Where We Are Now
Mario Party 9 was just released, and it was unlike anything we'd expected. Nintendo took a chainsaw to our beloved Mario Party formula and re-worked the game from the ground up. Why? Because Mario Party was a franchise that had a whole lot of issues. Each game in the series was a blast right out of the box, but it got boring very quickly. Anyone who has played a Mario Party title before has had that one game that lasted for hours because no one could get the star and one friend would always insist on practicing before every minigame.
The two biggest problems with Mario Party are its speed and its random nature. The game just doesn't move quickly enough for a full group of four to routinely see it through to the end. Star acquisition is so rare and placement is so random that it generally doesn't feel like your actions have anything to do with whether or not you win the game. You are essentially rolling dice at each other for a while and then randomly choosing a winner. And you are doing this for two entire hours.
Mario Party 9 took a lot of steps to fix these problems. Coins and stars were taken out in favor of "mini-stars" which were much easier to obtain and lose. Players all moved together and minigames were only triggered when you landed on a minigame space. More time was spent on the board and less time was spent practicing, and overall this made the game move a lot more quickly.
Unfortunately, it also made the game a whole lot more random. The removal of coins also led to the removal of most items, which meant you had a lot less control over where you were going and how you'd get there. You could pick up or lose stars just by traveling over spaces, not necessarily by landing on them. Since negative and positive stars were scattered across the board, it felt like the only thing you could do to alter your direction was roll the dice. Since this is fundamentally random, you essentially had no real control over your move each turn.
Where We Are Going
So how will Nintendo move forward with the Mario Party franchise from here? Well, the reviews for Mario Party 9 have essentially been unanimous on one key point: The game moves quicker but is way too random. So it's only natural for Nintendo to make the game less random. The first step toward doing this is getting rid of the stars and anti-stars that you can pick up without landing on spaces. If Nintendo takes these criticisms to heart, they will start minimizing rewards for simple die rolls. Instead, stars will primarily be gained through minigames. This would be a big plus, because the minigames were always one of the biggest draws of Mario Party to begin with.
The next step in reducing Mario Party randomness would be increasing the players' ability to control how they move. Unfortunately, this means that the four-player vehicle concept should probably be ditched in the next Mario Party title. However, the linear boards may remain, and it's almost certain that we will no longer be playing a minigame after every four rounds. Items and shops should return in order to let people warp around the board, move faster, move slower, and yes, even steal mini-stars from other players (through a battle minigame, of course). Unfortunately, coins have been removed from the Mario Party formula, and it does not look like they will be coming back. So how can an in-game economy be created without any sort of primary resource?
Nintendo could go about this in two ways. First of all, they could make mini-stars the primary resource of the game. This means they will be a resource and a victory condition at the same time. This will turn Mario Party into a risk/reward game. How many mini-stars do you feel comfortable spending in order to get a boost of power? Players in the lead will likely spend less of their mini-stars, while players who are far behind will spend theirs on ways to screw over the leader. Spending too recklessly will put you at a mini-star deficit and will cause you to lose the game, but being too frugal will cause the other players to very quickly outclass you with their better die-blocks and offensive items.
Secondly, Nintendo could offer rewards for minigames other than just mini-stars. Winning a minigame may reward you with items like die-blocks and warps. Perhaps winning minigames will award you with special types of movement. All four players could compete, and the winner would move directly to a special track on the board with lots of useful spaces on it. If the boards were linear, minigames could affect the movement of all players at once. The winner could move a few spaces ahead, while the losers all move a few spaces back. By affecting how you and your opponents move by using actual skill, it would feel as if each player had a more direct impact on who ultimately won and lost the game.
On the surface, the game could simply be better if more strategic elements were tied to minigames, since that's where you have the most control over your character. However, tying absolutely everything to minigames could slow the game back to the same crawl we experienced when we had a minigame every four rounds. So Nintendo will have to find some other way to reward actual gameplay without relying on minigames for everything.
As of now, I can only think of one way they might accomplish this: quests. They could reward people for vising a certain space, obtaining a certain item, or even screwing over a certain character in a certain way. By giving the players secondary goals rather than just "win the game," and rewarding them by achieving these goals, players could feel as if they are making progress even if they don't have the biggest star total on the map.
There are plenty of other ways that Nintendo could make Mario Party better. They could add RPG elements or persistent equipment that effects how you move around the board. They could create multi-part minigames that take more than one play to beat. They could even allow you to make your own boards and share them over an online network.
Unfortunately, I don't think they will actually attempt to do any of these things. You see, Nintendo has always made it clear that they want Mario Party to be a party game, hence the title. All of these improvements would start to shift the game further away from its identity as an electronic board game. Instead, Nintendo will simply try to make Mario Party better by making it a better board game. After all, that's all it's ever intended to be, right?
Angelo M. D'Argenio
Date: March 20, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central. This week's is also purely a work of fiction*