There have been eight "Mario Party" games. On Tuesday (May 22) I played my first.
A week prior to the game's official release, Nintendo sent me a copy of "Mario Party 8." I'll be honest. I've only given the game about 30 minutes, 19 of them Tuesday morning, according to my Wii's "Today's Play History" feature. But I wonder: Is it possible to be tired of a game before you've ever played it?
I may be a "Mario Party" novice, but the series is probably familiar to a lot of people reading this. There's been a new "Mario Party" every year since 1999 except for 2006, three on the Nintendo 64 and four on the GameCube. How could you miss them? The games star Mario and his friends, foes and family as figures on a virtual board game. The draw is the collection of dozens of mini-games in each "Mario Party," competitions that spark up among players between board-game rounds or when special squares on the board are activated. The mini-games can also be played on their own. They're usually pretty simple: Players put their characters through a quick footrace, a timing challenge, a balloon-popping contest, or a push through a crowd of penguins. Stuff like that.
I've always heard that the "Mario Party" games are good. I've just never seen one get a blockbuster review score, and no one has ever told me that I just have to play one. So I've let them slide. Then a version for the Wii was announced sometime last year, and I figured that a new edition of the franchise stuffed with mini-games designed for the motion-sensitive Wii remote could be a blast.
Something got in the way. Make that 401 somethings. Between the release of the Wii and the delivery of "Mario Party 8" from MTV mailroom guy to my hands, I've played "Wii Sports," "Wii Play," "Wario Ware: Smooth Moves," "Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz," "Sonic and the Secret Rings" and "Rayman: Raving Rabbids." These games are either genuine mini-game collections or single-player games that include a generous helping (read: more than 40) of mini-games. Combined, these games include 401 mini-games, all designed for the Wii's motion-sensitive controller. Here are just a few of the things I've done via those 401: I've bowled, played golf, thrown darts, hang-glided, rolled a ball, danced, hurled cows, played Simon Says and even — in one "WarioWare" mini-game — dropped the controller. I've played mini-games that harness the Wii remote like it's a magic wand; others that are so unresponsive I might as well be trying to run it with a controller from my Xbox 360 or through the power of positive thinking.
I haven't played all 401, but I've played a lot. So when "Mario Party 8" shuttled into the office with its Nintendo press release promise of "dozens of new mini-games," I didn't rush for a sharp object with which to tear off the game's shrink wrap. It's not "Mario Party"'s fault — this game could be a gem. Blame Nintendo scheduling.
Heavily supported game genres have wilted before. Seven years ago you could go into a game store and ride a slope's worth of snowboarding games: "1080," "Amped," "Cool Boarders," "Dark Summit" and "SSX" all vied for attention. Companies just don't make many snowboarding games. In the last year, however, the only video game snowboarding I've come across is a new "SSX" and some snowboarding mini-games in that 401. Did the glut of snowboarding games kill people's interest? Or was it some other factor?
I don't know the answer. I can only speak from my experience as a Wii owner who has seen enough of one style of game that I struggle to find the interest to play anymore. I've heard from game developers that these mini-game compilations are the result of developers testing ideas with the Wii's novel controller. They are the tests that can give way to full, more focused games.
I've also seen the success of "Wii Play," one of the runaway video game best-sellers in the first half of the year. The mini-game compilation might be the wave of the future. It could be the ascendant style of game, sort of like the first-person shooter was when "Doom" made them popular in the '90s, or the open-world game was when "Grand Theft Auto III" popularized that style in 2001. Mini-game grumps like me might just have to deal with it.
Nintendo's recently announced Wii summer lineup includes a Mario soccer game, a new "Metroid" and a "Battalion Wars" sequel, all of which, I believe, are devoid of mini-games — at least not that I've heard of.
They won't stick any in, will they?