Mario is by far the most significant creation in video game history. First introduced as Jumpman in 1981’s Donkey Kong, this simple Italian plumber has since thrived as Nintendo’s main mascot. It’s Mario’s “everyman” characteristic that has played a major factor in Nintendo’s success. By creating a character that is as basic as he can be, creator Shigeru Miyamoto was able to transform Mario from a singular person to the identity of the best-selling franchise in history. He’s not just the main character of Super Mario, the core franchise underneath the brand. He is the figurehead of many diverse games that are all connected by both him and their focus on a wide swath of consumers, which leads to incredibly enjoyable multiplayer experiences.
The Mario Party series is one such example. Created as a partnership between Nintendo and Hudson Soft, Mario Party celebrates the namesake’s versatility. The initial game came way back in 1998 for the Nintendo 64 and it has since grown to become one of the most popular Mario based franchises. Each game is timeless, finding a welcomed spot in any Nintendo owner’s library because true fun never actually dies. It’s very easy to simply own one entry and be set for life. However, the March 20th release of Mario Party 10 is definitive proof that there is still plenty of fun to be had. Sure, the game might be getting mixed reviews, but it’s not easy to stop the reputation Mario Party has developed as the ultimate group franchise.
Over the course of nearly two decades, Mario Party has evolved astronomically. By this point, the differences between the inaugural game and this tenth entry far outweigh the similarities. Yet despite the changes, there is always one core premise. You play minigames against four people and actively try to beat your opponents. Characters are always Mario icons with the first game featuring the likes of Luigi, Yoshi, Peach, Wario, Donkey Kong, and obviously, Mario, and recent entries exploring the library with Koopas and Shy Guys. The iconic stars always play a massive role in your success, though how exactly you get them has changed. There is one universal rule though: You win by getting the most stars.
Minigames are unquestionably the backbone of this franchise. You literally cannot have Mario Party without them. It’s through these minigames where most of the diversity lies. Each game comes with a whole crop of new minigames with Mario Party featuring the least (53) and Mario Party 7 boasting the most (88). The games cover a whole swath of activities, from boat racing, parachuting, swimming, archery, and many more. This is where Mario’s basic features come into play. Nintendo had previously dabbled in Mario-themed sports games before ’98, but Mario Party was the first one that really let them go hog wild with the characters. Making Mario and his friends drive boats or shoot basketballs isn’t just extremely enjoyable. It’s very believable. Who else but characters under the Mario brand can do all of these things? They’re not incredibly specific in their creation, so it makes sense to have them do whatever.
The mini games are also very simple, which leads to the biggest reason for Mario Party’s success: its accessibility. Anyone can have a good time with these games. To be honest, it wouldn’t be much of a party if that wasn’t the case. The Mario Party franchise always has an E rating after all. This means that the minigames need to be easy enough for kids to enjoy (none go beyond simple button pressing or motion mechanics) but with a level of enjoyability for the adults who just want to have fun. This leads to some of the best multiplayer experiences you can have. Each game is an incredible bonding tool for groups, and a great way to bring like minded people together.
Of course, Mario Party isn’t always fun and games. If you’re playing with three other people, it’s almost a guarantee that competitiveness will arise. The game appeals to the basic human desire to be the best. The fact that the actual accomplishment means nothing is absolutely irrelevant. People will get cut throat if it means netting a few more coins. This can be done in a whole variety of ways too. You can sabotage your partner in a 2v2 minigame to let the opponent win. Ganging up on a single person in a free-for-all game is totally possible. Making one player your primary target for coin or star stealing is pretty common too. Far too often though do people win at the very last second, essentially robbing someone of their previously assured victory. There is always a distinct level of embarrassment that comes with getting upset at a game like this, but that still doesn’t stop things from getting emotional.
Mario Party is easily my favorite group game. It has a level of versatility that Super Smash Bros. or Mario Kart can’t reach thanks to the sheer amount of minigames. What you actually play changes with each “party,” and it leads to many different experiences. I’ve discovered that many people have their own play styles too. I am definitely one of those competitive people, so I’m not afraid to admit that I get a little too “into” the games. There have been a few embarrassing moments on my part, but I have honestly never not enjoyed a Mario Party experience. Some of my favorite memories in college, and growing up in general, were playing with my friends for hours. I still proudly own Mario Party 4 but am always down to play the others anytime, anywhere.
As long as there are minigames to play and Mario characters to control, Mario Party will never die. It’s irrelevant that Mario Party 10 is so different that people who grew up with the franchise (like me) hardly recognize it. I for one could barely figure out what to do with Mario Party 9. Yet there will always be a younger group that is ready to consume a new iteration and clock in several hours with their friends. Each game has incredible staying power too. The original Mario Party may be a relic by this point, but it’s still really fun. Eventually Mario Party 10 will probably go down the same path. When that happens, I look forward to seeing what Mario Party 20 has to offer.
Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television and every Saturday afternoon you can read his retro video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.