When it comes to the Mario Party series, it seems gamers occupy one of two camps: Either they wholeheartedly love the “action-packed four-player mini-game mayhem,” or they despise the “repetitive, overly simple tasks and confused layout” more than the looming threat of mass genocidal Armageddon. While I wouldn’t go so far as to associate myself with that second camp, I must admit that the franchise never really did it for me. I mean, sure, in theory it’s a great game: Combine the instant gratification of simple mini-games with the inherent genius of popular board games like Monopoly. But in practice, the formula falls flat on its face. The 50 new mini-games are pretty cool, but the board game dynamics are just boring rehashes from the previous games with rollercoasters, item shops, lotteries and secret squares thrown in for good measure. It sounds like a party on your screen but if you’ve played any of the three previous games, it feels more like a boring routine.
Not much has changed since Mario Party’s last appearance on the N64. Mario Party 4 is still very much a virtual board game, with a huge emphasis on mini-games and getting multiple people in on the action. The goal is to continually travel around the game board and collect as many stars and coins as you can. The end of the game is dependant on how many turns you’ve allotted before the game begins, ranging from quick 30-minute, 10-turn jaunts to mind-numbingly long 50-turn games. Players will roll dice before they move and a certain event will be triggered (mostly just the acquisition or deduction of coins) depending on the space that they land on. At the end of each round, all four players will compete in a mini-game where the winner is awarded coins that can be traded in for stars at certain spaces. There are many random factors in any given game, especially during the last five turns, which can upset the balance of power in the blink of an eye. And while the randomness does liven the experience up a bit, it can be a little aggravating to outperform the competition at every turn during the course of a game and then end up losing due to a random turn of events.
Nintendo and Hudson created 50 new mini-games for this installment. Not nearly the amount of the previous titles, but it seems that the “quality over quantity” mantra that Nintendo has been chanting for the last couple decades has spilled over to the Hudson development team. The mini-games are the bright spot on this otherwise played game, ranging from all-out free-for-alls to two-against-two, and three-against-one competitions. Much of the too-straightforward-for-its-own-good-style of mini-games that the past games included have been thankfully filtered out in this fourth installment. The mini-games themselves include activities like dodging falling pages of an enormous book by positioning yourself in the small cut-out areas of each page, simple kid-friendly button mashers like Domination where each player tries to set up the most dominos, an aim-and-shoot balloon mini-game, wacky three-point b-ball shootouts, a Dr. Mario style puzzle game, an obligatory “snakes” style mini-game, split-screen racing, and a partner-reliant stomping game. It’s all very predictable and straightforward, but more often than not there is some semblance of interesting strategy to each game.
But while there is quite a bit of entertainment that can be had with the new collection of mini-games, playing them by yourself is pretty pointless. Mario Party 4 was specifically designed to be played by multiple people simultaneously, with the single-player aspect thrown in as an afterthought. I cannot possibly relay the sheer tedium that comes from having to watch your computer-controlled opponents take their individual turns. What I’m saying is if you don’t have a group of people with which to play this game, then don’t even bother; take twenty points off the total score if you’re flying solo.
Visually, Mario Party 4 is leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessors, featuring everything from reflective textures, impressive water, character models on par with their respective GC titles, and over 60 unique and equally polished environments. Its colorful kid-friendly presentation should appeal to anyone who appreciates the technical uniqueness of the system’s proprietary ATI graphics chip. The audio facet of MP4 is simply OK. The music consists of simple cheery tunes that blend nicely with the game’s lighthearted style but never really graduates to actually being enjoyable to listen to. Sound effects get the job done, with a host of cartoon-y aural additions representing the on-screen action, and the voice-overs sound accurate in relation to what they’ve sounded like in past games, or what you’d think they’d sound like.
BRADY Games provided the official Mario Party 4 strategy guide for this review, which was useful for referencing efficient strategies to all 50 mini-games, as well as quick and easy instructions on how to unlock all the presents and extras that can be found in the arcade mode. As strategy guides go, BRADY Games is great at providing detailed instructions and interesting information on the game it was written for, and the same can be expected here, though the inherent simplicity of the title in question hardly requires that you consult outside sources to play the game.
Make no mistake, Mario Party 4 is the best game in the series yet. But that isn’t saying a whole lot when you consider that the sequels have always felt more like continuations than they did actual sequels. With that said, if you’re a fan of the series and plan on playing with friends, then Mario Party 4 is just what Dr. Mario ordered.