Mario Party 4 review
It's party time!


Mario Party started off on the N64, and after a trio the series makes its first splash onto the Gamecube with game number 4. While the system would see further entries later on how does the initial attempt work?

The game uses a distinctly colourly graphical style that will most likely put off some gamers but is nice to look at. In terms of quality it doesn't look far off the ingame graphics of Sunshine, although not quite as intricate. I appreciate the amount of animation into it, such as winning poses and defeated stomps.

The sounds though are fairly annoying but bearable. This applies equally to the music track selection, sound effects and voice work. I guess hearing those voice clips too often does that to you.

For those unfamiliar with Mario Party here is a quick overview of the core gameplay. Four characters are thrown onto a giant game board, with the computer automatically filling in spots not taken by human players. Each character takes it in turns to hit the dice block and move around the board, trying to earn coins and stars. Mini-games and numerous events occur frequently, and the person with the most stars at the end of the allotted number of turns wins. So yes, it's a board game in a video game, which might sound like the most horribly boring thing ever, but multi-tasking man Mario manages to pull it off, to an extent.

Every space on the board tends to have some action attached to it. Many are simply blue or red spaces that add or take away from your coin total. Others can trigger special events, like the Bowser space summoning said beast who then unleashes a terrible event on everyone or the happening space that triggers an event unique to each board. The range of space types is good although there is one type that really should never have made it in. The fortune space is horrible because it can instantly dump a 1st place player into last out of pure dumb luck and makes a complete mockery of any hard work put in up to that point.

Aside from spaces that you land on there are spaces that you pass to activate events. The most important one is the star, where you can buy a star for coins. Only one exists at any one time and once reached a new one appears randomly on the board. Boo has similar behaviour, moving randomly when the star moves, but can be used to steal coins or a star.

The shop makes a mark as an important element too. The selection when you reach the shop is partly random but allows you to purchase an item when you pass by and then can be used later. Some items are designed specifically to help you snag stars faster, or warp pipes let you switch places with someone else. The mushrooms are the most interesting. Go mega to move further and squash others in the way, or go mini and squeeze through small pathways. In all I like this item system as it allows for a degree of tactics.

The boards themselves are quite varied and offer a variety of unique features such as crossroads that force specific directions, and these boards cover a variety of cool themes. One slight issue though is that the sprawling nature of them can lead to stars appearing a significant distance away from you, whereas it would have been better for various pathways to intersect more and prevent long winded detour trips to reach destinations.

Mini-games occur frequently during player and cover a wide range. Games can either be free for all, 2 vs 2 or 3 vs 1, depending on the colour of the space each player ended their turn on. The selection is quite big, providing a list of games that will take a while to start repeating. The controls tend to be very straightforward and are explained clearly before each play and a practice option is also offered just in case you're not sure of it.

Most of these games are extrememly fun and varied. Required tasks can cover things like pounding down to inflate an object, walking carefully along a narrow rocky path or swimming through rings. However, a few can be irritating and ultimately boring. One game involving two teams rowing boats I found to be frustrating due to the control setup. Fortunately it is possible to set up a custom list to prevent unwanted games from appearing, although this really only becomes an option when you've unlocked the various games or else you won't unlock any more.

There are elements that can put off gamers though. Gameplay is stretched out a lot due to the need to wait out for every character to hit the dice block, move, receive whatever and to go through every animation associated with it all. With four characters and then the mini-games it almost negates the idea of a "quick play". Perhaps not much can be done due to the game style, but it is worth noting.

The extreme luck aspect can also be a turn off for some. Even excluding the horrendous fortune space fiasco, quite a lot in the game comes down to luck, such as the placement of the star, shop item lists and the dice rolls. There is just enough possible skill and strategy around to help, but I would not expect it to be anywhere near as reliant on skill as something like a 2D fighter.

This game is also something that is at its best in multiplayer. Playing against human players is better than CPU players. There is a single player "story" mode, but it has a weak plot to it about gathering presents and ultimately the gameplay does not differ greatly from the standard party options.

Mario Party 4 is a solid entry in the series with interesting board designs and a good collection of mini-games. It does have some issues still to iron out, but those issues aside it's a very nice game to experience.

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