For a long time after the first “Mario Party” was released for the Nintendo 64 in 1998, there was a new one every year or two.
The eighth game in the series was released in 2007, so it has been an unusually long time between “Mario Party” installments. But that’s probably a good thing — the series was starting to feel a bit worn after so many so quickly.
“Mario Party 9” freshens the formula, streamlines the action and keeps things moving forward at a good clip. The main mode is set up like a virtual board game, with up to four human (or computer-controlled) characters rolling dice to travel from space to space, with a variety of effects depending on where they land.
This has been a mainstay of the series, but in the past each character traveled alone, like a piece on a “Monopoly” board. In “Mario Party 9” the players travel in a vehicle as a group, taking turns rolling the die to move forward, with the current player gaining the rewards or bearing the penalties of each turn for the most part.
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This collective movement eliminates the need for special items that interfere with other players, as the older games often included, with the dual effect of making the game play faster and friendlier, as you aren’t trying to “get” the other players to impede their progress or steal their coins and stars.
The overall goal is to collect the most Mini Stars— the player with the most after the end of the board is reached and bonuses factored in is the winner. The spaces have a wide range of effects. Some grant (or take away) Mini Stars. Many send some or all of the players into a mini-game, which may be competitive or cooperative and based on greater amounts of luck or skill, with the winner or MVP rewarded the most Mini Stars.
Some propel you into a contest hosted by the villain Bowser or his bratty kid, Bowser Jr., who both may try to take Mini Stars away from players, or to redistribute them. And some trigger special events unique to each of the game’s boards, which range in theme from shoreline to haunted house to grassland, among others.
Aside from the primary mode, you can play a solo mode where you travel through each of the game’s boards in sequence, with a light story about Bowser and son stealing the Mini Stars tying it all together; select and play the mini-game of your choice (mostly; some are locked initially) for fun or practice; or participate in a few extra mini-games included in a separate menu.
The dozens of mini-games range from entertaining to uninspiring, but there are quite a few fun ones. Some games will be easier for certain players, and some harder, but pretty much everyone should be able to have fun with the majority of what’s offered.