Version tested: GameCube
Yes, they've gone and done another one. And as you could probably guess without us telling you, Mario Party 6 features yet more-mini games starring the plucky plumber and chums, with more coins to earn, more power-ups to collect and more game boards to make your way around.
So what's new? Well, for starters, the game has a day and night theme and features two new characters - Brighton the sun and Twila the moon - who've had some massive fight about who's the hardest.
The ever-resourceful Mario comes up with the brilliant idea of taking all the stars out of the sky, littering a load of game boards with them and then playing through a series of contests to win back the stars and thus, for reasons we don't quite understand, ending the feud.
The point is that the boards are now affected by time shifts, from day to night and back again, every few rounds. These can result in blocked paths or open up new shortcuts on the board, adding another dimension to the game. But not a very exciting one.
Game boards also feature new power-ups in the form of special orbs, which are useful in a variety of ways - you can slow the speed at which the dice rolls, for example, or reduce the amount of different numbers on its faces. Others are rather nastier, such as the one which gives you the power to essentially mug your opponents for their coins and orbs.
But the big twist for Mario Party 6 comes tucked inside the box in the form of a Nintendo Gamecube Microphone, which you can use to play a variety of voice-controlled games.
Now, let's be fair - you can't blame Nintendo for trying to do something new here. (Though it could be said that you really ought to try to do something new whenever you're developing a game with the number 6 in the title, so let's not get too grateful.)
What you can blame them for, unfortunately, is for thinking that chucking in a single peripheral which doesn't even work consistently and adding a few rather dull mini-games to play it with is enough to justify a sixth instalment in an already tired series.
Let's look at some of these mini-games, starting with Speak Up. It pits you and up to three friends against each other in a rather lame quiz show, where questions are divided into categories such as Picture, Memory and Counting. You take in turns to answer questions against the clock, and score points for the number of seconds you have left over.
It's not a terrible idea, but it's terribly executed. The mic just doesn't seem to recognise what you're saying half the time - even when you're speaking in a perfectly clear and normal voice, i.e. before you inevitably start getting so frustrated you just start shouting swearwords at the screen.
So, you have to repeat your answer again and again and wait for the game to work out what you're saying - and then, at the end of each player's turn, you have to sit through a tiresome "Well done! You scored X points! You are ahead of X!" sequence. Argh.
If you get fed up of Speak Up, which you will and quickly, you can always have a go at one of the other games, such as Star Sprint, instead. This involves directing your character along a race course, telling him or her to "run" along the track, "jump" over gaps, "move up" or "move down" to avoid obstacles and so on.
Again, the microphone just isn't really up to the task here, failing to recognise about 30 per cent of your commands, and even when the message seems to go in the game takes far too long to respond - meaning you'll need to issue that "jump" command way in advance for it to have any chance of being executed.
It's frustrating, tedious and ultimately pointless - within a few minutes of playing, we found ourselves thinking the whole thing would be a lot more enjoyable if we could control our character with the bloody joypad.
(After that we did discover that by replacing the first letter of "run" with something else and sticking another letter on the end we could use a similar-sounding swearword to the same effect, which was infinitely more satisfying. But then the neighbours complained, so that was that.)
The good news is that you can switch the mic mini-games off to avoid coming across them in other modes. This does suggest even the developers knew they were fundamentally tiresome, but at least you're left with the more enjoyable joypad-controlled offerings.
There are more than 75 this time, and though they're "all-new", the basic gameplay mechanics will be familiar to anyone who's played an MP game before. Stage Fright sees you on a platform dodging multi-coloured blobs lobbed by your opponents, Granite Getaway involves running away from a Raiders of the Lost Ark-style rolling boulder, Snow Brawl is all about decking your enemies with snowballs and so on and so forth.
Most of the games are good fun, but none of them are so good that you just can't wait to have another go. Too many involve a healthy amount of luck versus a small amount of skill, and they're generally just not inventive or imaginative enough. And, unlike the mini-games in, say, Wario Ware, they certainly never make you laugh - in fact, with such hi-larious names as Something Amist, Pitifall and Trap Ease Artist, quite the opposite.
Other examples of unbearable tweeness include the nauseating pastel graphics and the way the in-game text likes to drop letters and replace them with apostrophes wherever possible - small things, maybe, but over time they all add up. Indeed, we found that the game's overbearin' cuteness becomes so irritatin' an' annoyin' that we just wanted to go punchin' the developers till they were all cryin' an' screamin' an' bleedin' from the eyes. And we really like Nintendogs.
Another problem is that, once again, there's too much waiting time while characters journey around the game board. The time it takes for everyone to roll the dice, move the appropriate number of spaces, collect any power-ups and deal with any associated effects is about as long as the time it takes to play each mini-game - and in some cases longer. Not good.
Helpfully, it is possible to do away with the game boards altogether by opting for Mini-Game Mode. But not so helpfully, you can only choose mini-games you've already earned in Party or Solo Modes, so if you want a decent selection you'll have to go through the whole chore anyway.
Speaking of Solo Mode - actually, let's not bother, since it's highly unlikely anyone would buy this game with a view to spending a quiet night in alone. Suffice it to say that Brighton's statement in the opening sequence - "Welcome to the always-exciting Solo Mode!" - contains a big fat lie.
All in all, if Mario Party 6 was a real party, it'd be one of those parties where there's nothing to drink but warm Heineken and no one to talk to but people who are having trouble with their boiler and students who've just spent three months in Thailand and want to tell you all about how they got dysentery in Chiang Mai, while a Savage Garden fan hangs round the stereo all night glaring at anyone who tries to suggest an alternative.
And so, if we were you, we'd decline the invitation. If you've already got a Mario Party title, the addition of a microphone isn't enough to warrant buying this one. Even if you haven't, don't bother - Mario Party 6 offers too much tedium and not nearly enough fun, mic or no mic.
4 / 10