How a Simple Mario Spinoff Perfected the Party Game Formula
Better with friends.
At any party I attend with friends, there is a high chance we will end the night sitting on a couch, rolling dice, and completing mini-games, as we progressively get angrier at each other for devious tactics is one of the most fun things you can do. No matter how many other games try to emulate the feeling, nothing can match the Mario Party series. Nintendo struck gold in December 1998 with the first entry and in the 25 years since, Mario solidified himself as the star of the party game genre.
At some point, you would think Nintendo would run out of ideas for Mario spinoffs, but that doesn’t seem likely. While Mario can play tennis, moonlights as a doctor, and beats up other Nintendo characters, playing a board game brought to life has been one of his best adventures — outside of saving princesses — ever made. Yet what is so striking about the original Mario Party is that the game isn’t particularly outstanding in itself, but the core formula of the series has changed very little to this day.
The original Mario Party (and every entry to follow) is simple to understand. It is essentially a board game where you move your character several spaces, correlating to a dice roll, and collect coins to purchase stars. Whoever has the most stars at the end of the game wins. Each round of turns ends with a mini-game that gives you a chance to win more coins.
Special blocks and items make moving around the board way more exciting. Available for purchase from shops on the board, these items give players a new option when rolling their dice. These include blocks that speed up or slow down the dice roll, add or subtract coins, and even swap spaces with opponents.
Mini-games also add stakes to each round. The game has 50 mini-games in total that can range from 4v4, 1v3, and 2v2 competitions. These include games like Balloon Burst, one that gives competitors 30 seconds to rapidly press a button to pop the balloon first. The variety adds a hit of dopamine to every round and is not altogether too dissimilar to the fun felt when playing the mini-game frenzy that is a WarioWare game.
While the game has a single-player mode and can be played against computer-controlled foes, the spark of magic that makes Mario Party work so well is the co-op mode. Battling friends, scheming on how to screw each other over using items or special blocks, and screaming in excitement in the same room is just a fun time. It captures the same joy of a great night of board games. It’s the reason why so many people, myself included, continue to use Mario Party as the go-to group activity with friends for a fun time.
Looking back on 25 years of Mario Party games, the most shocking thing is how little the series has evolved in a quarter of a century. But there’s a reason for that: the original Mario Party is near perfection. Subsequent entries have added new boards, mini-games, special blocks, characters, and more. But no game has ever needed to tweak the original formula — Nintendo knocked it out of the park on its first try.
Today, there are twelve mainline entries in the series that players can choose from (not counting handheld titles). And while the latest entry — Mario Party Superstars — is a wonderful entry that feels like an homage to everything great about the series, every game in the series has its own charms. Maybe you have a favorite board or mini-game that is specific to one entry, but the core loop never changes — it doesn’t need to.