For #2, we have Mario Party 1. That’s right, the game that started it all is my second favorite Mario Party game. I’ve been playing Mario Party ever since the original game came out in 1999 and this is a game I still go back to, even to this day. A lot of people are kind of on the fence with this title though. Some claiming that the game is a little rough around the edges and not as polished as some of the other games. I do agree with this sentiment, and I am willing to admit there is a great deal of nostalgic bias that is no doubt going into my decision here, but I think the fact that I still play this game AND my #1 choice, 15 years after they initially came out, says a lot for how I feel about these games and how much fun I am still having with them. So how could I not put them in my Top 2? Sorry, just doing the logical math here guys.
So when talking about the first Mario Party game, I should be asking myself; why did I originally get this game? Well, to put it simply, I love board games, I thought the idea of a video game board game was a cool idea, the fact that it was a Mario game only sweetening the deal, it was a game I could play with my friends…how could I not get excited about this idea? When I first played this game, I was absolutely hooked. Heck, I only played a handful of multiplayer games compared to the hundreds and hundreds of single player games I did. It was just so much fun for me. The fact that I could completely dominate a game just by winning minigames, or I could make strategic moves and steal a victory by being clever enough with the tools I had at my disposal, just gave this game a lot replayability and variance where each playthrough could be a lot different from the last, and that’s what I love about it. But let’s focus a little more on the factors I’m judging on here.
First off, Mario Party 1 has the record for having the most playable boards in one game, having EIGHT. EIGHT BOARDS! Only Mario Party 5 comes close to that with 7 and I’m not even counting Mario Party 3 since I don’t consider the Duel Maps to be regular boards. That’s a different board every day of the week with still one board to spare. To me, that’s incredible. The boards are also pretty unique too. They all have the same objective of trying to obtain the most stars and coins, but the way you approach each board is going to be different from how you approach another board. Some boards are more linear than others and others will have you going all over the place. Each board is also themed around a specific playable character in the game, or at least 6 of the boards are. The 6 characters get their own boards, Bowser gets his own board because he is the bad guy, and Eternal Star is kind of its own thing, but it’s centered around the main theme of this game which is being the superstar, so I think it works. All of the boards themselves are pretty good in their own right, with the exception of Wario’s Battle Canyon. I’m sorry, but I just do not like this board. It relies too much on island hopping and having the reflexes of a madman when it comes to the space you want to land on, making the entire board feel like a luck-based chore in execution. Maybe not the worst Mairo Party board of all time, but it’s usually a board I will skip when I’m in a Mario Party mood and want to play a lot of Mario Party at one specific time.
For being the first Mario Party game, the board gameplay is pretty simple. Items haven’t been invented yet, there are really only 3 key board NPCs along with a bonus NPC for that particular board, and you’ll notice that turns will go by ridiculously fast. Sometimes a single turn will only last 20 seconds because you don’t move very far and events are pretty quick. Overall, I do like the quick pace of this game as it allows you to move through a game pretty quickly without spending a huge chunk of your day on just one game of Mario Party. And even with simple design and quick pace, there’s still quite a bit of substance the game offers. You’d be surprised how much strategy I put into this game to the point where just choosing a right or left direction at an intersection can impact so much in the long run, and that’s what I love about it.
Mario Party 1 also introduced some absolutely classic minigames, and even if there were some minigames you didn’t particularly care for, they at least paved the way for even better minigames down the road. We have Face Lift, Buried Treasure, Bumper Balls, Tipsy Tourney, Bombsketball…the list just goes on and on. The game does have Skateboard Scamper and the very infamous control-stick spinning minigames though, which caused many gamers INCLUDING MYSELF with the very unfortunate instance of developing a bruise or breaking skin on the palm of the hand. Yeah, admittedly, the lack of polish on this game does show at times, but it’s a thing I’m willing to overlook because it was the first game of this series and is something that would immediately be remedied by just using a better controller. I don’t know why Nintendo has been so afraid to release this on Virtual Console as the control sticks on both Gamecube controllers AND Classic Controllers are infinitely better than the N64 controller, and even these days, I don’t find myself having to spin as hard on the N64 controller anyway, so I think they are just scared for nothing. This game also had the infamous quirk of having people lose coins for losing specific minigames. This is something that I am glad gets fixed in Mario Party 2, but even then, I don’t find this quirk to be that frustrating. Although, to be fair, I don’t lose a lot of minigames either, so that’s not saying too much.
As far as side content, there isn’t really a lot here. There is Mini-Game Stadium, a small board where the results will more than likely just come down to who wins the most minigames. Mini-Game Island, a neat little single player experience where each minigame is a level on a Mario World-like grid and you try to make it to the end, and an Item shop where you can take your hard-earned coins and buy extra dice blocks for party mode, sound and music tests, and various other small things that you may or may not find worth it. My problem with the Item Shop is that some of the items are incredibly expensive and if you are a single player playing through the game, it’ll take you a very long time to unlock everything unless you do the controller trick where you turn every CPU player into a human player on the last turn and reap all the benefits. In fact, 2 of the 8 boards cannot even be played until you do a lot of this grinding, so unless you have some dedicated friends on board, you are probably going to resort to that trick I talked about.
So overall, Mario Party 1 is far from a perfect game, but for the first of its series, I absolutely loved what Hudsonsoft did with it and looked forward to any future iterations they would have down the road. And thankfully for me, near the end of 1999, a new game was announced, and that game took my love of Mario Party to the next level.