Mario Party 10 review – outstaying its welcome

23 Mar 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Despite some flaws, Mario Party 10 may help bring back family game night.

Few series in gaming stretch to double digits in their titles, and unfortunately here, in the case of Nintendo’s digital board games, the party is really starting to drag. This 16-year-old franchise has been re-branded for Nintendo’s WiiU console but even with all of the system’s new technology it still looks and plays a lot like its predecessors.

My cousin, now 21, still remembers a time over a decade ago when me and my then partner were babysitting him during our summer holidays after our first year at university, and we all played a game of Mario Party on the N64. (To avoid trivial Mario Party tale, skip to paragraph 4).After mostly acting like wallflowers in Nintendo video games since their debut last year, “amiibo” have stumbled into the spotlight in “Mario Party 10.” The latest iteration of the mini-game series cleverly employs Nintendo’s interactive figurine line as virtual board-game pieces. There are three modes, with Mario Party continuing the ninth game’s misguided design choice that forces players to share a car as they move around the board. While it would have been great to see Nintendo take a risk with one of its more anticipated title releases, this game does stay true to what has made the franchise popular, namely head-to-head action with a group of close friends. But for die-hard enthusiasts—at least, the ones not blinded by nostalgia—it’s a name also associated with stubbornness, and a slowness to adapt to market changes and emerging trends.

Like when Nintendo opted not to embrace CD-ROMs in the mid-90s, instead sticking with expensive-to-produce, space-limited cartridges for the Nintendo 64. As Mario, Yoshi, Princess Peach or another brick-bashing character, players must frantically traipse from space to space on a digital board resembling the game of “Life” in an attempt to gather the most stars.

Bowser Party does shake things up, pitting a team of four players on the TV screen against a rampant King Bowser on the Wii U gamepad in asymmetric multiplayer, and Amiibo Party utilises Nintendo’s smart figures on a series of unique but sadly simplistic Amiibo boards. The “Bowser Party” mode is the same but tosses Mario’s fire-breathing arch-nemesis into the mix, pitting a possible fifth person armed with the GamePad against four Wiimote-equipped competitors. Nintendo has also run into issues with its chilly relationships with third-party developers, its frustratingly slow embrace of online gaming, and its insistence on using aging tech to power recent hardware.

It’s not uncommon for multiple turns to pass without a minigame, and even when offered one of the 75 new entries, they are severely lacking in strategy or excitement, despite the new control options. That boyfriend is long gone (not because of Mario), but the memory of that hilarious/life-altering moment remains, and to me it shows the lingering appeal of how good Mario Party could be, and indeed any game where you can all compete as a group in the same room together.

Done the right way, the level of skill and luck is in perfect harmony so that the majority of the game involves getting good at the minigames, but some luck skews the lead throughout to mix it up. The Wii and Nintendo DS both expanded the market by embracing different kinds of interactions, and Nintendo still produces some of the most wonderfully creative games on the market. Technically, Game & Wario has a slightly lower rating, but it doesn’t really count since it was a remake (and more of a GamePad tech demo) and Nintendo didn’t market the game all.

So when the company promised for years that it wouldn’t enter the mobile market, it was easy to shrug and say, “Oh, Nintendo.” But the allure of mobile profit is now impossible to ignore. Nintendo has previously had a streak of high rated games — just last year, they released Mario Kart 8, Bayonetta 2, and Super Smash Bros, with an average score of 90 on MetaCritic. Other first party Wii U games have been just as good: Pikmin 3 (87), Wind Waker HD (90), and Super Mario 3D World (93 — highest rated Wii U game to date). You can have a little practice on any of the games in Free Play, or go for the Coin Challenge, but the main appeal is of course the Mario Party, in which there are 5 different boards.

Like many, my first reaction was, “Oh, wow.” But then it shifted to, “Well, duh.” There’s nothing but upside for Nintendo in expanding to smartphones and tablets, and for the gaming faithful, the benefits easily outweigh any frustrations. There are now more than 70 minigames, including a new Bomber Man/Splatoon cross ‘Paintball Battle’, and ‘Ice Slide, You Slide’, where you race along ice avoiding objects, but also have to control the speed (attempt to play at its fastest for an impossible challenge). GameSpot called it “Party pooper” (yes, the “party” puns are going strong in reviews), saying that the game “just doesn’t have the depth or the challenge to hold your attention for long”.

Last year, Clash of Clans earned an estimated $1.8 billion on its own, with two other games (Puzzles & Dragons and Candy Crush Saga) also reportedly notching 10-figure sums from their respective bulging user bases. GameTrailers weren’t impressed either, criticizing its mini games. “It’s completely possible to go through an entire match as a passive observer and still win first place.”, the review stated. Initial sales were weak, major third-party creators fled, and the console remains well in third behind the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in sales (despite both competitors launching a year later). Nintendo’s 3DS handheld likewise hasn’t sold quite as briskly as the DS before it (or even the Game Boy Advance prior to that), but it’s still performing solidly, bolstered recently by last month’s launch of the “new” revised hardware.

Nintendo’s prerogative in the console and handheld space over the last decade has been moonshots: taking a big risk on a new style of play and hoping it pans out. But after a few games it can grow frustrating that you’re just not playing enough and too many minigames are over before you can really get into them – it’s the long games that can really build up tension between friends. Nintendo has weathered underperforming consoles in the past, and it likely has plenty of capital ready to keep pushing on past the Wii U’s weak performance. But for adults who hark back to the good old glory days of 1999 N64 greatness, you might be left feeling a little disappointed Nintendo couldn’t quite capture the same magic this time around.

But there’s little reason to resist what’s proven to be an incredible revenue stream for games that often have a fraction of the heart, creativity, and precision gameplay design seen in Nintendo’s best. And with the company also teasing a new console codenamed “NX” to be revealed next year, that mobile cushion will help it better protect itself against another hardware misstep. For example, the recent Amiibo line of NFC chip-equipped figurines has been a big moneymaker and a hit with fans, despite closely following the Skylanders mold. The company said that existing games won’t simply be ported to phones or tablets, which means no classic platform games with unresponsive controls, and hopefully no beloved adventures damaged by freemium shenanigans.

DeNA’s biggest game right now is Godus—we called it a game You Should Play, but some Kickstarter backers are upset that it has fallen short on development promises. DeNA is a master of the free-to-play model, and a quick glance at its App Store listings (split between the DeNA and Mobage brands) reveals a slew of similar-looking games. And notably, everything has a freemium design that puts nonpaying players at a disadvantage, whether it’s via a restrictive energy system or charging for premium cards and other elements.

Both the Mario and Pokémon series feature several middling spinoffs and side games. (Mario Party 10 is out this week—need I say more?) Admittedly, I’m optimistic that Nintendo will take this opportunity to be a force for good in the App Store and other mobile storefronts. It’s a company that has pushed for innovation and chastised freemium games for diminishing the value of a quality product—so it has incentive to figure out how to satisfy mobile players without leaving them cheated by the business end of things. The best-case scenario is that we wind up with some legitimate, well-made Nintendo games on our phones, playable wherever we are without the need for a secondary device.

Whatever the case, a so-so iOS game is not going to make Nintendo’s next insta-classic console game any less meaningful, just as the existence of successful free-to-play games on various platforms hasn’t ruined the premium gaming market. If making broad, mainstream-focused mobile games allows Nintendo to take even bigger risks with its console hardware and games, then it’s well worth the slight risk of perceived brand denigration.

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