Nintendo’s new Wii party games were not only announced at the same press conference – they were right next to each other on the E3 show floor. On one hand you have “Wii Party,” the Mii-filled heir apparent to the now-dormant “Mario Party franchise. On the other, “Mario Sports Mix,” the Square Enix-developed expansion of their “Mario Hoops” title on the DS, now with volleyball, hockey, and more.
A common complaint levied against “Mario Party” is that player skill determined very little by the end of the game. Sure, you can choose your path occasionally, and do well at minigames, but so many random events are flying around that a player could go from first place to dead last in the last two turns of the game.
“Wii Party” seems a bit more simplistic and less decision-based than “Mario Party,” but this isn’t really a bad thing. The board available on the show floor was basically a straight line, and minigames earned you an extra six-sided dice as long as you weren’t dead last. The board game mode basically seemed to be watching things happen to you on the game board while occasionally playing a fun minigame. It’s so upfront about random chance being inherent in the game structure that it’s impossible to be upset when something bad happens to you. I got randomly teleported into a volcano and was still amused at the end.
“Mario Sports Mix” is almost the opposite. In a game of basketball, a single two-point shot was transformed into a 30-pointer thanks to a 15x multiplier appearing below the player taking the shot. He didn’t plan for it, but it was there, and that was basically the end of the game. A similar problem plagued volleyball. The game was set to end at 11 points, and my team was at 10, up by four. We just needed one more shot to win, but a 5x multiplier appeared for the other team, enabling them to come from way behind and win on one shot. This is certainly not a Camelot-developed Mario sports game.
“Wii Party” embraces its random sillyness, while “Mario Sports Mix” moves the needle toward that same randomness while pretending player skill has something to do with victory. I know which one I’d rather play.