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Mario Party 3 (Nintendo 64) artwork

Mario Party 3 (Nintendo 64) review

"There are somewhere around 70 games this time around, some of them genuinely different from anything Mario and friends have faced before. It all has the faint scent of familiarity, but the wrapping is generally more polished. At times, some of the mini-games are quite fun."

Like many Mario Party fans, I was excited to find that Nintendo planned to release a third edition before the Nintendo 64 officially croaked. It was a pleasant surprise, and I watched for the game on store shelves. When it arrived, I got it as quickly as possible, anticipating hours upon hours of fun like I had enjoyed with the previous two editions. Then I took it home and my wife wouldn't play it with me and no one else was around. I tried the single-player game, found myself repulsed, and the cartridge went forgotten into the closet for months. Now I've taken out both the system and game, given them fresh plays with the benefit of a now-interested wife, and the results are in: Mario Party, arguably the worst in the franchise, is still a good multi-player title if you happen to obtain it.

Like Mario Party and Mario Party 2 before it, Mario Party 3 comes up with some flimsy storyline that amounts to this: the various main characters in the Mushroom Kingdom--as well as Donkey Kong, for reasons that escape me (aside from Japan's apparent love for the retro mascot)--have decided to play a friendly little board game to determine who gets to possess the Millenium Star. In truth, there's a bit more to it than that, but let's be honest here: the story sucks. Fortunately, that amounts to precisely nothing. In fact, the story's cheesy nature almost adds to the package.

If the story adds to the package, however, the game's inherent complexity takes from it. The original Mario Party started out simplistic enough. Players raced around a board, taking turns that comprised a round. There were four players and after the last one went, a battle game was begun involving them all. Then came Mario Party 2, which innovated with duels and new maps, as well as a few cosmetic and logistical touch-ups here and there. Naturally, Mario Party 3 keeps almost all the changes its predecessor made (strange attire discluded) and adds a few new wrinkles.

The most noteworthy change is the addition of the duel map. As far as new modes go, it's impossible to imagine anything that might come out in Mario Party 4 outdoing it. You play against one opponent. Both of you get teammates who will hire out to you. Those teammates fight, sort of like rock/paper/scissors but without the strategy and whoever comes out ahead gets to do damage to the opponent. Winning becomes a matter of placing your teammates ahead or behind you, and making sure you don't hire on teammates more expensive than you can afford. This is all well and good, but the board is good at robbing you instantly of all your money through games of chance you have no real likelihood of winning, so the laudible strategy element is all but completely removed.

Though this unfortunate fact prevents the duel map from being a huge success, it can't stop one from recognizing that at least Hudson is continuing to innovate. However, the duel map is their greatest success. If it's flawed, the new presentation for the game as a whole is a near-disaster.

Just trying to begin a new game, you're as likely as not to run into several roadblocks. No longer is beginning a game a simple matter of saying you want to and selecting your players, turn numbers, and map. Now you choose all sorts of other things. While these options are nice--the handicap especially, for younger gamers--they pile together into one confusing heap. You'll naturally get past that after a few plays, but it's still annoying at the beginning.

Also annoying, unfortunately, are the maps. They're just not much fun. Some of them are, to be fair. The ice and snow one harkens back to those simpler maps in the early titles. And the Woody Woods stage has some nice greenery and a fairly simplistic set of trails. It's just that the interactive elements of each map get frustrating. The octopus that blows you off course, the cracking ice...these things should be cool, but they're not. The boards are designed in such a fashion that falling victim to the '?' spaces is no longer a setback; it's a tragedy.

Perhaps in an effort to make for more down-to-the-wire games, Hudson has also implemented a system of items that means it's almost impossible to keep stars you win unless you're guarding them very carefully. Mostly the threat isn't your human friends (unless they spend some time to get good) but rather the computer opponents. You'll be playing, get a star, and suddenly your computer will snatch it away. There are any number of ways this might occur, and really little chance of you preventing it. This wouldn't be a problem if things felt balanced, but instead you feel as if the computer is conspiring against you, handing out rolls that will challenge you not because they are unfortunate, but because they are planned to give you the maximum amount of discomfort.

With all its faults, one might assume there's no reason to play Mario Party 3, especially when the first two games are better. That's not the case. Instead of recycling the favorite mini-games from the first two entries in this franchise and adding a paltry 10 or 20 new ones, Hudson chose to scrap everything and start fresh. There are somewhere around 70 games this time around, some of them genuinely different from anything Mario and friends have faced before. It all has the faint scent of familiarity, but the wrapping is generally more polished. At times, some of the mini-games are quite fun. I miss my favorites and wish they were left in tact, but it's hard to complain about the variety this time around. You'll have to play quite a few hours before you find yourself sick of all this title has to offer. Fortunately, there's a welcome practice mode for those times when you're in a tight game and suddenly you're forced into a game you've never played before.

All things considered, Mario Party 3 is a solid entry into the franchise. It has some good innovations that almost worked, and nothing that counts against it is really a crippling blow. At this point it might be best to wait for Mario Party 4, which hopefully will fix everything to perfection. But if you find this on store shelves--and you're likely to; I still see it around--you wouldn't do badly to pick it up, especially if you like to party.

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Staff review by Jason Venter (September 09, 2002)

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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