Monday, 16 May 2011

A Game I've Played Lots of Times

This was done as the Day 13 Entry to the VG Resource's 30 Days of Gaming.

I don’t really play games as much as I used to; and in a way, it’s sad. Real life – school and socialising – takes up much more of my waking moments than when I was a teenager, sure. But even when I do have the spare time, I just can’t devote more than an hour or two to my hobby. The only exception to this is when I have someone else playing alongside me.

As such, if there’s going to be a game that I’ll play frequently, it’s going to be a multiplayer affair. I’m, not talking about the (seemingly mandatory) online modes that recent games tend to crowbar in, but a crammed-on-the-sofa, Sunday afternoon, drinks-and-popcorn, local multiplayer game.

If video games aren’t at least this much fun for you, you’re doing it wrong.
I can’t help but feel my poison of choice is a but ‘out there’, though. The default choice for a local multiplayer game would be a Call of Duty, or FIFA, or if the crowd consists of Nintendo fans, Mario Kart. My choice trumps all of those. When you’re at Casa De GrooveMan, you’re gonna be playing Mario Party.
Wait, wait! Don’t leave! Mario Party is great, honestly! I know that if you look at the concept on paper, it doesn’t sound too hot. A slow, virtual board game with a mountain of throwaway minigames, and a confusing, sometimes even random set of rules. For a someone who’s a stickler for a fair fight, or wants their thrills right from the title screen; Mario Party just refuses to deliver. And stubbornly keeps that attitude through every iteration. And that’s where the magic lies.

For you see, I (and from what I’ve heard, many others) are a little tired of the Metagame. The high level, super serious play of games designed to pit players head to head. Starcraft is an obvious sufferer, but when you see the mentality taken to Pokémon and even Tetris, it gets a bit ridiculous. Mario Party is the complete antithesis to the concept of Metagame. The more you try to game the system for victory, the more the system will snap back right at you, which is refreshing.

I can tell you’re not convinced, so here’s an example. Minigames in Mario Party all draw from basic gaming skills. Timing, reaction speed, precision jumping. This makes them a cinch to get the hang of for those who play games, and an easy lead in for those who don’t. Put someone a little too competitive into this situation, and you’d think that they’d always come out on top – but the occasional game involving blind luck, or the amusingly unfair 1-vs-3 minigames can level the playing field.

Compare that with something like Guitar Hero – another popular party game. The owner of the game is going to be better than the average person by default. Add a little competitiveness into the mix, and they become ‘That Guy’, doomed to ruin fun multiplayer games for everyone. The Smash Bros. series suffers from the same issues, with the vocal group of fans who resent the items and wacky stages.

However, the minigames are just a single facet of the Mario party jewel. The basic rules of the board game that the minigames are tied to do their best to throw an element of chance and suspense. The very first Mario Party had a basic set of rules that were consistent for every stage, but gradually the games added more in-game variation, up until the Wii’s Mario Party 8, where every stage deals with a different set of rules; including an incredible stage where the layout of the board shuffles on a regular basis. Beautiful.

The nature of these stages has two effects – that absolutely anyone has a chance of winning, and that ‘skilled’ players have to work a lot harder to stay ahead. Every game becomes one large gamble, with the odds of victory changing every few minutes. Coins trade hands faster than the stock exchange. Someone lands on the dreaded CHANCE TIME space, and the whole room waits with bated breath for Luigi giving all his stars to Yoshi.

My personal pick for the series would be Mario Party 2, for the N64. This is partially down to a nostalgia factor (it was the first game I’d gotten to the credits of. I cried.), and because it has a solid mix of minigames and stages to play. A criticism of the later incarnations is they make the games a bit to easy and gimmicky. Mario Party 2 is also available on the Virtual Console for Wii, so you have no excuse to not play it – provided you have friends who are willing to play games with you. I hope they’re not sick of your cheesy tactics in Super Smash Bros. Brawl.