On Dec. 7, 2000, Mario Party 3 released in Japan for the Nintendo 64. 2000 was an odd year for the Super Mario series. It was a full three years past the last main series title, Super Mario 64, and still two years before Super Mario Sunshine would debut on the GameCube. Nintendo had spent most of the year launching various Mario-themed spin-offs, each of which they hoped would become well liked enough to turn into a sub series of its own. Some (Paper Mario and Mario Tennis) would successfully reach this goal, while others (Mario Artist) would unfortunately fall short of Nintendo's hopes.
When thinking and writing about all the shiny new Mario spin-offs that hit stores in 2000, it's easy for Mario Party 3 to fly beneath the radar. It was the third game in an already existing series, it boasted a fairly generic, less-than-flashy title, and it released late in the lifetime of the Nintendo 64 rather than waiting for the Game Boy Advance and GameCube the following year.
However, despite its sometimes neglected status, Mario Party 3 contributed a great deal to the popular (but sometimes friendship-ending) multiplayer spin-off. It boasted new modes, new characters, and introduced a number of quality-of-life changes which would become standard in later Mario Party titles. On its 20th anniversary, it's time to put Mario Party 3 back in the spotlight and recognize just what it brought to the, well, party!
The Story of the Millennium Star
Mario Party 3's Story Mode campaign is very much a product of its time. The loosely connected "plot" consists of Mario and his "friends" (which apparently include Donkey Kong and Wario) competing to see who possesses various qualities which will render them worthy of possessing the ultimate prize: the Millennium Star. What is so great about the Millennium Star, exactly? Well... it's very bright and shiny, and... that's it. The game does very little to explain why Mario and his friends each want the Millennium Star for themselves so badly. We are just expected to accept that the Millennium Star is something desirable, because it was 2000 and the mere addition of the word "Millennium" meant that said thing was inherently cool.
(One thing I always wondered: the Millennium Star, which is not an object but a completely sentient, powerful being, is the one who decides to trap Mario and co. inside a toy box and force them to compete in several games of Mario Party in order to "win" him. Is, then, the Millennium Star not the true villain of the piece? Discuss.)
Thoughts about the Millennium Star aside, this is the first element which Mario Party 3 introduced to the series: it was the very first one to have a Story Mode at all. Mario Party and Mario Party 2 had focused entirely on multiplayer competitions, with limited or non-existent options for solo play. Basically, if you didn't have gamers in your family or lots of friends who regularly came over to visit, there wasn't much you could do with Mario Party. 3, on the other hand, offered an—admittedly fairly generic—plot which players could complete on their own, choosing one of the characters and earning Star Stamps to prove them worthy of the Millennium Star. This solo-play option made the game a lot more appealing to a wider audience, and many later Mario Party titles, including immediate sequels 4 and 5, would follow its example.
Many Many Mini-Games
One of the primary selling points of the Mario Party series is its wide variety of mini-games. Each new entry advertises itself by announcing just how many exciting new mini-games are available to play. In Mario Party 3's case, it was 70. Did any of them leave a lasting impact on fans? Well...answering that question for the purposes of this article was more difficult than you might expect.
As of 2020, there are over 1,000 Mario Party mini-games across all entries in the series—and just as many "Best and/or Worst Mini-Games" lists that can be found around the Internet. Reading (and watching) through several of these, I could only come to one, not-particularly-satisfying conclusion. It is almost 100% certain that a Mario Party 3 mini-game will appear on any given "Top X" list, but which mini-game is listed varies greatly. Additionally, said game will very likely end up on someone else's "Worst Mini-Games" list as well.
There's little conclusive evidence that I can present regarding which Mario Party 3 mini-games are the most or least liked. However, it does seem that Eatsa Pizza (in which two teams of two players compete to devour a giant pizza the fastest) and Ice Rink Risk (where characters run from Spiny Shells atop a sheet of slippery ice) are generally well regarded. Perhaps Nintendo should take this as a sign that fans like games which allow Mario and co. to look utterly ridiculous?
Other games which made appearances on "Best Of" lists include Slot Synch, a two-player timing challenge, the memory-based The Beat Goes On and Three-Door Monty, and Dr. Mario homage Mario's Puzzle Party. The only mini-game which made multiple appearances under "Worst" was Frigid Bridges, in which characters must slowly make their way along narrow, icy bridges, restarting whenever they fall out. It even received unfavorable comparisons to Rainbow Road, the Mario Kart map infamous for making players fall off over and over again!
Because each Mario Party uses new mini-games, it is hard to tell which prior ones are particularly influential. However, Mario Party 3's mini-games definitely seem to be memorable and enjoyable in the eyes of fans.
The Quality of Life of the Mario Party
Besides introducing Story Mode, Mario Party 3 is best known for adding a number of quality-of-life changes which have persisted throughout the series. The first of these was the ability for players to carry three items while on the game board, rather than a single item as in Mario Party 1 and 2. This has now become standard practice, as it allows for a wider variety of items to be included in the game, and allows players to strategically hold on to beneficial items rather than using them all at once.
Additionally, Mario Party 3 was the first game in the series to add new playable characters. In addition to the "original six" of Mario, Luigi, Peach, Donkey Kong, Wario, and Yoshi, Princess Daisy and Waluigi appear as NPCs in Story Mode and are playable in multiplayer modes. Since then, more playable characters have been added in almost every entry, including Diddy Kong, Rosalina, Toad, Toadette, representatives of various enemy races such as Blooper, Dry Bones, Goomba, and Shy Guy, and even the Koopa King Bowser himself.
Finally, Mario Party 3 allowed players to enjoy previously unlocked mini-games via a separate Mini-Game Mode. This allowed for short play sessions, experimenting and practicing with favorite mini-games, and players not having to rely on the games randomly appearing during Story or Party Mode. Almost all following Mario Party games include a similar Mini-Game Mode, making this perhaps Mario Party 3's most lasting impact on the series.
So, 20 years later, let's raise our Super Mushrooms to Mario Party 3, one of the games which brought Mario and his companions into the 21st century. Its Story Mode may have been fairly generic and brought to us by a rather creepy, arguably evil, only debatably cool Millennium Star, but it established a number of ongoing series traditions. We have this game to thank for Mini-Game mode, larger item storage capacity, and, of course, the debut of eternal fan favorite (and unfortunate Smash reject) Waluigi himself.
So why not celebrate its 20th anniversary with a round or two of Mario Party 3? Maybe you'll even be judged worthy of possessing the Millennium Star—and you can finally tell me whether or not that's an honor worth having!