Mario Party 6 (GameCube) review
"What’s important to note here is that the microphone accomplishes nothing a standard controller doesn’t. It would be just as simple to press a button corresponding to the fruit type, after all. And in some cases, it would work more smoothly. To continue with the example I gave above, suppose the player with the microphone wants to cheat."
I’ve crossed blistering deserts lined with the corpses of slain warriors, raided a sky castle’s treasury while the building crumbled around me. I’ve watched the Apocalypse, then cast my lot with other demons as I helped twist the world’s future into a sick shadow of its former glory. Yet as amazing as all of this may be, it isn’t always enough. There are times when all I really want to do is roll a six so I can streak past a toadstool and claim my title of ‘Superstar’ as plumbers and dinosaurs watch enviously from the bleachers. In other words, there are times when I want to play a Mario Party game.
Mario Party 6 satisfies that desire as well as any of its predecessors at such times, if only because it hasn’t changed much. You and as many as three friends still pick a character from a roster that remains largely unchanged. Everyone races around the board grabbing coins and stars. Every round culminates with mini-games. In the end, someone is the winner and everyone else vacates the premises. Expecting any of that to change would be like walking into a dungeon in some role-playing game anticipating a tea party and perhaps a friendly round of golf. No, the changes you’ll find here are much more minor.
The first of these is the microphone. When I first heard that the peripheral would come packed in with the game and would be required to play, I was afraid someone had lost his head. I feared gimmicky mini-games that just wouldn’t add anything to the mix and would ultimately prove no more than a distraction. Unfortunately, I was right. But there’s good news: you almost never see any of them! Because there’s only one microphone packed in with the game, the only time you’ll ever need it is for the infrequent three-versus-one matches. In such instances, one person has the microphone and the others get to move in more conventional ways. Gameplay hasn’t really changed at all.
Just as an example, one game involves the player with the microphone standing on a platform while his cohorts scramble on a hive-like platform beneath. Emblems matching six types of fruit--grapes, melons, strawberries, oranges, apples and bananas--line the precarious ground. When the player names a fruit, the other three people then have a few seconds to stand on the related emblem while the surrounding area drops out of sight. If the player pronounces the name of a fruit badly enough, nothing will happen and he loses seconds he could use to cause his opponents’ demise. No big loss, really. And if he enunciates properly, the game will proceed as normal.
What’s important to note here is that the microphone accomplishes nothing a standard controller doesn’t. It would be just as simple to press a button corresponding to the fruit type, after all. And in some cases, it would work more smoothly. To continue with the example I gave above, suppose the player with the microphone wants to cheat. When I played with my wife and brother-in-law, I decided to test the game’s voice recognition system. Instead of naming a fruit, I said “crap.” My poor brother-in-law hesitated, wondering where he should go. Then the ground fell under him because he wasn’t standing on the ‘apple’ space. This is only a problem when words sound similar and when someone is feeling cheap. When I said ‘hermaphrodite,’ nothing happened at all. So as I said, the game would run more smoothly without the peripheral.
A change that Nintendo and Hudson implemented more successfully, however, is the progression of time. As you play through any of the six boards (one of which must be unlocked), three rounds pass and night falls. Things subtly change. In one area, a tree might grow grumpy and knock you back if you approach, while ice blocks may grow in a chillier, snowier stage. Conversely, ghosts that are normally willing to rob coins from your opponents when the sun is out of sight may balk at the task during daylight. It’s nothing terribly innovative, but the change is still a welcome one.
Something else I also like is how quickly everyone moves. I still remember the snail’s pace that bogged down the first few titles. Here, even Wario scampers about like his ass is on fire. Turns have seldom passed so quickly, and they would progress with even more haste if not for all the diversions that litter the map. Every few spaces, you’re finding some sort of item shop, interacting with map elements, or choosing which fork in the road to follow. If nothing else, it keeps you actively involved, particularly since the path you need to follow at one point may change depending on the time of day.
On another positive note, the variety between boards has never been better. In one stage you actually begin with five stars awarded to each player, unable to gain any more unless you steal from your cohorts. In another, you have to pass through a marketplace where you can purchase as many as five stars at a time if you have sufficient coinage (the cost to do so is dependant on the time of day, a clever touch). Others maps are more traditional, but even that is welcome. For the first time in quite awhile, I found myself liking the different boards in a Mario Party game not only for their changes in atmosphere, but also for the different gameplay styles.
Speaking of atmosphere, there’s plenty to be found in Mario Party 6. Perhaps I’m just easily pleased, but I feel the sound effects and cheerful tunes this time around are some of the best in the series. Not only that, but the graphics are equally charming. The majority of older gamers who relegate franchise entries to ‘drinking game’ status probably won’t care, but I was pleased by small touches like moonlight sparkling on the surface of water and the squirrels that ran around the shores of a snow-rimmed lake. None of this challenges the GameCube’s processor in the slightest, but it all manages to look about the way you’d expect from any Mario game in the last decade. If that’s stagnation, at least it’s comfortable.
Assuming you’re not opposed to the ‘more of the same’ motif that runs rampant through the title, you will likely get a good amount of use out of it. Besides the standard multi-player mode that will suck up the most of your time, there is also a stripped down single-player option that I find almost enjoyable. Three short boards were created for the occasion, and really they’re nothing more than a simple way to quickly amass a pile of stars that you can then use to unlock the game’s extra features. While it would be a stretch to call any of this bonus material important (aside from the sixth board and the ho-hum hidden character), it was nice to see that Hudson and Nintendo at least are keeping an eye on extending the number of hours you’ll enjoy the game. You can even spend your stars on character-specific taunts to irritate your fellow players.
When all is said and done, though, this is still the same Mario Party you’ve been playing since its debut on the Nintendo 64. Sure, there are somewhere around 80 new mini-games. Most of them are even fun. But the addition of the microphone and the time progression system hasn’t changed this game’s core. With that revelation, you’re probably thinking either that the game is a waste of your time (if so, don’t play this one), or you’re relieved and wondering if maybe you should give it a shot. If you fall into that second category, head on down to the store right now. After all, you’ve only got a year or so before the inevitable seventh title hits shelves. Time to get cracking. Unless, of course, you’d rather go save the world or something.
Staff review by Jason Venter (December 15, 2004)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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