Friday, August 21, 2009

Mario Party DS (DS) Review

Here's the second of two reviews in anticipation for Mario and Sonic at the Winter Olympics. It's Mario Party DS for the Nintendo DS.

A Pint-Sized Party For You and Your Friends

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Mario and company return yet again, and that irresistible urge to party is stronger than ever before! Join Mario, Luigi, Peach, Yoshi, Wario, Waluigi, Daisy, and Toad across five differently-themed boards. Mario Party Advance on the GBA tried to recreate the festivities from the consoles and pretty much failed while doing so. Is the DS installment yet another handheld failure, or does Mario Party finally have its groove back?

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Bowser uses his latest invention-- the Minimizer--
to shrink Mario and co. down to size.

This time the party begins when five mysterious Sky Crystals fall to the earth. Soon after, Mario and friends each receive a party invitation from none other than the King of the Koopas, Bowser, who wishes to apologize for all the grief he and his koopa clan have caused the crew. Yeah... that doesn't sound suspicious at all. Perhaps against their better judgment, Mario, Luigi, and the rest of the bunch head to Bowser's Castle. Sure, there's a few balloons around, but rest assured, our heroes fall into Bowser's trap. He shrinks them down to miniscule proportions and tosses them to the other side of the Mushroom Kingdom! Now it's up to the group of shrunken-down heroes to collect the five Sky Crystals as well as stop Bowser's latest nefarious scheme. How do they perform such a feat? Why, by partying, of course! I guess Wario is bringing the bong....

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First thing's first-- where's the party at?

The aim of a traditional game of Mario Party is to collect as many stars as possible before the board game's turns have run out. Of course, to get stars you need to collect coins-- the currency of Mario Party. Not only can they be used to purchase power stars, but they can also be used to buy items from Monty Mole's shop-- located on every board. These items range from double or triple dice blocks (allowing a player the ability to hit two or three dice blocks instead of the standard one ranging from one space to ten), star pipes which send a player directly to the star location, snag bags which steals an item from an unsuspecting player), and many others. This time, there's also hexes which can be placed down on a space causing trouble to whoever lands on that spot. These range from losing coins to losing stars, to simply swapping spaces with a random player.

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This fiendish Piranha Plant has taken over Wiggler's Garden.

At the end of each turn, a minigame is played. There's four types of minigames available depending on what color spaces every player landed on-- 4-player, 1-vs.-3, 2-vs.-2, and Battle. 4-player is your standard free-for-all minigame, 1-vs.-3 pits one player against three where the odds are stacked, 2-vs.-2 has two teams facing off against one another, and Battle is another free-for-all, but this time the players' coins are at stake. Since Mario and company are the size of a DS Lite now, all of the games (as well as the boards) use that notion in each game's design. These minigames range from cooperating with a teammate to drive a miniature race car to the finish to dodging an onslaught of soccer balls kicked by a goalie goomba in Soccer Survival to trekking across a globe to shoot at other battlers in Globe Gunners. Some games will have you furiously drawing circles on the touch screen to blowing hard into the DS' microphone. Thankfully, the chance minigames where winning is determined by luck rather than skill are limited in Mario Party DS.

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In Soccer Survival, it's all about dodging rather than going for the goal.

That's not to say the board games are the same way. Mario Party DS is designed that anyone can win-- regardless of skill. Unfortunately for veteran gamers, this means that you can win every minigame you play, and you can still lose overall in star count. There's a lot of chance involved in these parties-- more so than there was when the series first premiered. There's duel spaces where a player can you play you for anything from 10 coins to 3 stars, there's event spaces that can change a star's location from where you were to where your opponent is, there's Bowser spaces where you can lose those two stars you were coveting in an instant. Anything can happen in Mario Party DS which may infuriate some players.

The greatest feature that I'm glad was implemented into the DS version of Mario Party is single-cart multiplayer-- that is-- only one player needs a copy of the game in order to play with other friends wirelessly. There's no online play, but given how long these games can go on, it's understandable. As long as you have a friend or sibling with a DS, then you can play a full round of Mario Party DS with them-- you can set the turns, set which types of minigames will be played, play with up to two CPU opponents, and even set handicaps. You can also play individual minigames by themselves or partake in the several puzzle minigames like a Tetris Attack clone. The transitions load swiftly-- about a second's time. The only large loading is the initial load of the game board.

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Drop those "breath mints" into that plant's mouth.

However, if you don't have a buddy, brother, sister, or parent to play with, there's always story mode. Story mode pits you against three computer players in a quest to collect the most power stars within ten turns. You'll start in Wiggler's Garden and play all the way through to Bowser's own board. At the climax of each game (pending you win) you'll come across the boss of the board. If you lose, you'll just have to restart the current board. In one boss battle, you'll be flying dangerously close to the mouth of a Piranha Plant, trying to drop bombs into its huge gaping maw. In another you'll be controlling your character in a Star Fox inspired minigame, dodging books and trying to take down Kamek. The boss minigames are mostly enjoyable, and it's a great change of pace from the randomness of the boards.

Additionally, there's prizes-- like boss trophies from beating a boss a certain amount of times-- to be won from performing specific in-game achievements. Think something along the line of Smash Bros. Melee's trophies but pertaining only to Mario Party DS. These single-player offerings add more longevity to the game, but multiplayer with other people is really where this game is at.

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Mash those buttons to save yourself!

From the beautiful boards to the detailed minigame environments and crisp 3-D sprites, Mario Party DS is quite the looker. It's certainly one of the most impressive DS titles visually. Trademark sound quips of Mario and the gang are present as well. The music is bright and cheery, and it's pretty much everything you'd expect a Mario Party game to sound like.

Mario Party DS is a mixed bag. It's certainly one of the best Mario Party titles to come out in a long time, but if you don't have another friend close by to play with, you'll be missing out on most of the fun multiplayer really offers. Story mode is decent, but there's way too much randomness to fully enjoy. If this game of chance were toned down just a tad, it could be recommended to pretty much anyone.

[SuperPhillip Says: 7.5/10]

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