Since 1999, Nintendo and development partner Hudson Soft have churned out one new entry into the popular Mario Party series per year. These titles, which simulate board game outings like Monopoly and add Nintendo brand appeal, have survived mainly as solid multiplayer endeavors. Each sequel brings to the table new board environments and a host of shallow mini-games, perfectly suited for pick-up-and-play scenarios with two or more participants. The Mario Party titles have always provided decent or sometimes even good experiences, but never outstanding ones. This opinion is perhaps best supported by the review scores the games have received from IGN over the years: sometimes in the sixes and occasionally in the sevens, but never higher.
Even so, somebody out there really, really likes the Mario Party series, as evidenced by strong sales of each individual sequel, and thus, Mario Party 7 has arrived.
If you're a fan of the previous Mario Party games then you will absolutely like the latest installment in the series. It so closely resembles Mario Party 6 in fundamentals that we could probably copy and paste our old review and nobody would be the wiser. Certainly most of the critique would be the same, as Hudson Soft hasn't changed much for better or worse. And alternatively, if you didn't like the previous titles, there's likely nothing about this sequel that will draw you in now.
It's Party Time
Mario Party 7, like its predecessors, begins with a simple storyline that comes up short on overall presentation. Toadsworth invites Mario and friends to take a vacation on a cruise ship. But when Bowser learns that he was excluded from the invitation, he becomes enraged and vows to exact some kind of revenge. In traditional form, the cut-sequences are rendered in real-time using game engine assets and as a result characters lack any detailed facial animations or voice work. These production values got the job done six years ago, but it's disappointing to see so little care taken to capitalize on the recognizable and beloved qualities of Nintendo's A-list roster. By comparison, THQ Australia's SpongeBob SquarePants: Lights, Camera, Pants!, boasts far superior storyline cinemas that in turn help connect the different gameplay situations in a fun and entertaining manner.
The Mario Party games have always blended an enjoyable balance of skill and chance and the latest iteration is no different. You select your favorite Nintendo mascot and then compete against friends or computer-controlled opponents across interactive game boards. The goal is simply to traverse the stylized boards and collect two stars before your opponent can. Of course, that task is easier described than executed. You roll dice to move your characters around the board, which is where a tangible sense of chance comes into play. However, you also compete in a wide selection of mini-games, which do offer various degrees of control, and this is where skill plays a part. It's this marriage that has successfully captivated gamers for years and it works its magic again in Mario Party 7. But if you're expecting some fundamental differences, you will be disappointed because the basic setup is unchanged.
That being true, the most notable additions to Mario Party 7 are the new world boards and mini-games. The title boasts an impressive six new boards including Grand Canal, Pagoda Peak, Pyramid Park, Neon Heights, Windmillville and Bowser's Enchanted Inferno. The boards are exceptionally varied in aesthetic design and feature unique obstacles for the mascots to best.
More exciting, though, are the 86 new mini-games, which is a whopper of a selection. The games range in depth and difficulty. In some cases, you'll compete directly against friends, and in other cases you'll tackle a single-person objective. The minis are usually enjoyable. You might have to race an opponent up a barrel-filled runway, similar to classic Donkey Kong. Or you might have to tap a series of buttons in sequence in order to advance across some platforms before your competitor can. Shallow, yes, but pretty damned entertaining nevertheless, and any way you slice it, there's still a lot of replay value to be had. SpongeBob's party outing includes a paltry 30 mini-games by comparison. There are some shout-worthy acts to be had during board navigation, to be sure, especially since chance is oftentimes prevalent. Nearing a star only to get snapped up by an unseen tornado and carried halfway across the board can be both frustrating for you and hilarious for your friends. But by and large, it's Mario Party 7's mini-games that are its main attraction. The title features a handy mini-game mode where you can skip all of the board nonsense altogether if you want, but you'll first need to unlock the minis in board play.
Hudson Soft and Nintendo have added some additions to this year's version. Specifically, 11 of the mini-games feature support for an included microphone. We're not sure why, because playing with the microphone feels forced and unnecessary. And second, the title now supports up to eight players -- two persons alternating between each controller, in other words. The latter improvement is welcomed for serious multiplayer bouts.
Despite these marginal improvements, the title has unfortunately not addressed one of the biggest complaints of previous versions. As a single-player game, Mario Party 7 is an absolute bore. You can speed up text displays and even skip computer-character-controlled mini-games, but there is still no way to quicken the pace of board navigation, and that's inexcusable. It's one thing to wait for a friend to round the spaces. It's another to watch the seconds ticking away into minutes when an AI character is moving. This disappointing omission translates to a slow and usually tedious single-player experience, which is why we can't recommend the title to anybody who plans to play alone.
Oppositely, as a multiplayer game, Mario Party 7 is as enjoyable as its predecessors -- perhaps more so, even, thanks to supporting up to eight gamers. So if you're looking for another solid multiplayer title or alternatively a great drinking conduit, we can't think of many better choices.
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