With the release of Mario Party 8 for the Wii, the withering series has another opportunity to reestablish itself among the throng of excellent mini-game-based party titles available (such as Rayman: Raving Rabbits, WarioWare, Wii Sports, et al.). Instead, Mario Party sticks to its same tired old formula and is destined to gather dust in the hall closet, just like any number of Milton-Bradley misfires.
If you've played any Mario Party title, you know the score: Players roll the digital dice, advance spaces, and compete in mini-game challenges in order to reach the goal first or collect the most stars. Critics of Mario Party typically cite the extremely high degree of luck involved in winning, and the eighth incarnation is no different: Don't be surprised if you win every mini-game, collect the most coins, and still lose after a couple of shoddy dice rolls. In terms of strategy, it makes Candyland look like Monopoly.
Whenever friends get together for a night of board games -- say, Clue or Scrabble -- there's typically a moment at the beginning when someone reads the rules and the uninitiated listen patiently, ask questions, and generally try to keep up. Mario Party 8 lets you experience this joy before each of the 30-plus mini-games via text-heavy tutorial screens. Sure, you can skip the instructions, but you'll fail if you don't hold the Wiimote correctly for each event.
Then again, your reward for boning up on the rules is a series of short, woefully unoriginal games (say, a tin-can shoot) with unresponsive, occasionally flat-out-broken controls. Mario Party 8 simply looks and plays like a Game Cube release with Wii controls tacked on at the last second. The Pop-O-Matic Bubble works better than this.
If you throw a Mario Party party and friends actually come, it's only fair to warn them that it'll be one of those "eight o'clock till ???" kind of parties. Games can drag on for a frustrating hour or more and culminate in the winner ultimately achieving a somewhat random and hollow victory. Older players may want to hike up the fun by breaking out that beer bong and making a real event of the proceedings (every time Luigi loses his coins, take a drink!).
If you're the Marquis de Sade of Nintendo, you may enjoy subjecting yourself to torturous single-player challenges to unlock extras -- such as a bowling game that's so goddamn ridiculous, you might actually hear your copy of Wii Sports laughing at you.
Obviously, Mario Party 8 isn't for hardcore gamers. It's not even for casual gamers, really, or for groups of friends over age 11, or for any gathering numbering more than four (even though previous installments allowed up to eight players). The game simply fails in terms of originality, innovation, and, y'know, fun. It clearly is, however, the right game for one group: families whose children enjoy board games but like chewing on green Monopoly houses even more. Yes, Mario Party will also stick in their throats, but in a safer way. l