with is “fucking each other over.” No matter who you’re playing with, what version you’re playing, or what have you, each game eventually turns into a gauntlet of stepping on one another for your own gain, knowing good and well that no one can do anything about it. It sounds a lot like Black Friday, come to think of it.
So we’ve established that the fundamental inclusion of the Mario Party series is stepping on the hopes and dreams of your fellow players in order to rise to the top. All that’s left is asking ourselves if Mario Party 9 brings us this.
My answer to that would be “yes, but in a vastly different way.”
A common complaint I hear for Mario Party 9 is that every player moves together as one which, on its own, is a very iffy concept. What I find is often overlooked, however, is the various ways that this move-together concept does not lose the screw-each-other-over essence of Mario Party.
The most notable and important of these is the “leader” gimmick. When it’s your turn to move the vehicle, pretty much everything that happens will affect you and no one else. This makes for a tense double-edged sword kind of game.
For example, you need to be the leader to pick up the Mini-Stars in order to win the game, but at the same time, you’re also at risk of losing Mini-Stars if you run into Mini-Ztars while you’re leading the vehicle. You want to be the leader for all the positive things that happen, but you also have to keep in mind that negative things are just as likely to happen.
The good and bad places to be the leader on the boards are extremely obvious to the players, meaning you’ll know when you don’t want to be the leader in certain areas of the board. This is where another interesting mechanic comes into play: the special dice blocks. While it’s common in previous installments to have power-ups in the game that allow you to roll multiple dice blocks, this game has an item roster entirely made up of special dice blocks. They allow you to role a dice block that moves slowly if you need a specific number between one and six, a special 1-10 dice block if you want to take your chances, a 4-6 dice block to ensure progress, a 1-3 dice block to ensure minimal progress, and even a 0-1 dice block if you would benefit the most from holding still.
These are essentially the tools that are used to go about the ever-present screwing-each-other-over aspect of the Mario Party series. For example, if you start your turn and immediately see Mini-Ztars on the space in front of you, and are also equipped with a 0-1 dice block, you would role it in hopes of getting a zero, allowing you to end your turn without moving forward, and the person who becomes the leader next would have to receive the Mini-Ztars (assuming they don’t have a 0-1 dice block).
Conversely, if your vehicle is being chased by a Boo on the Mansion-themed board (who steals Mini-Stars from the leader if caught), you obviously don’t want to be the leader if you get caught, so it would be wise to opt for either a 4-6 dice block to ensure you move a substantial distance. You could also try a 1-10 dice block if you feel confident enough that you'll roll a high number (assuming you’ve acquired both of these. I suppose now would be a good time to mention that the dice blocks are like items and disappear when used).
After moving the presumed large number of spaces, the Boo would then hit its own dice block to chase you and, assuming your hypothetical large number outmatched that of the Boo, the next player would then become the leader and you won’t be at risk for being caught by the Boo for another while. One of my fonder memories of Mario Party 9 is using a 0-1 dice block when the Boo is well out of range to try and hold still, knowing the Boo wouldn’t catch me, and pass the baton over to the next player who is then in much more danger of being caught. Tee hee!
Another interesting example is the gimmick in the Bob-omb Factory stage. When passing by certain parts of the board, a Bob-omb sporting a number will fall on the vehicle. This number corresponds to the number of spaces the vehicle can move before the Bob-omb explodes, and if you’re the leader when it explodes, you lose half of your Mini-Stars. Once again, you’ll have to use the special dice blocks to try and roll the right numbers as a means of not being the poor sucker that gets caught moving when the Bob-omb just needs a single twitch of the car to go off.
So, my argument remains that Mario Party 9 is not a bad game, it’s simply a brand-new take on the screw-each-other-over trope. It’s kind of like comparing Sorry! to Pop-Up Pirate (if those games had a points system); you still progress in the game at the expense of others, but where Sorry! (Mario Party 1-8) is a constant free-for-all where your move often benefits you and promises progress, Pop-Up Pirate (Mario Party 9) has an element of a “hot-seat,” where your turn could be the one that ultimately spells your doom, and having all your friends take up the sword slots (beneficial board spaces) certainly doesn’t help.
All that said, I’ll give the haters a bit of credit. The lack of assured mini-games is kind of a bummer, as they’re as much of a staple in the series as the competitiveness. I in particular greatly enjoy the astronomical amount of variety that they encourage for the common Mario Party-er’s skill set (which is an article for another day), and so I do prefer the old installments over their more recent counterpart.
But, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I hope you will see it my way. For my client, Mario Party 9, certainly does not deserve all the hate he gets.