By the time Mario had his first Party, the guy had been around the block a few times. In fact, if you take 1985’s Super Mario Bros. as the debut of the one true “Mario,” the company mascot and signpost of quality that Nintendo continues to employ as its own animated Seal of Approval, the first Mario Party from 1998 becomes more than just a gathering among friends: It was a Bar Mitzvah. Super Mario was thirteen now, the age of burgeoning manhood. The Nintendo 64 provided the cartridge-based temple, its four controller ports an automatic dance floor; there were just enough spots for two couples, or two sets of rivals, or four awkward teens, bobbing aimlessly to the rhythmic sounds of Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.”
In truth, the boardgame take on Mario & Friends’ video adventures inspired fierce competition, manic joystick wobbling, and more than a few rulesets for when to swig the Manischewitz. This week, the tenth home iteration of the long-running series launches on Wii U. Each traffics in the same cadences: The roll of the die, the race to the finish, the non-sequitur escape from a school of Boos. If you’ve missed a Party or two (or ten), fret not: Here is the definitive ranking for all thirteen Mario Party games, based on very scientific formulae not unlike the end-game dice rolls that scoot the loser to the front of the pack at the last moment, like some virtuous deity looking out for the most fragile among us. Shalom, Mario.
Of course, the best Mario Party game is likely the one you’ve played most with your friends. Or perhaps the worst Mario Party game is the one you’ve played most with your friends, because they no longer want to be your friends since that one time you overcame great odds, snatching victory from defeat with a one-in-a-million dice roll (and a well-timed prod with your elbow).
Time for a rematch.
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13. Mario Party 3, Nintendo 64, 2000.
Try as the game might, someone has to lose. And this third entry on the series' debut platform was showing its age. To be fair, many view this game as the high point of the 64-bit Party trilogy, with the ability to play two boards at once, a wider variety of mini-games, and the removal of a blister-inducing control method. But when the invitation was sent to Waluigi, and the purple-suited one RSVP'd "Yay," this version cemented its place as the least salvageable among a baker's dozen of similar contests. That, and a gameboard is named "Woody Woods." Come on, localization team. You're better than that.
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12. Mario Party 5, GameCube, 2003.
This sequel gets docked major points for dismissing one of Nintendo's most venerable characters from its core ranks. So long, Donkey Kong. In hindsight we now realize this was necessary to allow the simian to stretch his skills in other ways: the percussive beat-making of Donkey Konga, the combo-paradise platforming of Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat. But to have Nintendo's first and oldest recognizable character limited to his own section of the game, labeled "DK Space," smacks of ageism at best, post-millennium fear-mongering at worst.
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11. Mario Party Advance, Game Boy Advance, 2005.
A boardgame is meant to be played together with a group of people. The first handheld Mario Party makes this inherently difficult by way of its hardware. Instead of a single large screen, each player stares at their own system. A Monopoly board cut into four separate pieces will not have the same impact as the contiguous original. Add in the required Game Boy Advance link cables in order to hook up each system and the set-up experience leans closer to using jumper cables on four cars at once. You can always play solo against the computer; this is as ill-advised as hiring strangers to go dancing.
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10. Mario Party 8, Wii, 2007.
The series had just taken its first year off since 2001. Large swaths of the non-game-playing public were in maniacal pursuit to secure this small white box with its strange name and magic remote controller. Expectations were high. That this first motion-controlled Party released on my birthday only fueled any irrational anticipation. So when the game was merely competent with an overuse of fiddly arm-waving to win a spate of patience-testing challenges, the collective sigh of disappointment was heard all the way in Kyoto. The series would not be seen on a home console for five years.
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9. Mario Party, Nintendo 64, 1998.
The original just cracks the top ten if only due to firing the starter's pistol. Since 1998, the Mario Party franchise has sold nearly 40 million copies. Without this first attempt at Mushroom Kingdom denizens parading around a virtual boardgame, spurred on by the bop of a Dice Block instead of nudging right on a D-Pad, none of the others would be possible. On strict merits, though, the first is a bit spare, with only six playable characters, a lack of in-game items, and poor Toad relegated to hosting duties.
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8. Mario Party 4, GameCube, 2002.
The fourth Party began what is known as the Saturation Age, where Nintendo and developer Hudson Soft would crank out a new Mario Party game with the feverish pace of a Madden or Call of Duty. For the first time, we saw a more vividly realized boardgame world, with the GameCube's relative power allowing a crispness and level of detail not before possible. Play enough and unlock a secret board, "Bowser's Gnarly Party," notable for its use of '90s-era lexicon and crumbling paths that reward trailblazers while penalizing those who cross last: A veiled admittance of Nintendo's failure for choosing cartridge over CD the previous generation?
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6. Mario Party 7, GameCube, 2005.
Long before Super Smash Bros. for Wii U brought the mayhem of eight players , to your living room, the final Mario Party on GameCube gave you and seven soon-to-be enemies the chance to smack moles, evade Cheep-Cheeps, and guess playing cards. Each duo shared a single controller; the closeness bred an intimacy and fear of sabotage never before seen in the series. It would be higher ranked, especially with mini-game titles such as "Herbicidal Maniac" and "Apes of Wrath," but as the fifth MP in four years, Party fatigue had set in.
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7. Mario Party: Island Tour, 3DS, 2013.
I grant this the Lucky Number 7 in my list because it is the one Mario Party game I've played with my niece and nephew. Though the ten-year-old is normally immersed in Minecraft or Five Nights at Freddy's, and the eight-year-old enjoys Frozen: Olaf's Quest a little too much, both respond enthusiastically to the simple joys found in this and every MP game: the anticipation of a dice roll's random outcome; one mad-cap quick challenge after the other; the glory of sending an opponent back ten spaces and stealing their coins. Bonus Points for the only non-system-name subtitle of the lot.
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5. Mario Party 10, Wii U, 2015.
Top Five by dint of being the fresh new face. Due to its longevity being impossible to judge, it remains an anomaly, an unplaceable stallion still neighing and wheezing behind the starting gate. The tenth console game might be the largest departure yet: Nintendo's Amiibo figurines unlock unique stages and are represented in-game as physical pieces moving across the board, a lovely touch. And the Wii U GamePad opens up a new mode where you control Bowser wreaking havoc on the other players. This may be the closest we get to a Dungeon Master scenario on the system. The worry is that even a smart evolution won't help a game that is becoming brittle in its long-standing adherence to a winning, if staid, formula.
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4. Mario Party 9, Wii, 2012.
This penultimate home version corrects the wrongs of the first Wii game with pared back waggle challenges and a new style of traversing the board: In a big car. Contestants travel together this time, a call-back to the Game Boy Advance version. The decision keeps the action fast and circumvents one of the common complaints with the series: It takes too gosh-darn long for every character to roll, then move, then act. The streamlined design may be due to Nd Cube taking over development duties from Hudson, the Wii Party developers injecting fresh ideas into an aging franchise's veins. (Ed. Do not inject anything into anyone else's veins.)