The Mario game you probably never played
Every self-respecting Nintendo fan knows what Mario Party is.
The four-player board/video game mashup that destroys friendships has seen tons of variations over the past couple decades since its debut on the Nintendo 64. But what if I told you that there was a Mario Party game that was not only an actual board game, but to get the most out of it, you’d need to have a Game Boy Advance peripheral that scans cards?
Strange. Suddenly, the room has gotten very quiet.
Released in 2001 in Japan (2002 for North America), Nintendo’s e-reader was an add-on for the GBA where players could scan cards to play exclusive games. Or at least I think that was the idea, but most of the games for the thing were NES ports. Balloon Fight, Mario Bros., Excitebike, Donkey Kong, and more saw releases for this thing.
The more NES games that came over to the e-reader, the less it felt like the e-reader was a new, innovative way to experience games. At that point, it can make one wonder if Nintendo had any real foresight for how the device would be used. Well, somebody thought to make a unique game for it. And it’s in the form of a Mario Party installment.
Mario Party-e can **technically** be considered the first game in the series for a portable console, but you’re not really playing it on the GBA. Rather, there’s a physical playmat you place on the table, and a whopping 64 cards to go with it.
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There are a few different kinds of cards that are put into play, most notably Coin cards. These are used essentially to enable other card types, and they can change a player’s momentum in varying degrees depending on the card. Cards and coins alike could shift hands, or they could be rid of entirely. Either way, the idea is to play the Superstar card; to get to that point, you must work your way to possessing three associated cards (Superstar Hat, Superstar Shoes, Superstar Clothes).
So if this GBA game is played mainly in a tabletop setting, where does the GBA part of said GBA game come in? Well, it plays a role for the series’ signature lineup of minigames. Nearly a dozen minigames are playable via the e-reader, with each being totally exclusive to the game. No other Mario Party game has these—even to this day. They’re not much to write home about on their own (they almost feel like they were designed for the Game Boy Color), but they do offer interesting bite-sized challenges that complement the card mechanics.
Not that it’s entirely worth going the extra mile to have a GBA and e-reader in hand for this, though. The e-reader could be considered ahead of its time, but man was it an impractical device. Multiple cards have to be scanned to get any kind of game to play on it at all. Worse yet, only one game at a time can be saved on the e-reader itself. You always need to have the cards around if you ever want to play different games, no matter how many times they’ve been scanned in.
Basically, scanning cards to play minigames is a slog.
And this is supposed to be the big thing that separates Mario Party-e from other card games.
Fortunately for people without an e-reader (aka most people), players can instead flip a coin in place of playing a minigame. The outcome may be more random, sure, but the pace is far less glacial this way. And no one likes a long tabletop game; just look at how many people complain about Monopoly.
So with the e-reader being a drawback for its own singular unique game instead of an unequivocal enhancement, it can be easy to see why the add-on never really took off—and why Mario Party-e didn’t either. One game can only carry an entire platform for so long, and this just wasn’t enough. Future installments in the Mario Party series eventually showed up on handhelds properly—starting with 2006’s Mario Party Advance—and it never looked back since.
So long, e-reader. There won’t ever be another add-on like you.