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Mario Party: The Top 100 is the series at its best and worst

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Minigames are great ... but at what cost?

mario party the top 100 art Nintendo

Mario Party gets a bad rap. Yes, Nintendo’s virtual board game can be aggravating — much of it is left up to chance, after all, and it’s hard not to feel personally slighted by the random algorithm. This is especially true when your friends are kicking your butt and winning all the coins and stars.

But just as essential to the franchise as the repetitive rhythm of “roll the die, groan, collect or lose coins, groan” are the minigames. And the Nintendo 3DS’ Mario Party: The Top 100 is the first game in the series to acknowledge that the minigames are the shining gem in a rock garden of worms and dirt and pointy edges. The short, sweet multiplayer free-for-alls are like stunning supernovas compared to the main game’s hellish black hole.

What I’m saying is: The Top 100’s premise of all minigames, all the time, is a genius one. So genius, in fact, that it’s hard to believe that it took Nintendo nearly 20 years to focus an entire game on the best part of Mario Party. The thing is, going all-in on minigames isn’t as nice as it sounds.

The Top 100 collects a hundred of the most beloved minigames from across the entire franchise. A number of modes, like the 10-game Decathalon and the minigame free play, allow up to four players to compete in a random array of these fan favorites. These modes are classic party fun, and the only concern players have is proving they’re the best at the breezy minigames.

Many of these games are locked at the start, however, requiring players to dip into other modes to unlock them. These feel way more familiar than the minigame-centric features. Minigame Match brings back the board game aspect, and is the lesser evil of the two main modes. Players run around a board in a daze to compete for stars and coins while playing games in between. It’s way more scattershot than the typical Mario Party board, but that’s actually to its benefit. It feels chaotic and fresh, and minigames pop up at random, creating a more surprising setup.

Minigame Match is much more successful than the single-player campaign that stands alongside it, even if the board game parts of Mario Party are typically the most annoying. Minigame Island is just a series of linear pathways in which a player must endure a ton of minigames in a row. It’s exhausting, prescriptive and just ... not fun. I actually wanted there to be some reprieve of the board game minutia to break up the flow.

That’s the cruel irony of a game that goes hard on the minigames and light on everything else: Too much of one thing is often, well, too much. Modes like the 100 Minigame freeplay work because they give us control to play our most beloved games of the past two decades (I’m here for “Booksquirm,” always). Minigame Island, which is required to get the bulk of those fast and fun party favors we love the most? It feels like a random, obligatory grind.

Mario Party: The Top 100 does a very good thing by giving us tons of minigames to play, and some fun ways to play them. But it also does something I wasn’t sure was possible: It made me kind of miss the structure of the board game. I guess a true Mario Party does need to make some stops, after all.