Super Mario Party: The Democratic Joy of Minigames

You remember your favorite childhood games — and no, I’m not talking about video games. I’m talking about real-life games like Musical Chairs at a birthday party, or Duck, Duck, Goose in PE, or Marco Polo at the pool.

What’s amazing is that after years and years, these games are still around, and kids still love them. I believe what makes these little games so widely popular and have such longevity is their relative accessibility. They have short, simple rules with a hook or twist that makes it suspenseful enough to play again and again with your friends. Who will be duck and who will be goose this time? No one knows! (Unless your “best friends” only favored each other, then the suspense was dissipated and you didn’t play with them for a week).

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Mario Party’s strength is that its mini games tap into this accessibility. No matter what your skill level, Mario Party always delivers simple fun, and it all stems from how the minigames are designed. When you break it down, all minigames have 3 essential components to their anatomy:

  1. A basic gameplay mechanic (paired with basic controls)
  2. Theming
  3. A hook / twist that keeps it suspenseful

You can then use these three points as criteria for judging a mini game’s quality.

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The basic gameplay mechanic should involve one or two simple actions, and use little more than a control stick and a button. Motion controls can also be used, but they should feel intuitive. The theming is simply the context for the mini game, whatever silly scenario the Mario characters find themselves in. And finally, the hook or twist needs to throw a wrench into the whole thing. It gives you the “easier said than done” part of the minigame, something that briefly challenges you or leaves the winner uncertain until the very end.

Let’s start with a good example: Tow the Line

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Mechanics wise, the game is about trying to make your string match the pattern in the middle. The controls are simply moving your character around with a joystick. Check!

The theme is an adorable sewing kit with the pins and yarn. Check!

And finally, the twist is what makes this minigame truly fun. You are tied together with your partner, meaning you have to communicate and try and not get in each other’s way. You also have to consider the pins’ locations and maneuver your character in just the right way so that you don’t loop around the wrong pin. This makes for a very fun and replayable minigame. Check, check check! Other good minigames include: Slaparazzi, Sizzling Steaks, Snack Attack, Barralling Along, and Can Take Pancake.

And now for an okay example: Maths of Glory

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Its core mechanic is jumping to hit a rotating number, then multiplying your roll and your partner’s roll to get a final result. It’s simple enough for anyone familiar with basic multiplication, and all you do is hit one button. It’s alright for a base mechanic.

Its theming is amazing. Everything is made of puzzle pieces and you have to knock over the other team’s puzzle castle. I need an entire Yoshi game in this puzzle world. Please.

The twist, though, is that the numbers are random, so you never quite know who will win. One team may start strong, but then the other comes back from behind. It does mean that there’s a bit of suspense, but both victory and defeat feel a bit cheap. Other okay minigames include: Senseless Census and Candy Shakedown.

And now for a bad example: It’s the Pits

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Its core mechanic is avoiding a rotating pitfall, its controls being just moving your character around. I guess that’s an okay base mechanic.

The theming is not really there, though. It’s just some generic… factory? I’m not sure.

Its twist is that the panel that the pitfall chooses is a bit random. Even worse than Maths of Glory, this feels like a complete roll of the dice. There’s some technique to help your chances, but you still can’t help but feel a bit meh once it’s all done, even if you do win. Other bad minigames include Perfect Fit (it’s an example of motion controls done wrong. No one wants to twist their hands that way, Nintendo).

What do you think? Is this a good criteria for judging a minigame’s quality? What minigames do you enjoy the most? If you have Super Mario Party, we’d be totally down for some games!

3 thoughts on “Super Mario Party: The Democratic Joy of Minigames

  1. When it comes to minigames, I think my rule is basically: if you can make it work go for it. Yeah, I realize that’s not very specific, but the first three Mario Party games really managed to make a lot of unlikely concepts work. If it’s one type of minigame that I don’t think ever really worked, it’s any one that relies on the luck of the draw. You could lose the entire game simply because the RNG said so, which is quite frustrating.

    Liked by 1 person

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