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With eight main console entries and now a pair of handheld editions, Nintendo's Mario Party series is obviously still going strong, some 10-plus years since the release of the original party/board game for the Nintendo 64. However, while the console versions of this Hudson Soft developed series have always contained solid (though occasionally recycled) gameplay, the only previous handheld version, Mario Party Advance, was a noticeable departure from the series tried and true formula, featuring only one board and requiring players to complete fetch quests for other characters. Now finally, with the 2007 release of Mario Party DS, there's a proper version for fans to play on the go.
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Odds are, most people are probably familiar with the formula by now, but for those new to the series, here's a basic rundown of how it works. Players choose which board they want to play on. In this game, there are four to choose from at first, and a fifth one can be unlocked). They then select which classic Mario character they want to play as. Mario Party DS includes eight playable characters, including Mario, Luigi, Peach, Yoshi and Wario. The players then proceed to take turns head-bonking dice blocks to move. Landing on different spaces will either cause you to gain coins, lose them, or trigger a specific event or effect, based on the specific board. The ultimate goal is to finish the game with more stars than anyone else, though the method through which this is accomplished often changes.
In addition to the standard multi-player Party Mode and the series staple Minigame Mode, Mario Party DS features a single-player story mode where players must play through each board, and afterwards, they are challenged with a special boss minigame if they are victorious. Furthermore, the game contains a Puzzle Mode, which combines classic Mario Party puzzle minigames such as "Mario's Puzzle Party" from Mario Party 3 and "Block Star" from Mario Party 6, with an all new game called "Triangle Twisters." Mario Party DS also features a fantastic multiplayer mode which allows up to four players to challenge each other in either Party or Minigame Modes. Best of all, it requires only one copy of the game to function. Finally, players will earn something called MP Points as they play. When accumulated, MP Points earn you special bonus trophies for your efforts. There's a lot of content crammed into this little DS card, and the developers should be applauded for their efforts, especially with multiplayer.
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Of course, a Nintendo DS version of this game would be incomplete without taking advantage of the hardware's unique features, and thankfully, Mario Party DS does not disappoint. There are over 70 different minigames included in the game, and while many of them feature traditional gamepad and button controls, others take full advantage of the touch screen and the DS microphone. For example, "Trace Cadets" has you use the stylus to draw specific shapes to fill up a box, "Hot Shots" has you use the stylus to draw back on a bowstring and fire an arrow at enemy targets, and "Big Blowout" has you blow out candles so that your character can dash across them in a race. On the whole, the game offers a nice variety of traditional and new DS-specific content, and the both the button-style and touch screen controls are spot on. I just wish there were more stylus-controlled minigames.
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Graphics and Sound
Quite honestly, I would say that the visuals compare favorably to the Gamecube Mario Party games. The characters are fairly large and contain a lot of detail, the minigames are visually impressive, and while the game boards do feature less detail than recent console versions, they too are rather impressive for a Nintendo DS offering. The music and sound effects are pretty much traditional Nintendo fare, with characters giving voice to their trademark catch-phrases and, while it's hard to describe, the soundtrack and background noises have "that Mario feel" to them. The game won't win any awards for high-tech graphics, and the audio isn't the sort of thing that would sound good through a digital surround sound system, but they are pleasant and charming, and they fit the feel of the game exceptionally well.
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At its core, this is a lot like this past several Mario Party games. What separates this one from the pack, however, is the nifty touch-screen controlled minigames, the fact that it's for a portable system and that it features a single-card multiplayer mode. The game itself is great fun, and Mario Party DS is a fantastic title to have on hand to play with the kids while you're waiting in a doctor's office, or to keep a van full of youngsters happily occupied during a long road trip. It is a tremendous value, when you think about it, and thus we happily recommend this outstanding board/party game.