Estimated reading time: 13 minute(s)

Mario Party is a virtual board game series that, over the past two decades and change, has become one of Nintendo’s best known franchises. The first Mario Party was released in the United States for the Nintendo 64 in 1999, and the most recent game, Super Mario Party for the Nintendo Switch, is the seventeenth game in the series. At the risk of dating myself, I confess that I obtained the first Mario Party in 1999 at a now-defunct Toys “R” Us (not that I have not already dated myself with video game stories, mind you). I played it quite a bit for a few years before letting it rest for many.

In 2019, I dusted off my Nintendo 64 with Victor in preparation for a nostalgic group Mario Party game that we had scheduled ten days later. Once I got the game to start, I discovered that I had a nearly-completed in-progress game from two decades earlier. In this article, I will re-tell the story of uncovering this Mario Party time capsule and bringing my very long Mario Party to an end. After telling the story, I will try to extract some meaning from the anecdote. Fear not if you only have a vague idea of what Mario Party is, I will take the time to explain everything necessary to follow the story.

Preparing on January 8, 2019

Two years ago to the day this article is going live, I was convalescing at home after I had surgery in late December – spending a fun Christmas in the hospital. Because I was not much for adventure yet, Victor and I scheduled a Mario Party game with our New Leaf Journal colleagues for January 18, 2019. Victor and I had played a few more recent Mario Party entries against each other and, for whatever reason, he has a gift for Mario Party, including being the bearer of Mario Party luck. If Fortuna smiled on his song-writing as much as it does on his Mario Partying, he would have already surpassed Bob Dylan years ago. But I digress.

Most of my Nintendo 64 collection is no more, but Mario Party is one of my few remaining cartridges. Furthermore, I have a very lightly-used special Pikachu edition Nintendo 64 – lightly used because I acquired it close to when I stopped playing my Nintendo 64 games often.

Special edition Pikachu Nintendo 64 with the original Mario Party cartridge inserted.
My Pikachu N64 with Mario Party inserted. I apologize for the dust under Pikachu – but let’s just say it builds character. Taken with KODAK Digital Still Camera.

The console had probably gone unused for close to fifteen years, and the cartridge for perhaps even longer. My television had red-white-yellow jacks, so no adapter was needed. I plugged the Nintendo 64 in, slotted in Mario Party, and turned it on.

Mario Party Refuses to Start

Pikachu’s cheeks turned red when I powered the console on, but my black TV screen indicated that something had gone awry. I turned the console off and on. No dice. Like anyone who grew up in the 90s, I tried blowing the cartridge out. Even if you know better, old habits die hard. Suffice it to say, blowing the cartridge and putting it back in did not fix the problem.

I decided to try another cartridge. If a different cartridge worked, that would prove that the Nintendo 64 itself worked, and that Mario Party was the issue. If the other cartridge did not work, we would continue to wander in uncertainty. I slotted Yoshi’s Story, which I had also obtained in 1999, and powered my Nintendo 64 on.

(Speaking of old habits, I became a Yoshi player for two decades in Super Smash Brothers solely because when I first played, Yoshi felt familiar to me from having played Yoshi’s Story. But I digress.)

Yoshi appeared and the cries of Yoshi were audible. I caught a Yoshi, and the Nintendo 64 worked. This was good news in a sense – better a single cartridge is temperamental than the entire console, but it left unresolved the question of whether our Mario Party would go on.

Starting the Mario Party with One Simple Trick

Victor and I looked online for solutions to negotiate with a temperamental Nintendo 64 console. One suggestion that came up repeatedly in my search was to insert the cartridge into the Nintendo 64, quickly pull it out, and repeat the process 20 times. This solution presumes that the problem is caused by the cartridge not making proper contact inside the Nintendo 64. It honestly did not sound much more scientific than blowing dust out of the cartridge, but it was not as if I had other ideas. We repeated the process exactly twenty times, inserted the cartridge, and powered on the Nintendo 64.

It worked. Consider this sub-section a mini how-to guide for making your seemingly-faulty Nintendo 64 games work. Now let us proceed to more interesting matters.

Finding a Surprise – a Mario Party Deferred

I had played Mario Party enough that I had a vague recollection of the opening pre-menu scene. After skipping through that, I expected to be taken to the main menu, which is a map wherein you can pick from a variety of things to do in the game. Unexpectedly, however, instead of going to the menu map, Toad came on screen and informed me that I had an unfinished game that I could resume. The game was 50 turns, and I had apparently completed 49, leaving one turn remaining.

I had most likely started this game, and left it unfinished, no later than 2002 (and, perhaps, 2001 or 2000). Suffice to say, I had no recollection of it at all. Because I did not remember the game, I had no particular reason to finish it. Furthermore, Victor was reminding me that he had to leave soon.

So, I hit continue. How many chances do you get to do your younger self proud and directly finish what he started? Let’s go!

My Past Mario Parties

Mario Party is a fun multiplayer game. Together, friends can complain about bad dice rolls, compete in hectic mini games, and screw each other over by availing themselves to the games many mechanics for just that purpose. The first Mario Party is particularly notorious for the myriad ways you could lose coins, stars, and everything else. Nintendo wisely toned some of it down in Mario Party 2. But I digress. Mario Party is, however, less appealing as a single-player game. Instead of stabbing your friends in the back, you are repeatedly stabbed in the back by the dirty, cheating AI.

Playing Mario Party Solo

Back around the turn of the century – “around the turn of the century” sounds more exciting than “1999-2002” – I usually played Mario Party by myself against the AI. Playing multiplayer games by myself – is this why I have an affinity for My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU? In one instance in the novels and the anime, the protagonist, Hachiman Hikigaya, describes playing baseball with himself. Well, I never played baseball against myself.

Despite Mario Party’s limitations as a single-player game, I unlocked everything single-player. All these years later, I must tell you that you learn many life lessons by playing Mario Party solo. “Life is not fair.” “You will be stabbed in the back by forces you can’t control.” “Nothing matters, in the end.” “Memento mori.” “Everyone and everything is out to get me.” I recommend having kids play Mario Party by themselves.

Did I mention that the first Mario Party had mini games that required you to rapidly spin the joystick, which eventually destroyed your controller? Good thing Nintendo thought better of those in Mario Party 2…

You learn many life lessons from playing Mario Party solo. ‘Nothing matters, in the end.’ ‘Memento mori.’ ‘Everyone and everything is out to get me.’ I recommend having kids play Mario Party by themselves.

Nicholas A. Ferrell

Resuming the Longest Mario Party Game

After I accepted Toad’s invitation to resume my 17-19 year old Mario Party game, I discovered that I had been playing as Yoshi against AI-controlled Mario, Luigi, and Princess Peach. Before I explain the circumstances of my position and describe what transpired, a brief explanation of the rules is in order. I will only explain so much as necessary for you to be able to follow the rest of the story. Much of the explanation will sound familiar to those who played later Mario Party games, but I will cite to sources specifically about the original.

A Brief Introduction to Mario Party and Its Rules

Mario Party is a board game in video game form. Four players hit a dice block to move around the board. The players collect coins as they move around the board, and they can trade those coins for stars, which are the first consideration in determining who wins. In between turns, the players engage in a mini game, where coins can be won or lost. The original Mario Party game was a bit sadistic, and there were many more opportunities to lose coins in mini games than there were in later entries in the series (see this nightmare for an extreme example).

Games in the original Mario Party could be set for 20, 35, or 50 turns. At the end of the game, the player with the most stars won. In the event that two players end with the same amount of stars, the tie would be broken by coins on hand. In the event that stars and coins were even… I actually do not know what would happen. While I just made myself curious, I digress.

Determining the Winner of a Round of Mario Party

After all the turns are completed, the game awards three bonus stars. These bonus stars are often decisive, especially in shorter 20-turn games where the players did not have a long time to collect stars. Stars are not remarkably easy to come by due to where they are placed on the map. Furthermore, the original Mario Party has many mechanics which make a player’s hold on stars tenuous.

The first bonus star is awarded to the player who possessed the most coins at a single point in the game. For example, if player A possessed 150 coins at turn 21 of a 50-turn game, and no player had more coins at any point in the game than 150, player A would win this bonus star. The second bonus star goes to the player who netted the most coins in mini games (accounting for earning coins and losing coins). The third bonus star goes to the player who landed on the most happening spaces – one of the several categories of landing spots on a board.

Taken together, Mario Party involves a great deal of luck. The player who performs best in the mini games has an advantage, both in having a lock on one bonus star and in having a steady stream of coins to purchase stars and wreak havoc on the other players. However, it is entirely possible for one player to do just about everything right and lose for one reason or another.

Where the Game Stood When I Resumed

My game was on the Yoshi’s Tropical Island board. Mario and I had 5 stars, Luigi had 4, and Princess Peach had 3. I had the fewest coins on hand, so Mario was in first place and I was in second in the standings, which are first determined by the number of stars on hand. There was no realistic way for me to make up my coin deficit to Mario or Luigi on the final turn, so barring any change in the star count, I was counting on bonus stars to put me ahead in the post-game. Having no recollection of the first 49 turns, I had no idea whether I had a chance to prevail.

Turn 50 passed by uneventfully. I landed on a regular space, as did the other three characters. No stars were gained or lost. Because Luigi, Peach, and I landed on blue spaces and Mario landed on a red space, a 1 vs 3 mini game ensued, pitting Mario against the three of us. While it was unlikely that the final mini game would change the final outcome in light of the fact that we had previously played 49 mini games (of which I recalled none), it was not impossible. I had to do my best.

Losing the Mini Game – Piranha’s Pursuit

The A-I selected Piranha’s Pursuit as the final mini game. Fortunately, I remembered Piranha’s Pursuit and how to play it, all these years later. It is a very deep and sophisticated game wherein the team of three stands atop a rain cloud which floats above a vicious man-eating plant, which is chasing the single player, who is riding a skateboard to escape it. The team of three must “ground pound” the cloud to make it rain on the plant, which makes the plant move faster in chasing the skateboard player.

Some one-vs-three games favor the one, while others favor the three. I think that Piranha’s Pursuit favors the one, in that if the one skates fast enough, he, she, or it will probably win regardless of the efforts of the three, especially in cases where the one is “it,” that is, controlled by the AI. If the one wins, he or she gains 15 coins, five each from the three. If the three win, they each gain five coins, taking 15 from the one. The first Mario Party stands above the others in its cruelness. Coddled youngsters these days who think the Switch Mario Party is all there is could never understand. But I digress.

I ground pounded the cloud well (at least I think I pressed “A” and “Z” about as well as one could), but unsurprisingly, Mario escaped our pet piranha plant, taking five coins from each of us to add to his total.

Allocating the Bonus Stars – My Defeat

Because I still had the fewest coins, I needed the bonus stars to put me cleanly ahead of Mario, Luigi, and Peach to win. Barring ties, winning two out of three bonus stars would give me the win. So too would winning one, provided that neither Mario nor Luigi ended up with six total stars.

The first bonus star for most coins went to Luigi, giving him 5 stars to match me and Mario. This was not the worst case scenario, but my situation was perilous. I now needed to sweep the last two bonus stars or to split them with Princess Peach in order to prevail. Sadly, my hopes for victory were dashed when Luigi took the mini game star as well. The game had some consolation for me, however – I did win the happening star to secure second place in the standings over Mario.

Mario Party Postmortem

After the cut-scenes rolled, I saw the final statistics. These statistics, pictured below, showed how close I was to winning.

Screenshot from my long round of Mario Party that took 17-19 years to finish.  I was Yoshi, and came desperately close to prevailing on bonus stars.
Final standings in my longest Mario Party. From left to right: Stars; Coins on hand at the end of the game; Coins collected in mini games; Most coins held at any one time. I did not capture the Happening Space star rank in the picture (sadly), but if I recall, I landed on 7 and Peach was second with 6.

Over the course of 50 turns, Luigi defeated me for the mini game star 248-243. Most 4-player and 2-player mini games award 10 coins to the winner or winners, so you can see how narrow the margin was. It was of minor consolation to me that there was nothing I could have done in the final mini game to change the outcome, for Luigi and I would have each gained five coins had we caught Mario.

Luigi also bested me for the coin star by a mere three coins – 88-85. I must say that is fairly low for a 50-turn game, you would normally expect to see one player eclipse 100 coins at some point. It must have been a brutal affair. In any event, there was nothing that I could have done on the final turn to win the coin star either.

Had I been able to flip either the coin star or the mini game star, I would have won. For the past year, I thought that there was nothing I could have done to win my Mario Party after I was put on the same team as Luigi for Piranha’s Pursuit. I needed to flip one of the bonus stars from him, I reasoned, and since we were on the same team for the final mini game, there was no way for me to make up the five-coin deficit for the mini game star. While writing this article and looking at the screen capture of the final results one last time, I discovered that I had made an error.

Discovering How I Could Have Won

Once Piranha’s Pursuit was chosen, I could not overtake Luigi for the mini game star. However, had we caught the dastardly Mario, I would have won the Mario Party. How so? Luigi won the coin star with 88 coins. Going into Piranha’s Pursuit, Luigi had 81 coins and Princess Peach had 84 (their final coin totals reflect the five coins that they lost in Piranha’s Pursuit). Had my team won, Peach would have finished with 89 coins, eclipsing Luigi for the coin star by a single coin, and depriving him of his sixth star.

Before I realized that I would have won the game had my team of three won Piranha’s Pursuit, I wrote: “My conscience was clean, I did not lose the game for my younger self through any deficiency of my own.”

After catching my error – my conscience is still clean. Firstly, there was no way AI Mario was going to be caught when his losing would have given me the win. Secondly, AI Luigi knew that he needed to lose the last battle to win the war. He most likely huddled with Mario beforehand. When they discussed the situation, they decided the way to guarantee that the victory would stay in the family was to let Mario win the mini game, clinching two bonus stars for Luigi. Not only was I up against the dirty AI, but I was also up against a family of dirty AI. I should have invited Wario or Donkey Kong instead of Luigi.

But I digress. My younger self remains appreciative of my valiant effort to win the game. Technicalities aside, there was in fact nothing I could have done.

Insights From My Very Long Mario Party

I most likely started the long-lost Mario Party when I was bored in 2000, 2001, or 2002. By those times, I had new games and even new Mario Party games. Perhaps I wanted to revisit the original for some reason or another. I likely stopped playing after turn 49 because I had something else to do. Either that or something annoying happened on turn 49. In any event, I apparently never thought about that unfinished game again until 2019.

Silly stories offer small insights, and this one is no exception. What was a meaningless way to kill time when I was a kid turned into a good memory when I was an adult. Not a memory in the sense of remembering the 98-percent of the Mario Party that I played in my youthful days, but instead a memory uncovered in a time capsule from those days. Discovering the game, finding my bearings, and bringing it to a proper conclusion is something that I will remember, unlike most of the individual Mario Party games I worked through after school or during summer vacations back in the day.

My Mario Party deferred did not become a fun story and article in spite of the fact that the game mattered so little to me when I played it, but rather because it mattered so little at the time. By not bothering to finish a game that I had likely spent more than two hours on, my younger self left a time capsule for my older self, then still at very low-energy from surgery, to discover and enjoy. One boy’s trash is another man’s treasure, or article, I suppose.

Everything worked out like Mario Party tends to work for Victor. Speaking of which…

Postscript – The Comeback

Our group Mario Party went off as planned on January 18, after I had mustered enough energy to cook a hot pot. Knowing the danger of the joystick spinning games, I called for a truce if any of those mini games came up – only one did.

Against all odds, I won the first game on Peach’s Birthday Cake while Victor finished in last place. While I can hardly say that I have great original Mario Party muscle memory (and not that I was all that good in the first place), perhaps the fact that I remembered most of the mini games worked to my advantage.

I should have stopped while I was ahead, but I did not. We still had time for one more round, so we set up a second game on Mario’s Rainbow Castle. I know just two things about Mario Party. The first is that the AI cheats relentlessly. The second is that Victor V. Gurbo can bend Mario Party to his will. There was no AI players in our two games, but there was a Victor V. Gurbo. The world righted itself, Victor won the second game going away while I was relegated to third place, and in the end, my Mario Party was as wrong as expected.

So concludes my reflections on finding my Mario Party deferred in a proverbial Mario Party time capsule.