So it may cost you a phone – who cares? Toga! Toga!

Mario Party 4 (2002) NOTX

I spend most of my time trying to be superior, the best out there at everything, especially the petty things. I was looking down at the missus’s phone, for example, and I was surprised to learn that there was a screen there, underneath the spider’s web of cracks and severe chunks that had been blown clean out of the protective glass. “Ah, I just keep dropping it,” she says offhandedly.

Now, this came at great risk to my testicular health. But here I had the chance to be superior and lord it over her about two things – firstly, I have never shattered my phone screen, because I’m so great and all that. I’ve even dropped my phones a few dozen times on hard floors over the years, and that’s without any of those cases you see the boomers using. I don’t need a case either, I just don’t bother dropping my phone so much, and it’s fine as a result.

Secondly, I was also quite tempted to point out that this carelessness of her phones warranted more than a throwaway comment from her. She’s dropped phones, true, and she kept on dropping them. But she has also lost them, had them stolen, spilled litres of liquid on them. I reckon she’s even short-circuited one once, or magnetised it.

Now I’m sorry, but I have to be blunt and say that I’ve never inflicted such wanton disregard and destruction on my mobile phones. How could I? It’s your most important possession these days, or rather the one most capable of compromising you. Can you imagine losing your phone and some oik picking it up and going through your search history? Then sending it all to your mother on WhatsApp, while offering to fight your father. How do you even get over a social breach like that?

Of course, I’ve had phones stop working on me. It’s all about that planned obsolescence, turning phones to mush after just a few years of use. What?! How do we let those geeks away with it? I wouldn’t be very happy if my decades-old GameCube decided it’d gotten to retirement age and ceased to function.

There’s an old black & white portable telly in my parents’ house that still works and is watchable. You wouldn’t want to use it, of course, but at least it’s not complete junk, buried under a murky sea of unupdateable software, if I can hit you with such a word. And what about those classic cars? They probably give you aggro every Sunday on your drive, but that’s alright, it’s not like the car loses all its speed nor does the battery start telling you lies about how much charge it had left.

As I rained these argumentative blows down upon her, she smirked and hit me with her emasculating counter: “what about when your lost your old phone?” Here, I suspected she wasn’t referring to my most recent phone, which stopped working in the cold – I’m not joking, I’d have to incubate the phone in my hands, otherwise it’d start flashing at me like the clipped hiss of a cat, or a brief flicker of flames from a dragon’s snout.

No, she was talking about my beloved old Sony XperiaPlay, part phone and part game console hybrid, a brilliant little thing. Why haven’t they brought out a newer version of that piece of joy? Nowadays if you want to do some mobile gaming, if you really were that bored, you’re stuck giving yourself thumb arthritis on Mario Kart Tour and Candy Crush. The XperiaPlay, however, was a Rolls-Royce of a mobile gaming machine.

Anyway, to my eternal shame, I dropped that beautiful phone right down the toilet. Yes, I had drink taken, but that actually wasn’t the direct cause – alcohol just gives me even more of a death grip on my mobile – but it happened to me because I was at a toga party. How wacky and random is that? You wouldn’t have known I was in my twenties.

To prepare for this party, I had to buy a large bedsheet and then wrap it around my generous frame in some makeshift fashion. That, I had been told, would make me a true Roman toga-ist. I’d been in trouble before for flashing people at parties, and I was on my last warning there, so it was important that I got the wear right.

But you know, for all the splendours of their civilisation that we kept hearing about in school, the Romans never did manage to invent pockets. So, as I bent over to inspect my urine after a slash (what, don’t you?), the phone I had poking out of my toga’s sash succumbed to gravity, you could say, and went right into the bowl.

And do you know what I did, without hesitation? Yes, I plunged my hand straight down there to retrieve my most prized possession. So not only was I phoneless, but now I’d a pissy hand as well, and even a lunchbox full of rice could no longer save my phone. Believe me, we tried.

Party ruined, then? Certainly not, how do you wreck a toga party? I suppose a heart attack or an earthquake or a Cloverfield could do it. Or it could feature Mario Party, a game which usually tends to leave at least one person weeping and gnashing their teeth – although that’s pretty much how all of my parties end, with a hefty dose of gurning added.

We’ve gotten up to Mario Party 4 on GameCube now, which itself is the first of four instalments on the purple cuboid. Possibly in an attempt to shut me up, her indoors told me she wanted a go of an old Mario Party game. I suspect she was just bewildered and enticed by the bizarre GameCube controller, but what was the harm?

We didn’t play against each other, though. Luckily we were able to team up and take on some AIs together, and yes I know that’s far too happy-clappy and not strictly speaking the true eye-poppingly infuriating Mario Party experience. This means I’ve not really done my homework here for this piece, but be reasonable –  I need a roof over my head, and I’m already on my last warning for flashing the neighbours as well.

So it’s Mario Party for the new generation, although it’s had a fair few sequels since. We’ve got GameCube graphics now, which is a lot better than witnessing the polygonal messes that were Yoshi and DK on the N64 titles – I believe they were boaked into that same toilet I fell foul of at that toga party. And by nature of being on GameCube, you’ve got a far nicer analogue stick to play minigames with, no blistered psalm here.

The minigames in this game, for what they are, are mostly decent. There’s a few stinkers on the list, and I should have liked a few more 4-player games. I suppose it’s all random, but the game definitely seems to have a habit of picking the same certain minigames over and over again, or it even seems to avoid those you haven’t played before.

The AI is sort of bipolar as well – sometimes they’re useless at the minigames and capitulate within seconds, other times they spank you off the map without effort, and this all happens completely regardless of your chosen difficulty level.

They certainly won’t hesitate to steal your Stars and Coins, although who knows if they’ll ever get in that position – the maps in Mario Party 4 can sometimes leave you completely stranded, almost excluded from the game. I’ve had games that ended as a contest after about 15 turns simply because none of us could get anywhere relevant. So perhaps the maps could have been a bit better thought out, but what fun is a thought-out party, planned to the last detail?

Mario Party 4 is quite good fun, more of the same really, but it harkens back to those halcyon days when there seemed to be a party in the diary every single weekend. I do wish I could go back to those days, don’t we all? At this point in my life I’d even be happy to sacrifice a mobile phone to the cellular gods every weekend in exchange for a mega house party, with all the old boys and girls waiting there for me.

31 March 2023

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