At nearly 1,000 mini-games to date, the Mario Party series has built a substantial gallery of bite-sized experiences vacillating from the inventive (Hanger Management) to the inane (Will Flower). As much as it’s been the catalyst for unforgotten grudges, positive memories are in heavier supply—it’s thanks to Fruit Talktail that I now have an appreciation for grapefruit. Knowing how I felt after its presumed funeral got cancelled, I’m thankful the series kept going after Hudson’s final performance with Mario Party 8, even though its newer forms by Nd Cube have polarized fans. With the recent release of Mario Party DS on the Wii U Virtual Console, here is an exhibit of well-made mini-games that can still be counted on to cause (friendly) riots among friends and family.
Jose Cardoso is a freelance writer who’s prone to exalting words above people. Fascinated by game design, he has a knack for covering the quirky, niche and overlooked on Nintendo platforms. His writing has appeared in Unwinnable, BeefJack and other publications.
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20. Mob Sleds—Mario Party 9: There wasn't anything fun about getting demolished again and again in Perspective Mode, but played normally, Mob Sleds is a fun tactical exercise. The team boards Cooligan-shaped sleds that run along a defined track, while the solo player has freedom to move as they please. While it's possible to get someone out in the first five seconds because of misjudged timing, it's more often the case that teamwork is needed to keep the runner cornered in an area of the map. This won't guarantee that you'll bump them off, though, as it's possible for them to narrowly slip past you. And it's these moments of seemingly miraculous feats and well-planned attacks that make Mob Sleds equally nail-biting to play for both sides.
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19. Sneak 'n' Snore—Mario Party 2: Sneak 'n' Snore is a fun Red Light, Green Light twist where a sleeping Chain Chomp is ready to devour anyone who dares disturb his slumber. I like to imagine him as the prison warden, and the players as criminals foolishly trying to break out. That pop when Chain Chomp awakes and the music stops is your cue to dive back into your barrel, but you can risk getting slightly ahead of your opponents if you don't stop immediately. And if you fail, well, hearing your character get tossed down a pipe will keep everyone's spirits up. The experience is short-lived—the average game will take less than 30 seconds, so I never understood why you're allotted a full 60. But the tension still makes for an amusing time. If you're ever in need of a laugh, let Wario win—the abrupt animation is hilarious on its own.
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18. Fruit Cahoots—Mario Party 10: Much like the Whomp Stomp boss battle in Mario Party 9 (and the lovely Mad Hatters in Wii Party U), Fruit Cahoots is very much a game of psychological strategy. It's 10 rounds in which you elect to move a conveyor belt forward or keep it as is, while also factoring in the moves your opponents might make. Are they good with the one apple, or are they after the trio? Will they act if there's a Bob-omb in front of them? The fake-out potential is high, leading to plenty of finger-pointing over moves not made. For even more comedy, try the Reverse version where you intentionally aim for Bob-ombs. And speaking of bombs...
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17. Revers-a-Bomb—Mario Party 4 In some 2-vs-2 mini-games, concentration is so focused on button mashing (Handcar Havoc) that there isn't a need to strategize aloud. But in a mini-game like Revers-a-Bomb, coordination between partners can make a big difference in your team not being overrun by a domino effect. The constant deflection of Bob-ombs across six lanes makes for a rushed scramble where there's no time to pause and enjoy the small victories. Being aware of whether you're in an offensive or defensive position will help you tailor strategy accordingly, but when you're moving at a nonstop pace, it's not only the Bob-ombs that feel dizzy by the end of it. Somewhere in here is a metaphor about life, I'm sure.
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16. Burnstile—Mario Party 6: This may well be the quickest way to silence a proud Mario Party player. Some mini-games drag out before the competitive drive kicks in. Not so with Burnstile, as the spiked arm rotates at an absurdly fast rate in a matter of seconds, putting everyone in a state of panic. Having spacious platforms to work with means that players are not locked in place, and the ability to use aerial movement to find a comfortable pace makes it more dynamic. And because the setup is that of a 2-vs-2 game (a surprising choice), it's also a matter of not interfering with your partner's personal space or being unraveled by someone else's sudden elimination. An all-around frenzied battle that's especially insane for a team game.
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15. Shuffleboard Showdown—Mario Party DS: Hey! Chips aren't for throwing — especially not the kind you pay for! But for a mini-game this fun, we'll allow it. Mario Party DS thrived on its uniting theme of a Honey, I Shrunk the Kids-like premise, and Shuffleboard Showdown is one of the more cohesive concepts in the collection. It's essentially a casino-themed Air Hockey (or to keep it within the Mario Party universe, a touch-screen revamp of Bowl Over). The solo player gets three poker chips to flick at the team on the top screen who must survive the onslaught. The disgruntled dealer's power comes from applying variations in speed to throw off the opposition, which can lead to some unexpected knockouts. Fast-paced fun that's still easy to come back to.
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14. Chump Rope—Mario Party 8: Hot Rope Jump is a different game when you're the one doing the turning, and Mario Party 8 granted this reversal in what was among the better motion-based mini-games. In giving you control, Chump Rope allows for a layer of deception that didn't exist prior, making the solo player into a wild card with no clear rhythm to pin down. For the entire 15 seconds, they can make it into a skipping contest or opt for confusion with a mixture of slow and fast movements. Wild unpredictability in connection with a pace that the player can determine is not something a lot of mini-games offer. And when you're on the receiving end, any stumbles made are more likely to be taken with laughter than prompt threats of vengeance.
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13. Shock Drop or Roll—Mario Party 2: It's hard to think of the person manning the lever in Shock Drop or Roll as anything but diabolical. The team's hopeless struggle to find a footing on the cylindrical device, amplified by the solo player's cantankerous persistence, is what has given this crazy game staying power over the long-term. The constant fluctuation of stalled versus rapid spins is tough to bear, but it's similarly challenging for the one at the controls to knock off players who find a groove. So it's not often that two sessions will go down the same way. Rotisserie Rampage in Mario Party DS is an alternate take on this idea, but the furious movements you can make in Shock Drop or Roll give it an unbeatable edge.
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12. Booksquirm—Mario Party 4: What some would call Mario Party 4's defining mini-game, Booksquirm has a wacky premise: follow the shadows of shape cut-outs to pass through falling book pages. Circles are easy, but crescent moons? Being off by a smidge would be the difference that gets you squashed but grants your rival a pass. Mild frustrations aside, there's still much fun to be had with this Hole in the Wall-like endurance challenge.
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11. Running of the Bulb—Mario Party: Running of the Bulb was one of several mini-games from the original Mario Party that treated the four-player setup as a cooperative exercise for shared winnings or shared failures with hilarious outcomes. And although Key-pa-Way should get a consolation prize for its laughably wonky name, Running of the Bulb really is the best of its kind. Three players fight off pesky ghosts, while the remaining player is put in charge of escorting a light bulb to a machine at the end of the hall. Running of the Bulb is most fun when you have an outlier who continually needs saving, as the animations of Mario characters trying to sabotage the team while under ghostly influence is so amusingly creepy (come to me, my children!) that it almost seems taboo for more recent titles. Too bad the state isn't permanent — that would've raised the stakes drastically.