Updated: Jun 1
The Nintendo produced sequel to the popular but flawed virtual board game Mario Party takes the plumber and friends into new lands for party fun and innovates on every aspect of the original game to make it one of the best multiplayer games of the Nintendo 64.
Like it or not, the videogame industry is heavily sequel-driven. This can be a good thing when it allows a second attempt at a great concept where the first didn't completely nail execution. And this is exactly the case for Mario's second party. Released in Europe in late 2000 (originally in Japan in December 1999), the Hudson Soft developed sequel is very much that game but with some key changes to keep it fresh and fun. They innovated on the original concept (added new item system, more varied boards), stripping out parts that didn't work (boring or frustrating mini-games) and it was released to mostly positive critical reception at the time. To many it is still considered the best in the franchise (which has gone on to produce another groan-worthy nine sequels). Admittedly, my main enjoyment - which is separate from the actual game - is that this series is fantastic for listening to podcasts while playing as they are so easy-going; due to the nature of the board game format they don't require complete focus at all times.
Now, to say there is more plot to this one would be a tad of an over-stretch. The background is that a new land needs to be named and each of the characters want it named after themselves. However, confusingly each map has its own little story, and all revolve around ‘evil Bowser doing something evil’ and you need to be the Superstar to stop him. Admittedly the silly drama of the end cut-scene for each Land has some charm to cap off the childish simplicity of the whole thing. If you played the first game then you will be very familiar with the set-up for the sequel. Players or CPU opponents roll dice on a themed map to reach and buy Stars with each round of dice rolls culminating in a mini game (winners earn coins to purchase the stars). The themes are not character specific like the previous game and more genres based (a western land, space map, horror one and pirate themed board are the standouts). The returning Mario characters now wear adorable costumes which fit the themes and, although there are only six main boards (as opposed to the original game's eight levels); they are slightly bigger with enough quirks to differentiate them.
Hudson Soft clearly had feedback on many things from the original game and iterated in every aspect. The mini-games which featured previously have been repurposed with new paint jobs and have been improved with better structure or controls. A lot of the underwhelming or boring ones were jettisoned alongside the five that relied on rotating the analogue stick frantically (which nearly resulted in a lawsuit due to injured palms and broken controllers). The general antics of a Mario Party game are all present and correct in this one, even down to the bonus stars handed out at the end of each playthrough. There are now even random spaces in each board which hand out 20 coins or a star to add to the unpredictability. So being skilled in the mini-games is definitely an advantage but you can never feel too secure in your chances of winning as there is still ways to be scuppered even by the last turn. However, it is certainly less random than the original as the dreaded Chance Time spaces have noticeably been pared back so much that over my entire playthrough across the six maps it showed up less than five times.
Outside of the main boards, there are plenty optional modes to dig into. The Mini-Game Stadium from the original has been brought back as well as a customisable mode which removes the board part and is simply a competition to win the most mini-games. On top of that the new Duels (which are instigated when two players land on the same space towards the end of the game) are also playable here as well as the Battle ones. Similar to the previous game, you can use coins earned in playthroughs to purchase all of the mini-games. Although, crucially the grind to earn coins is significantly lessened here as in each main game you play all stars earned by everyone alongside the coins go towards your total tally as opposed to only the coins you earned. It took a stupendous amount of time to unlock everything in that game and so this change is very welcome. The final main feature is the Mini-game Coaster which is the equivalent of the Mini-game Island from the first instalment. It is the last feature you will be able to unlock and has been redesigned to be slightly tougher than the last game’s version as you can only save progress after beating a set number of mini-games. This will divide people certainly as there was some enjoyment to the freedom given in the last instalment which is lacking here but this is more of a challenge.
Similar to the first game, in the Options you can listen to the entire soundtrack and even some of the voice samples. On the soundtrack specifically, it is similar to the previous game but an improvement with some catchy board theme music and fitting mini-game songs which range from madcap, jaunty tunes to strange warbled ditties for the odd games like Roll Call and Honeycomb Havoc. A neat feature, certainly. Visually it's a slight improvement over the first game with a little more definition on the character models and less blurry textures however it's still incredibly blocky and simplistic. The boards are also still pre-rendered backgrounds but colourful with some great variety in the design. Overall, if you liked the first game then this is definitely an improvement in every way however ultimately it is very similar so if you have the original then maybe it isn't worth it to upgrade. Likewise, if that style of kid-friendly, chaotic multiplayer is not for you then this instalment will not win you over. Yet, it is a fantastic four-player local co-op experience and easily accessible for anyone who hasn't played before or even picked up an N64 game. The one-player experience is definitely a shadow of the fun that can be had when playing with friends but once again Hudson have loaded it with enough unlockable content that it is still a relaxing 'podcast' game on your own and guaranteed hilarity with friends.