Mario Party 8 for Nintendo Wii

Mario and his friends are coming up, so let's get this party started. For the newcomers to the gaming scene brought on by the sudden popularity and easy playability of the Wii, they don't even realize there IS a Mario Party game, much less that it is on its eight iteration.

Being the first Mario Party for the Wii, however, opens up new possibilities of crazy interaction using the Wii Remote that was initiated by Mario's evil cousin, Wario, in "WarioWare: Smooth Moves."

2"Mario Party 8" is set in a large carnival. The party tent is where you would go if you had up to three friends over, eager for some free-for-all competition in battle royale or Tag Team Battles. If it is just you and your rival, you may opt for the duel battle, which only allows for two players. Solo players can play against computer opponents in the party tent or go to the star battle tent, which is essentially the "story mode," where you play though each stage against a randomly picked opponent in duel battle mode.

Having been addicted to "Mario Party 4," which launched the series on the GameCube, my wife and I are glad that the series has returned to its roots, where the power-up items now take the form of candy. "Mario Party 5" through "Mario Party 7" had switched to an orb-throwing fest, which we found to be more confusing and less fun. The other unnecessary distractions, such as day-night modes, the Koopa Kids and the ridiculous eight-player mini-games have been removed and the heart of what made "Mario Party 4" more addictive than its successors are now back in "Mario Party 8." Once again, they included extra-long mini-games that can be unlocked (some of them allow you to play as your Mii instead of a Nintendo character), as well as other collectibles.

One noticeable improvement is the addition of some cool animation, indicative of a Japanese Action RPG, when your character activates the candy power-up item. The turn-based action has been improved so that you get to play faster with less wait between turns. The mini-games roulette wheel now includes a thumbnail of the game in addition to just the silly name so that you can recognize your favorites without having to memorize the titles — the drawback of this new thumbnail display in the game seemed to give Nintendo the right to remove the mini-games listing in the instruction manual, which I found annoying (the fact that the manual was multilingual did nothing to alleviate my ire).

The stages have also taken the better aspects of the stages in previous party titles and made them more fun. 4Donkey Kong maintains the original chase-the-star-at-randomly-placed-locations in his jungle stage, while Goomba encourages a race to the treasure in his pirate stage. Boo adds a new twist with his "blind pitfalls" and the undisclosed location of the randomly placed star. Shy Guy hosts shuffling train cars while Koopa Trooper tickles the tycoon in all of us with his Monopoly-like stage. No party would be complete without Bowser, who has an unlockable stage of his own as well as unlockable henchmen — this time in the form of Blooper and a Hammer Bro.

All in all, if mini-games are not your thing, you may have to pass on this title. But if you love mini-games — but thought that "WarioWare" required more than your normal dose of Ritalin — "Mario Party 8" may be for you.

3In the end, we think that this latest incarnation brought back a lot of what makes the first "Mario Party" game of each new console more addictive than any of the subsequent ones. As soon as we finish writing this review, we'll be getting back to the party tent to start the next battle royale. Party on, brother Mario, party on!