Even if it does not do as much as Mario Party 2 did for the formula, it is able to – through the punctual polishing it gives to the visuals, boards, and mini-games – take the franchise to its Nintendo 64 apex
The original Mario Party built the formula, but with so much time and effort devoted to putting together a board game that would work within the confines of a console, it ended up leaving the overall structure a bit too stripped down. Mario Party 2, then, swooped in and took advantage of the vast room for improvement left by its predecessor to make matches wilder, more eventful, and give players strategic options that allowed them to have more control over their destiny on the board. Given all good additions made by its prequel, Mario Party 3 had pretty solid ground on which to stand: it did not really have to bring much to the table in order to deliver a remarkable party experience; instead, it could focus on polishing up the franchise’s rough edges and address its frequent targets of complaints, and in the process of doing so it created not only the Nintendo 64’s definitive party game, but the favorite Mario Party of many who see the first three titles of the series as untouchable.
Anyone who has spent a good amount of time with the game’s two prequels and decides to sit down and play Mario Party 3 for the first time will most likely be surprised by the title’s graphical style. Where Mario Party and Mario Party 2 were visually lackluster, Mario Party 3 is actually full of personality. During the game’s opening scene, which exposes a plot that is downright silly and only serves as an excuse for all of the dice-rolling and board-roaming, the starring characters are transported to the interior of a toy box, and Hudson Soft takes advantage of that new setting to give the franchise an artistic overhaul that does wonders for its presentation.
Perhaps inspired by Paper Mario, which had come out one year earlier, Mario Party 3 decorates its boards and the setting of its mini-games with numerous paper assets. Chilly Waters, an ice-covered and Christmas-themed board, has igloos, cabins, pine trees, snowflakes, and mountains that are made of sheets that have been brightly colored and painted to look delightfully cartoonish. It is an artistic decision that yields three benefits: giving the game have a distinctive look and feel when compared to its predecessors; freeing more of the system’s processing power to worry about the character models and their movements; and allowing both boards and mini-games to feature more detailed visuals, therefore making them far more appealing.
Speaking of the boards and mini-games, these are two areas in which Mario Party 3 greatly thrives. Boards are still centered around the same goal: in other words, for every turn that goes by all players will roll the dice and move the designated number of spaces looking to reach the place on which the star, which costs twenty coins, is currently being sold. However, even though the six stages offered by Mario Party 3 are mostly constructed with the same elements found in Mario Party 2 (in other words, the very same types of spaces; and important locations such as item stores, Boo’s house, and banks), they manage to be more interactive and action-packed.
For starters, on most boards, the happening spaces – designated by a question mark – trigger different events depending on their location, a fact that lends each board an extra dose of character. On Deep Bloober Sea, for example, landing on happening spaces found near a chasm on the ocean floor will cause a giant Blooper to grab players and take them to the other side of the crack; meanwhile, happening spaces placed close to an enormous open-mouthed fish will make it try to suck in whatever characters are in front of it, and players will have to desperately press the A-button if they wish to stay where they are.
Additionally, all boards also have one or more events dubbed action time, which are triggered either by happening spaces themselves – as it is the case with the aforementioned water-sucking fish – or when players arrive at specific locations. On Spiny Desert, for instance, a key junction that can serve as a major shortcut has two cacti standing on the way, and if players are to make it through they need to press the A-button right on time so that their character can successfully jump over the plants; the punishment for failing is being sent jumping away, presumably with a few thorns stuck on the body, towards a random direction.
When it comes to the mini-games, Mario Party 3 tramples on its predecessors both in terms of quality and quantity – as the game features a whopping seventy-one of them. Mini-games where luck defines the victor are, with very few exceptions, completely removed from the equation; and item and duel mini-games, which in Mario Party 2 were board specific, making the experience of replaying the same mini-game over and over again during the match’s twenty turns somewhat boring, are now defined by a roulette just like the free-for-all, 2 vs. 2, and 3 vs. 1 affairs that happen at the end of every turn. Mario Party 3’s set of mini-games is especially remarkable due to its simplicity, variety, and great design, as all of its pieces are easy to learn and will – regardless of the level of the players that are involved in the match – provide a tight competition that is rather fair.
Where Mario Party 2, somewhat wisely, recycled and revamped the very best mini-games of Mario Party, the third installment goes for a fully original group of challenges. There is hide and seek; racing on mini waterboats; a quiz competition; a few memory tests; a pizza-eating duel; a vine-swinging race; a wild catch-the-chicken bout; a mad relay in which one player takes the skies on a hang-glider while the opposing team pilots different water vehicles; a unique and rather tense take on snowball battles; a golfing approach challenge; a face off on bouncing balls while standing on top of a slowly crumbling platform; an epic dogfight; a simplified take on Tetris; a Super Mario 64 inspired Bowser tossing joust; and far more.
With the basis of its multiplayer matches firmly in place, and with a spectacular collection of mini-games that makes both board-playing and mini-game-only competitions extremely alluring and fun, Mario Party 3 sets its eyes on fixing the franchise’s most glaring weak spot: the overwhelming dullness of its single-player experience. Mario Party 3 tries to do it by introducing a campaign mode in which one must play, and win, all boards in order to collect stamps and earn the rank of Super Star. As the description implies, other than the fact that clearing boards allows gamers to get a stamp and move onto the next challenge, there is nothing that is really different about Story Mode when compared to sitting home alone and playing random boards by oneself against three CPUs. Therefore, the introduction of the mode does not really fix the fact that Mario Party is only truly remarkable when at least two people are playing it, for it is a game that relies on human interaction as much as it does on the actual playing.
What the single-player mode does that is indeed different from what other Mario Party games had done is the introduction of duel boards, which – naturally – can also be played outside of that mode and against one friend. After winning a free-for-all board, and just when they are about to receive the stamp that will represent that victory, players will be challenged to a duel by one of the playable characters. The goal on a duel board is not earning stars or coins, but emptying the adversary’s five-piece heart gauge; something that is done by running across them on the boards (which are naturally much smaller and simpler than the free-for-all ones) and attacking them with a partner.
Partners are secondary characters from the Mario universe – such as Toad, Baby Bowser, Koopa Troopa, Goomba, and others – who have their own statuses (attack and defense power; one special ability; and a salary, which when not paid causes the partner to go away and makes players unable to attack and more vulnerable) and are randomly earned when the duel starts or whenever players walk by the starting point of the boards. Duels are much briefer than free-for-all matches, and move at a much faster pace given there are only two players, less events, and due to the fact mini-games do not take place every turn. They are a quite different experience when compared to normal boards, even though both are basically built using the same materials. And although they fail to capture the magic and madness of Mario Party to the same level as four-player skirmishes do, they are a fun addition that adds some degree of variety to the table.
Although it takes a fair shot at fixing the series’ lack of an engaging single-player experience, Mario Party 3 fails in that regard, just like all of its sequels eventually would. However, even if it does not do as much as Mario Party 2 did for the formula, it is able to – through the punctual polishing it gives to the visuals, boards, and mini-games – take the franchise to its Nintendo 64 apex. Some of the Mario Party games may have done one or two things a little bit better – such as the orb system introduced on Mario Party 5 or the boards governed by different rules of Mario Party 6 – but Mario Party 3 was the very last time (to those who have been following the series since its inception )in which it felt like the franchise took a good step forward, consolidating what had been done before it and propelling the package to a new level of quality.