The set-up for Mario Party DS is much the same as in previous titles. Like a traditional board game, you choose a 'piece' (a character from the Mushroom Kingdom), and roll the dice to move along the board. While progressing you gain or lose coins, participate in mini-games and try to gain stars. so far so predictable right? It's the mini-games which make Mario Party DS stand out from the other titles in the series. Rather than recycle some of the mini-games from other Mario Party games Nintendo has gone back to the drawing board to take full advantage of the DS' abilities, so you'll be blowing into the microphone and using the stylus to full effect. (If you are out in public and don't want to make a fool of yourself, the good news is you can choose to exclude the microphone mini-games)
The sheer number of mini-games is also very impressive. There are over seventy, and for the most part the quality is very high. It really doesn't feel like Nintendo were just stringing together some by-the-numbers ideas just to say 'over seventy mini-games' on the box, Nintendo have come up with mini-games that utilise the Nintendo DS creatively and and are just genuinely fun. There is also a large amount of variety - you won't just be slamming A to win in half the games, you'll actually need to read the instructions for each game carefully. One moment you might be trying to tap the correct button on the touch screen, then moments later you will be trying to win a birthday candle-blowing race.
There are only a few minor problems which let Mario Party down. Because the game is so well suited to multiplayer it is disappointing there is no online support at all, especially considering most Nintendo titles feature Wi-Fi multiplayer these days. As has always been the case with the franchise, these games are much better when played with friends. Even though online play hasn't been included this doesn't mean that Nintendo has forgotten about the importance of multiplayer. The game includes multiplayer support for up to four players with just the one cartridge, so if you've got three friends with a Nintendo DS each, you can still play through the entire game with just the one cartridge, which is both a great technical achievement and a smart move by Nintendo. Obviously it does take a few minutes to get going, and their are occasionally some loading screens, but it's a great inclusion and one that is perfectly suited to the game.
One of the other problems that has plagued the franchise since its debut is the fact that a lot of the time it feels as if you are a spectator more than you are playing the game. Duels which don't include your character are automatically skipped this time, but there is still some waiting around to be done. There are also only five boards, and while they are all decent, a few more would have been appreciated. Overall though, anybody familiar with the Mario Party series will most likely be fully aware of these issues, and for the most part these few faults are forgiveable for the fantastic mini-games.
Overall Mario Party's debut on the Nintendo DS is a successful one. While the formula hasn't been heavily modified and there are a few remaining issues, the quality of the seventy plus mini-games found in Mario Party DS makes the title a worthwhile investment for party game fans.