Middle Aged Gamer's Collection #6

davyK's picture

#6 Mario Party 7 (GameCube).

My Wii was out of commission this week. I had to send it back to Nintendo's UK repair shop - it was starting to reject discs - even new games. Its over 3 years old so I had to pay £28 to get it fixed. Nintendo send you a posting label but I guess the repair cost covers the postage. You can follow the progress of the job on a website using a supplied repair number and password. Its all quite slick and it took just over a week which isn't bad considering the Irish Sea and May Day bank holiday had to be negotiated.

There was a strong urge to get the GameCube set up in the Wii's absence. The kids wanted to have a blast at Mario Party and Mario Baseball. I know we can play these on the Wii but for some reason there was a call to play these while the Wii "was away". I let the kids pick which version of Party they wanted (we currently have all the GameCube releases (nos 4-7) and also the first 2 N64 games).

The Mario Party series attracts a great deal of criticism from reviewers but the fact remains that (a) they are a great family game and (b) they seem to sell by the shedload. Nintendo being Nintendo will happily let Hudson churn these out and take their cut. It's all too easy to turn a cynical eye to the series which admittedly has only seen small changes to the basic formula over the years, but personally I really like the series and am actively seeking out version 3 for the N64 which is quite expensive in the PAL region - especially complete. Amazon UK have copies of Mario Party 3 for sale in excess of £100 and there's a sealed copy on eBay UK at the time of writing with a buy-it-now price of £350.

For the uninitiated, Mario Party is set around a board game idea. Four players represented by characters from the Mario universe (the CPU always makes up the number of contestants to 4) roll dice and move around themed boards gathering coins and buying stars - the winner being the one who has the most stars after a selected number of rounds. Each round sees all 4 players take turns to throw dice and move on the board - which may set off events and associated consequences. Then all players take part in a mini-game which can be 2 vs 2, 3 vs 1 or 4 player battle selected at random. Mini-games reward the winner(s) with coins. There are quite a few events that can happen during the dice rolling phase which may result in mini-games too. There are a lot of mini-games in each title - some are skill-based, some are pure luck - but most of them are enjoyable enough. Even the weaker ones are made bearable by the fact that the random selection ensures they won't have to be played too often.

The main annoyance gameplayers have with the Mario Party series is that the board game phase can be slow (some versions are worse than others). Animations cannot be skipped and there are plentiful text boxes to mash past. Playing with less than 3 players can be a bit of a bind too as you do have to watch the CPU characters take their turn too (and even play mini-games on their own if a certain event on the game board takes place!!). For mainstream gamers this is probably too much to bear, but if you approach it with the right frame of mind you can have a good laugh - provided there are 3 or 4 of you playing. Depending on the number of rounds you pick a game can last a hour or two - but you can save after each round and continue at a later date so it isn't a major issue.

The game can throw some interesting choices at you - board game events sometimes force you have to pick who to steal stars or coins from. In a family setting this can throw up interesting dilemmas - especially if there are no CPU players to pick on. Alliances are formed and broken pretty quickly in this game.

Once mini-games are played in the main board game (or "party") mode they are unlocked and can then be played in a special mini-game mode which dispenses with the board game and lets you just play the mini-games in tournament style modes. Each version of Mario Party gives you several different ways of doing this and they are a nice and quicker alternative to the main party mode.

Playing the mini-games in the raw removes a great amount of the luck inherent in the board game mode and depending on who you are playing with this can be a good or bad thing. The board game modes are great levelers and kids have a better chance to win. Some of the boards do offer some opportunities for limited tactical thinking, but the dice rolling mechanic ensures it doesn't become too strategic for a family game. You can get incredible runs of good or bad luck that can reverse fortunes considerably and you have to show a healthy sense of humour. That's easier to do with human players - its far more frustrating and annoying with CPU opponents.

With each iteration of Mario Party, Hudson Soft threw in extra modes (in some cases little gems like 4 player ice-hockey and basketball games for example) that add some extra value. There's lots to unlock and there's some sort of credit system (each version is slightly different) that lets you spend your credits in a shop mode. Credits are in the main earned in the party mode or solo modes. The solo or story mode is the series' weakest mode - but some versions actually provide a decent game by managing to remove the need for 2 or 3 CPU opponents which slow the whole thing down.

Version 7 was the last to appear on the GameCube. Appearing late in the GCs life means the developers were pretty comfortable with the hardware and it shows - its all pretty smooth and like most GC games there are no noticeable load times. Presentation is slick and maybe even over-done - but its all part of the charm of these games if you buy into it. It was also the 2nd version to feature the microphone - a small number of games require use of a supplied microphone controller. The games are just OK - you can switch them off or select an option that uses the controller instead. The mic works pretty well and adds some variety to proceedings. The games are fun if you don't take things too seriously. The mic control plugs in the 2nd memory card slot on the front of the console and it seems to work accurately in my experience. It seems to handle the Northern Ireland accent quite well which is more than can be said for some humans I have met.

With this being a later addition to the series there are loads of features and ways to lose and gain stars and coins - but its never too complex. As in the norm with the series you have a selection of several boards to choose from and the first one in, as in any Mario Party game, serves as a good introduction to the series for first-timers. There are a couple of boards to unlock which is a Mario Party standard too.

The graphics are pretty good - the visuals are bright, colourful and whimsical which again can put people off. The music is in the same ballpark too. We had good fun playing this and that's not surprising - we usually do have a good time with Mario Party. The youngest child gets a bit annoyed with it but she gets annoyed with traditional board games too if she doesn't win.

These games are perfect for the middle-aged gamer with kids and limited time. The fact that you can save after each turn means a game can be played over a series of evenings and the board game format means it doesn't matter if its weeks before you return to it - provided you can remember who was playing which character. The games also support a drop out and join in type of play - pause the game and you can make any player be CPU or human controlled - meaning a game isn't necessarily spoiled if someone drops out as they can join in at a later date.