canuckeh's Mario Party 8 (Wii) review

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Boo's Cheerleader Change Room Adventure

A lesson that all gamers must come to grips with is the idea that not every game is accessible or interesting to non-gamers. While many college boys in dorms filled with Xboxes and Halo players who smoke substances that match the Chief’s green armor, the rest of us have to contend with girlfriends, cousins, younger siblings and jock classmates whom have a hard time grasping that one analog stick moves and the other looks. And I didn’t even have much in the way of console shooters in my heyday; imagine the foibles I had trying to teach someone whom never grasped a controller how to control Mortal Kombat.

So Mario Party played a nice role in my gaming lifespan. Sure it was luck-driven in nature but that only helped to level the playing field with my less-skilled, non-message-board-posting, non social-life-depraved co-gamers. The mini-games were all simple enough to be explained within the time-span of a beer sip, and it had cute, recognizable mascots that lack the inert creepiness of the Peggle games. A Mario Party session had the potential for both a wholesome family get-together and a raucous drinking binge with the right (or wrong?) group of friends. Coupled with Mario Kart, Mario Tennis, Mario Golf and Mario Nudist Exhibitionism*, the Mario Party games made the Nintendo 64 the most woman-friendly system around.

(And with all due respect to any “girl gamer” or “frag doll” that may disagree with that statement, I reserve little sympathy for you. You can pick any sheep in the herd of Halo freaks to have your way with. In fact you may as well have at least five ex-boyfriends on your Xbox Live friend list as you read this.)

After seven installments of games that were largely the same, Mario Party 8 on the Wii adds a renewed sense of relevance to the series on virtue of being a Wii game. I’ve always said that the flimsy, inaccurate nature of the Wiimote motion sensors mean that the controller would be better suited for quickie mini-games over…well, actual games with depth. Mario Party 8 enforces that stereotype better than most women I know enforce the stereotype that Mario Party is a game for women.  

The mini-games mostly involve some kind of Wiimote shenanigans. You’ll be moving the remote around, shaking it, steering it, using the laser pointer to shoot things and sometimes holding it vertically to use like a normal-person controller. To further liquor-proof the experience, a Mario hand will illustrate what motion the player is meant to make with the Wiimote before the game begins. Nine times out of ten, the motion sensors are responsive enough to understand what motion you’re trying to do. The tenth time (such as that newfangled rowing game) the Wii has a disagreement with the player on how a game is to be controlled. In most instances, the gameplay experience is impaired from such miscommunication, but if Mario Party is being used as a drinking game, then only fun and shots can ensue from such a situation.

I should explain that Mario Party 8 is a virtual board game. One that is emceed by a talking pair of lips and matching talking hat, both of whom fulfill many stereotypes. Four players take turns rolling a digital die and moving around an unlikely game board concept. Gimmick board concepts such as “Shy-Guy’s Magical Train” and “Pirate Goomba’s beach” tell me that Hudson Soft just puts the names of assorted Mario characters and settings in a hat and determines board ideas by random draw. We may soon have Boo’s Cheerleader Change Room Adventure in the future.

The goal of the game is to collect the most stars. To get these stars, you need to find the star dealer in some dark alley on the board and give him/her/it coins. You collect coins by winning the mini-games at the end of each round, landing on certain spaces, not landing on certain spaces, passing by nice strangers, periodically checking your pulse and so forth. Actual strategy is limited to which paths on the board you choose and how you use the “candy” power-ups that you collect along the way. I’m particularly partial to the “bitsize candy”, which turns your character in an 8-bit sprite capable of generating money from smashing 8-bit bricks that appear from every block. Playing homage to Super Mario Bros; another girlfriend-friendly tactic. Thanks Nintendo for looking out for my best interests.

The thing about Mario Party 8, like any party that invites Waluigi, is that if you’re not playing with anyone, you’re not having fun. Oh you can play against the AI, but there’s no fun in cat-calling the computer when it’s anyone’s turn but yours. The “Star Challenge” mode is the game’s weird idea of a single-player mode. Here, you play on the board against a single challenger, and race to the star. It’s identical to a regular board, except the mini-games are omitted, making this mode the equivalent of eating KFC chicken without the skin. Pointless.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, you can go to the “mini-game tent” and have an all mini-games free-for-all. The fallacy of this mode is that only games you’ve played on previous board game sessions will appear here, making this mode a moot point if you haven’t already weathered a few hangovers. There is also a sect of unlockable mini-games that those petulant tapeworms we call Miis can get involved in, but the mini-games have little else to differentiate themselves from the pack of real mini-games.

Mario Party is a utility more than it is a game. You will probably never play it at all by yourself. You won’t admit to owning it to your guy buddies. But it looms on your shelf, behind your Call of Dutys and Gears of Wars, for those nights when you have the kind of company that isn’t impressed by shooting Nazi Zombies. And unless you’re living the dorm room Halo dream, then these kind of games are your best bet for a good multiplayer time, sober or otherwise.

3 ½ stars.

*I hope someone believed it existed.

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