Mario Party DS
| Mario Party DS

Who doesn't love a party? Friends, music, drinks, a quest to return to normal size after having been miniaturized by your nemesis – it's all in good fun. Mario and company therefore fight for their right to enjoy themselves in the appropriately named Mario Party DS. Like any good party, the more the merrier: a decent single-player mode and tonnes of mini-games get things rolling, but it's all about the multiplayer. Arguably, Mario Party DS is the best multiplayer game yet on Nintendo DS.

Serving as your host for the single-player portion of the game is a scripted Story mode following Mario and friends' journey to return to normal size after being shrunk by Bowser. Composed of five games played on five different boards, the goal is to collect more stars than your three computer-controlled competitors. Only one star appears on the board at any given time, so whichever player reaches it and pays the corresponding coin fee first gets to keep it.

Each turn involves moving the number of spaces rolled on the dice block and then following the instructions tied to the space on which you land. Usually you collect a few coins, but special spaces may have you play a mini-game or trigger an event. Anyway, once you and the three AI players complete one turn, a mini-game commences that rewards the winner with currency.

Approximately 70 mini-games have been included, ranging from four-player showdowns to team-based matches to one-against-all competitions. Surprisingly, almost all are entertaining. 'Soap Surfers', for instance, throws every player into a bathroom sink on bars of soap. Winning requires bumping out the other players but riding on a bar of soap means the handling is awfully slippery.

Elsewhere, one two-on-two team mini-game, 'Cucumberjacks', has you and another player swiping horizontally on the touchscreen to quickly slice up a cucumber. There are even wildly creative boss mini-games squaring you off against a villain in a series of short battles.

Simple, quirky, and fun, Mario Party DS features some of the best mini-games around. Not all take advantage of the touchscreen or microphone, yet it's excusable since those that do are done well. Rather than force use of these features, it's good to see a game confident enough to resort to the stylus when appropriate and stick to the buttons where it makes better sense.

But you can't have a fête without a faux pax, however, and Mario Party DS certainly has its share of party fouls. While the majority of the mini-games are fun, a handful are downright awful. Specifically, special battle mini-games that pop up on occasion are a total downer. Instead of anointing a winner based on who has the best reflexes or skill, it's entirely based on chance. Other mini-games, meanwhile, are worthless, like 'Get the Lead Out' in which you mash the A button to unload lead from a mechanical pencil.

The banality of a few mini-games can be overlooked, but fundamental problems related to fairness can't be tolerated. Whenever a player picks up a star in Story mode, a new star appears randomly at a new location. Quite frequently this new star sits close to the recipient of the previous one, making it far too easy for that player to amass a load of stars and win the game. Some measures have been introduced to counter this flaw, such as duels that enable players to compete for each other's stars or coins, but it would be better if it simply didn't happen in the first place.

But as with any party, it's your friends that make Mario Party DS fun. Multiplayer is by far the best reason to pick up a copy, if not to abuse it in some depraved drinking game then at least as a means of enjoying a bit of competition among chums. Since four players can join up using a single cartridge, it's easy to get things going.

A remarkably large list of modes are offered, breaking down into two basic categories: Party mode and Mini-game mode. Most games allow anywhere from two to four players, although a couple apply exclusively to two players. Party mode mirrors the Story equivalent, albeit on a single board, in which you compete for stars and coin. The rules change depending on the number of players involved, but it's essentially the same as the single-player game.

Mini-game mode assembles tournaments in which a winner is determined by whoever wins the majority of a selected batch of mini-games. More than just plainly stringing a sequence of mini-games together, several variations in how the mini-games are organized keep things fresh. In 'Step It Up', for instance, the goal is to climb a flight of stairs with each mini-game win translating into one step up. Another variant, 'Rocket Rascals', has each player building a bridge using pieces won through mini-game victories.

Pairing an already entertaining slate of mini-games with interesting little tournaments is like mixing gin and tonic – you just can't go wrong. It's hard to beat Mario Party DS on multiplayer since it delivers just about everything you could want from a handheld multiplayer experience. The only real shortcoming is lack of support of Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, which in practice you probably won't notice missing anyway as the fun comes from interacting with people in the same room.

So, barring a few poor mini-games and rules issues, Mario Party DS provides the best variety gaming experience on Nintendo DS. It's easy and fun, not to mention packed with an enormous amount of content. Throw in the fantastic multiplayer section and Mario Party DS is happening, baby.

Mario Party DS

Just add ice. Getting a party started is easy with this multiplayer gem, thanks to a huge assortment of quirky mini-games and single-cartridge play