Mario Party, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Take Care of my Hands
From Bubble Bobble to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, I grew gaming with family and friends. As a bit of a introvert, bonding together to slay a foe, or facing off head-to-head was a way for me to connect with others.
In the late 90s, Nintendo 64 was the ultimate console for couch co-op and competitive play. With four controller ports built-in, it became the home of classics like Mario Kart, Goldeneye 007, Diddy Kong Racing, Wrestlemania 2000, and a plethora of sports titles.
Two specific titles kicked off a string multi-console sequels: Super Smash Bros. and Mario Party. Spoiler alert: only one of these titles gave players painful debilitating hand blisters!
Mario Party, released in 1999 in the U.S., allowed players to choose one of six classic characters (Mario, Luigi, Peach, Yoshi, Wario, and Donkey Kong,) and compete in a board game style competition to determine who’s the “super star.”
Along the way, the players compete for coins and stars in a series of diverse and creative mini-games, and while there would be different winners with each completed round, there would always be one clear loser: your palms.
Who thought this was a good idea?
The greatest flaw in Mario Party’s game design is tied to the unique form factor of the Nintendo 64’s controller.
Unlike the Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, and Sony Playstation, the N64 controller featured a center positioned grip that gave players access to a rear trigger button and a front analog stick.
Love it or hate it, this revolutionized how we play console games as 3D gaming became more popularized. An analog joystick was the ideal way to control characters in a 3D space, with the yellow C buttons helping to control the camera. As we know, dual analog sticks would eventually become the ideal way to play.
Your thumb typically controlled the stick, as expected, directing the natural movement of characters on-screen.
The developers of Mario Party had a few novel ideas for how to stick it to the player. In quite a few mini-games, the stick did not control the movements of a player, but needed to be vigorously rotated in a clockwise or counter-clockwise direction.
This mechanic was put in place to emulate different actions, like rowing a boat, pedaling a bike, or pulling a rope.
While this might sound awesome and innovative in theory, the speed, number of rotations, and intensity required to actually win these types of mini-games was way too high.
I can’t recall, in my middle school and high school years, being able to actually meet the rotation demands required to win using just my thumb. No one could.
Gamers are persistent. We’re fighters. We’re not comfortable coming in second place. When there’s an obstacle in the way, like a poorly designed mechanic, gamers find a way to win.
In this case, that way to win was to place the controller flat on the floor, place the palm of your hand flat on the surface of the analog stick, and go ham on it!
Over the years, this aggression would destroy many controllers. Plastic bits, dust and debris from stick friction could always be found on N64 controllers in Mario Party owners’ homes.
But in the short term, these mini-games did actual physical damage to human palms across the globe! After a few rounds of Mario Party, players who utilized this method (which was the only way to win,) would have giant blisters and burns on the palms of their hands, sometimes drawing blood.
Never in my history of gaming did I encounter a game that broke skin.
The internet was different back then. If a game in 2020 busted up your palm, Twitter, Reddit, and dozens of message boards would be ablaze with comments and pictures. The problem would be plastered on the front page of the internet.
In the late 90s, we commiserated on the schoolyard. That’s where I learned how widespread this issue was.
And parents weren’t happy, either. The State of New York filed complaints via the attorney general’s office which resulted in Nintendo agreeing to provide a glove to any consumer that requested them! These gloves were described as being similar with weight-lifting gloves with padded palms.
Blisteringly good multiplayer action
Despite this palm-busting blemish in its history, Mario Party still introduced an incredibly fun and novel way to play with friends. Even the single-player modes provided hours of enjoyment.
Nintendo continued to develop iterations of the game to extend the life of the franchise on every console since the Nintendo 64. Thankfully, for hands everywhere, it quickly learned to lay off the rotation mechanic.
Wahoo! You are a Super Reader! But the adventure doesn’t stop here… There’s more of this project in another castle! This article is just one level in an entire Super Mario Multiverse, a galactic collaboration between writers around the world sharing a bit of our hearts and memories about our favorite Mario games. Visit the Center of the Multiverse to see more: