Mario Party 8. Eight Mario parties! That's a lot of cake, streamers and mini sausage rolls over the years, and that's with fudging the numbers; there was also the poorly received Mario Party Advance, plus an e-Reader card game and an arcade installment that were never released here. With that in mind, the first Mario Party to hit the Wii had better do something pretty special to make it worthwhile if you've already purchased one already - especially considering you probably already own about 5 mini-game collections for the Wii, anyway.
So, what wonderful special something could Mario Party 8 do to make it different from its predecessors? Well, there's the Wii Remote, that's a given. Waving it in the air is always fun - well, as long as something corresponding is happening on screen. And there's the Miis! Of course! This could be the first Mario Party title to let you use your Miis to play the boards and the mini-games! That would be great!
That would be great, if it wasn't one of the most obvious missed opportunities in Hudson Soft's long list of missed opportunities with Mario Party 8. While you can play with your Miis in Mario Party 8, they're limited to eight games found in the "extras tent", a terribly threadbare little section of the game. Four of the games on offer are locked to begin with, and two of the games you'll have already played, because one's just table tennis and the other is bowling. In a clattering display of shamelessness, they work exactly the same as bowling and tennis in Wii Sports, rendering them entirely pointless. The rest of the games fare little better, as forgettable little puzzle games and racers.
Hudson Soft must be staffed with literally the laziest developers of all time. For example, unlike the shocking number of Wii games which don't bother to include widescreen modes, Mario Party 8 should have one, right?
It should, yeah. And it does! Except that when you're actually playing a board, a mini-game, or pretty much doing anything, there are massive borders at the sides of the screen, keeping all of the action in a nice, boring 4:3 ratio. It's completely astonishing. Why on earth would they do that?
Perhaps it's because it meant they wouldn't have to do anything hard, like correct the aspect ratio on graphics they've just recycled from the previous versions?
If you've never played a Mario Party game, though, it's probably time I explain the concept. Mario Party 8 is a board game in which up to four players take turns rolling dice and moving around a board, with the aim of collecting the most stars before the end of the game. Stars are (usually) placed in plain sight on the board and occasionally have to be purchased with coins collected either on the board or in mini-games. Players can also purchase "candy" which allow them to either gain an advantage (such as rolling more dice) or disadvantage other players (such as destroying their coins.)
And that's about it. Broken down to their components, the core Mario Party board game rules are barely more complicated than Snakes and Ladders, and exactly as boring and random. So that's where the mini-games could come in, to add that precious element of skill.
They could, if it wasn't for the fact they were very often as boring and random as the board game component. The Wii Remote controls in most games feel, at best, tacked-on and at worst, unreliable and useless. A clock-winding mini-game manages to not only be the most boring idea for a mini-game ever but also almost completely impossible to control, as one example, but other mini-games make acceptable, if familiar, use of the Wii Remote: pump it in the air to shake up a can of fizzy-pop, aim with it to shoot targets, etc. A surprisingly large portion of the mini-games are so lazily conceived they actually just use the Wii Remote as if it was an NES pad. They are more fun than many of the other mini-games, admittedly.
To Hudson Soft's merit, however, they have managed to make at least a few of the six different boards on offer a little bit more interesting than Snakes and Ladders. "Shy Guy's Perplex Express" is set on a train with constantly shifting cars, and "Koopa's Tycoon Town" allows players to buy (and steal) hotels to gain stars rather than simply collecting them. These ideas have been used in previous Mario Party titles, but they still pep up a very weak premise, and most of the boards are full of nice little graphical touches and things to spot in the background.
At least if you've never played a Mario Party game before, then, this would be like a fairly decent title to start with, particularly if you're planning on playing with three friends.
It would, but Hudson Soft have crippled any interest anyone could have in playing the game by making sure nearly every single animation is unskippable - and some of them go on a long time. Eating a candy? Takes forever. You could probably finish off a Kit Kat Chunky yourself in the time it takes. After a few games, any friends, no matter how close, are going to be utterly sick of waiting for animations to finish.
It's even worse if you plan playing the game alone in single-player mode, which is so utterly wretched it scarcely warrants discussion. To add insult to injury, you have to go through it twice to unlock the mere two extra characters. Urgh.
Mario Party 8 is a "would have, should have, could have" kind of game. With such an depressingly long list of wasted possibilities, and so many other mini-game collections available for Nintendo Wii (The excellent Rayman Raving Rabbids, for one) It would be wrong of me to say you should pick this up. Fun could be had here, but even with the most forgiving group of friends, it's going to be short-lived.