Will it ever end? Apparently not. The Mario Party games are still proving hugely popular with vast numbers of GameCube owners, judging by the amount of copies shifted - and the fact that we're now faced with a seventh instalment in the series.
But let's resist the temptation to slag off Nintendo for churning out more of the same old stuff. Instead, let's slag them off for churning out more of the same old stuff without bothering to fix any of the infuriating problems which the previous six games - SIX, mark you - suffer from.
Mario Party 7 is utterly the same as Mario Party 1, and 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6, except it comes bundled with a microphone. Oh, hang on a minute, Mario Party 6 came with a microphone, too.
So, Mario Party 7 is utterly the same as etc., except, er, it's set on a cruise ship. Yes, just the kind of creative innovation we've come to expect from the people who gave us a handheld that lets you play brilliant games with a plastic stick and are planning to give us a console that lets you play games with a crazy remote control thing that looks like it was invented in space by some kind of doctor of The Future. Well done. [Er, well, er. She only means about half of this, readers. I hope. - Ed]
Right, back to the cruise ship. So, Mario and all his chums are going on this cruise, only they haven't invited Bowser, presumably because he is a miserable old tosser who will only end up trying to kidnap Jane MacDonald and imprison her in a big castle or something.
Bowser isn't very happy about this, though frankly we can only assume that's because he has failed to realise that making your way around endless bloody game boards when all you want to do is PLAY AN ACTUAL GAME is in no way any more fun if you're on board a stupid boat.
That's the major problem with Mario Party 7, as indeed with all the Mario Party games. There's no fast-paced pick-up-and-play fun here, oh no - instead, you have to make your way round stupid game boards, watching and waiting while everyone else rolls the dice, makes their move, picks up some extra coins, visits the stupid "orb shop" etc. etc., whilst begging, PRAYING for someone to land on a square that actually launches a mini-game.
That said, the mini-games themselves are fun, and there are plenty to choose from - more than 80 in total. Although some of these are rather similar to other games featured both in this Mario Party title and previous instalments, there's still enough enjoyable stuff to be going on with.
None of the mini-games are particularly complicated - don't expect to be tasked with using more than one button and the analog stick in any of them - but this is a party game, and such simplicity is a welcome bonus for the young or drunk.
About a dozen of the games require you to use the microphone, but just as with Mario Party 6, there's a frustrating amount of inconsistency when it comes to your commands being recognised. Plus, in many of the mic games there seems to be an irritating delay between you speaking and the game responding, rubbishly.
Too many of the mini-games are turn-based, and they're all over far too quickly. Which means you spend longer trying to make your way around the game board than bashing buttons, and most of your time feeling like you might as well give up and get the Star Wars Monopoly out (Ep II for preference).
There is a way round this, though - you can forget the game boards entirely if you select the Mini-Game Cruise mode. Except there's only a tiny selection of games to choose from when the game begins; you'll need to make your way through all five Solo Mode boards to unlock the rest. If there's one thing more tedious than watching your friends make their way around a game board, it's watching fictional characters do it, which makes Solo Mode an utter chore to play through.
But let's get back to the game's "new features," such as Bowser Time. As you make your way around the game boards, Bowser gets crosser and crosser, and a gauge shaped likes his big fat face fills up. Once it's full, Bowser Time kicks off, which means he goes round nicking coins, stealing stars and generally messing everyone about.
This, and let's be clear here, is NOT ANY GOOD AT ALL. It is neither fun nor challenging; it's just another thing that makes you want to throw your GameCube in the bin and lie sobbing in a darkened room until the Revolution gets here. Not to mention the Bowser spaces on the board - land on these and you're forced to play a special mini-game. Hurrah, you might think, at least we're playing a game, but wait - if you lose, you'll also lose coins or stars. If you win, you get nothing. Rubbish.
Share and share alike
The other new feature (singular) is the option to play games with up to eight other opponents. To do this, you'll need to share controllers, with each player using a stick and shoulder button on either side of the joypad. This system works well enough, but seeing as there are only a dozen or so eight-player mini-games to choose from the fun doesn't last for too long.
So, to sum up, Mario Party 7 introduces two new features to the series - Bowser Time (tedious) and eight-player games (moderately entertaining. For a bit). Mario Party 7 also sees the return of the utterly tiresome game board system, for reasons we completely fail to understand.
If you own any of the other games in the series, you don't need this one. If you're not a Mario Party fan, there is no chance that this game is going to change your mind. It's such a shame that Nintendo - the creator of Mario Kart, which is arguably the most fun you can have with platonic friends - just can't seem to sort Mario Party's problems out, even for the seventh instalment in the series. Roll on number eight, eh...