Mario Party

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Mario Party (1998)

Adding Mario to anything at all seems to make its marketability increase tenfold, and that’s not just limited to games. We have seen this phenomenon with Mario Golf, Mario Tennis, Mario Kart, Mario Teaches Typing, Mario Chemistry, Mario Forensics and Mario Quantity Surveying, but Mario Party was an odd one: a turn-based board game featuring Mario characters, with each turn ending in one of 50 minigames, which really made up the bulk of the game? How can this work?

I know I may be a bit differently abled, but it sounded excellent to me, and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. More proof of the brainwashing capabilities of Nintendo and their plumber. But what I did play was a revelation, at the time.

I suppose this was because the only board games we had in our house when I was a kid were Scrabble and Monopoly. And neither of these saw much play as soon as I began outclassing my semi-literate beloved family in Scrabble, and as soon as my parents found out that I, like the ravenous child I always was, had eaten most of Monopoly’s houses and hotels.

Monopoly. Something else, isn’t it? Whenever I suggest a rousing game of Monopoly, people immediately throw their arms up or roar obscenities or run off the nearest cliff in frustration. “It takes way too long and nothing ever happens!” they cry.

Well, that’s because they try to impose their own house rules onto it, Free Parking money and no auctions and so forth – listen, you simply can’t indulge in this kind of economic freedom when high-level capitalism is shoving its polished boot down your breadlined throat.

Play the game properly, and you’ll find that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer extremely quickly, with the down-and-outers being absolutely eviscerated by those who control property, finance, means and the channels of production. Meanwhile the poor cry about it being terribly unfair and say they’ll never play the game again. Sounds great to me.

And what about Snakes and Ladders? Do the young five-year-old kids still play a bit of that in school? If ever a game was set up to show you the rotten unfairness of life, it’s Snakes and Ladders. It’s a perfect microcosm for life really: just when you think all is going good, you get a crashing bit of bad luck. Worse than that, the little toerag you’re playing against rolls that perfect 4 to victory, while you’re left on square 83, coming to that terrible realisation that this is all life is going to offer you. And at such a tender age as well.

So these seem to be the trademarks of the most well-known board games, then: terribly unfair, designed to make you cry, pretty much luck based when all is said and done, and leaves only one player happy while the rest are red-faced and shouting, causing a scene – or worse, trying not to let their obvious anger shine through as they fake-smile at the winner with tears forming in their eyes. And, taking all of these awful aspects of board gaming fully into account, Hudson Soft and Nintendo decided to channel all of these awful feelings and create a spiteful friendship-killer disguised as a colourful bit of Mario whimsy.

Let me explain Mario Party’s premise a little further: after picking your preferred board and one of the six characters, you take turns in hitting a Dice Block (with 10 numbers rather than 6). You earn coins for landing on certain spaces and winning minigames. With these coins and through other means you hope to buy Stars. Whoever finishes up with the most Stars after a set number of turns wins, and becomes the Superstar! Yeah!

But, and here is where Mario Party’s reputation as a friendship destroyer comes in, it’s not always plain sailing. You will grind your teeth, slap your knees and shake your head with a spiteful and harsh laugh as the wicked Bowser pops up on occasion and robs your Stars to donate to another opponent. Games change quickly in Mario Party, and I am sure that the mutinous AI are no-good cheaters in this regard. Prepare for immense frustration, a mauling at the hands of the Random Number God.

If playing against a friend, or even three if you’re somehow that popular, then prepare for one person to be defecated on by another – through no fault of either.What happens next is usually a couple of players preparing themselves to have their heads given a glancing blow by a three-pronged controller (they hurt, believe you me) followed by a storming out and long periods of no talking. Mario Party is just that much of a wind-up merchant. In fact, I would state that there is no better way to exorcise people from life than by playing this game with them. Which is saying something considering the sordid stuff that goes on between friends on Jeremy Kyle and programmes like that.

I also must mention one of my favourite parts of the game, the Minigame Island. Almost all of the 50+ minigames in Mario Party are really good fun; they’re all varied, simple and last a minute or less in most cases. The Minigame Island presents you and a partner with a sort of SMB3/SMW-esque overworld where you get to the end by beating all of the Minigames, with a lives system and everything. I lapped it up.

That is, until I found a crafty way of beating those evil minigames that required you to spin the fiendishly stiff N64 Control Stick quickly: instead of leaving it to my puny thumbs to do the work, I felt it better to use the palm of my hand, given that my hand would be able to go in circles quicker and more freely. This was when I was 8 and 9 and therefore before masturbation was invented, just so we’re clear.

Yes, I ended up tearing a massive blister into my palm when trying to beat the superhuman AI at Bowser Tug o’ War minigames. And yes, it hurt like bloody crazy. A blister or a burn or something, I don’t know, but it wasn’t pretty. As might have been anticipated, it wasn’t only me that tried using palms to rotate the stick: enough unfortunate gamers did it and complained about it to necessitate Nintendo having to give out free gloves to players in order to avoid nightmare court cases. And I don’t think it was particularly cheap for them either. Dear, oh dear.

To this day, with Mario Party 10 out, I understand that minigames requiring control stick rotation, even on the far more pleasant, not-made-of-dead-skin GameCube, Wii and Wii U analogue sticks, have been used sparingly or not at all. This is the reason Mario Party 1 never made it to the Wii Virtual Console, whereas Mario Party 2 did.

I am a little disappointed that I only found out about these gloves in the days of Wikipedia. After all, it’s a collectible, and it’s something to wear that’ll fit effortlessly into my dire wardrobe? What a deal! I wonder would Nintendo believe my story today and furnish me with an old pair from their warehouse…?

No, on second thought, pain is good. Pain makes the man. But did that blister and the overall frustration of Mario Party 1 (the AI are the devil’s spawn, and just wait until you play Chance Time) cause me to skip out on buying any subsequent Mario Party games? It’s possible, you know. But they now represent big gaps in my collection. So with 9 more mainline games across 3 consoles left to buy, I shall have to get around to getting them soon. And beating them and writing up rubbish about them as well. A retro gamer’s work is never done, eh?

16 February 2018

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