The Mario Party franchise seems to be quite bittersweet for gamers old and young. Ask the opinion of most old-school fans and they’ll claim that the games haven’t been worth playing since 3 on the Nintendo 64. Ask somewhat younger fans and they’ll argue that the real downward spiral began with either Mario Party 8 (with linear maps) or Mario Party 9 (with the introduction of the party cart). I fall squarely into the latter camp and, though I haven’t enjoyed an entry in over a decade now, Mario Party 6 will always hold an immense amount of sentimental value for me.
Have you ever felt lonely or disheartened and turned to the worlds in books, cartoons or video games to console you? Though I had a few close friends growing up, those fictional characters and worlds consistently provided the comfort and escape that I needed more than a few times throughout my life. Surprising as it might be, Mario Party 6 is the game that both came at the perfect time and offered the ideal, magical game world that I could hide away in for afternoons at a time. It also served as the catalyst for bringing my friends together and reigniting our love for local multiplayer games.
I was never one for competitive gaming growing up. The few close friends I had loved anime and the GameCube as much as I did, so we would all pick up (read: ask our parents for) classics like One Piece: Grand Battle, Naruto: Clash of the Ninja and, of course, Super Smash Bros. Melee. We’d bond over all of our favorite characters and the awesome moves we were able to pull off with them in-game. When it came to facing off against each other, though, the matches always ended in hard feelings and–being kids–unabashed bragging and trash talking. Because of this I gradually grew to prefer playing against computer opponents rather than my actual friends and, eventually, our gaming sessions devolved into taking turns playing single-player games. It was around this time that gaming became more like a passion that I shared with my buddies instead of a real experience that we could enjoy together. All of that changed, however, when Mario Party 6 came out.
Mainline Mario games and spin-offs alike are generally great at giving players colorful, cartoonish game worlds to enjoy, and Mario Party 6 was no exception. Bouts of loneliness have been constant throughout my life–even when I was not physically alone–and the cheery presentation and pops of color did a brilliant job of pulling me away from any gloomy thoughts I might be having. Best of all, the single-player experience in Mario Party 6 was actually really well thought out. Aside from the game’s Solo Mode that was more a precursor to the linear direction the series would later take, 6 boasted a Party Mode that (in addition to Free-For-All) allowed players to form teams with competent AI partners and play normal games just as they would with someone locally. The replay value of this was nearly endless, and losing myself in massive team games became a much-needed escape of mine for years afterward.
Eventually, I had to introduce the game to my friends, and it was an immediate hit. If there were only two of us, we’d crank the CPUs up to Very Hard and see how well we could manage. If we were all there then playing free-for-all or splitting off into opposing teams was never a problem. Because losing in Mario Party feels so impersonal (as opposed to any sports games, fighting games or something like Mario Kart), there were very rarely any hard feelings by the end of it all.
This single-handedly revitalized local multiplayer gaming among my friends and laid the groundwork for countless game nights and the playing of later multiplayer classics like Wii Sports and ATV Quad Power Racing 2. Now, a decade later, we’re still constantly challenging each other to races in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and having a riot trying to work together in Overcooked: Special Edition. If it hadn’t been for Mario Party 6 inspiring such camaraderie, we might’ve stopped playing with each other a long time ago.