The Mario Party franchise has been around for 8 years now, and every year during that period, without fail, a new Mario Party game has come out. From the N64 to the Gamecube and now to the Wii, this series continues to sell well with minimal upgrades. The first title was fresh and original, and a blast to play. The 2nd and 3rd titles were worthy additions and expanded upon the basic formula, adding depth while not being too convoluted. However, since then, the series has slowly been wilting into a dud of a fire flower. Mario Party 8, unfortunately, continues this downward trend. It's not great, but not terrible either. It's entirely average.
The gameplay of Mario Party doesn't even need an explanation at this point-4 players take turns rolling dice and moving across a board, making decisions as they reach branching paths, etc. Between each turn, a minigame is played, and the winner(s) earn coins with which to purchase items, open pathways, or buy coveted stars. At the end of a game, the person with the most stars wins. It's simple, and that is part of why casual gamers can hop in and have fun.
The real bread and butter or Mario Party games is, of course, the minigames. "It's the Wii remote!" you say. "Motion-sensing tech, gameplay not possible on the Gamecube!" Well, potentially, yes. Too bad the developers didn't take the time to master the Wii's controls and craft some truly imaginative minigames. There is definitely a quantity over quality issue going on here. A handful of minigames are genuinely fun and interesting, but these are extremely rare.
Each game has an instruction screen that shows animations that teach you how to play. However, aside from the pointer elements, these are almost all waggle-based games with no real control. If that's not the case, you flip the remote sideways to play shoddily made platforming or "brawling" games that feel like cheap movie license material. It's lose-lose. They can be fun with other people, yes, but that doesn't make them good. For the most part, this collection is uninspired and lacking polish, but will be adequate for partying purposes amongst casual gamers inbetween board-hopping.
The boards-there are six-are each unique from one another. This is a good thing. There are a few interesting ideas in the boards, and the key is that they all require distinctly different tactics in order to win. To the game's credit, some of these ideas are unique and refreshing. Despite this, the boards themselves still lack life. There are items thrown in which do what you would expect them to do-progress faster or steal coins from other players-but in the end don't add too much excitement to the proceedings.
The extra features boil down to some cheesy figurines, and 8 extra minigames you can play using your Miis. Unfortunately, they're almost all throw-aways-like most of the content offered here. It would take a long time to unlock everything, but why bother?
Add to this sad and obvious effort at milking its namesake, Mario Party 8 doesn't even feature basic presentation that the first entries had that helped to streamline the experience. This comes off as lazy development and only adds to the evidence that this title was rushed out the door for a quick summer buck.
As far as single player options, the game offers nothing but a long-winded and uneventful journey. Composed of 6 "matches" against 1 computer player, this mode strips Mario Party 8 of what little good it has going for it-the minigames-and throws them out. We're talking 1-2 hours of almost straight board navigating in order to beat the "story" mode. It's more torture than anything.
All of this griping aside, Mario Party 8's minigames require minimal instruction, work adequately, and can be fun when played with other people. However, multiplayer is the only way to go with this game to have any kind of a good time. Even so, Mario Party vets may opt to go back to the beginning instead, because core gamers will no-doubt be let down. If you ask me, it'd be more fun to dust off the trusty 64 and play the older Mario Parties than to play this one, especially if you intend to spend $50 on Mario Party 8, which I do not believe it is worth.
I'm sure the title will sell a million copies regardless of its quality, and that is precisely why this title didn't reach its potential-because people keep buying Mario Party games regardless of their craftsmanship or originality.
Final Verdict - 5/10
Nintendo needs to overhaul this franchise next year and set it on a new track. In the meantime, all we're getting is a slopped together and stripped down fest of mediocre minigames. Mario Party 8 is missed potential in a $50 box. Playing with friends is fun, for a while, but that doesn't overrule the lack of quality and originality. Casual gamers may get their money's worth, but core gamers will be very disappointed. Don't RSVP for this one unless you're desperate for a new multiplayer game-call Mario and tell him you're sick and can't make it. I'm sure he'll understand.