The Mario Party series has been tearing apart friendships for the better part of two decades. The board game format combined with competitive mini-games proved to be a winning formula for Nintendo, spawning several sequels over the years. Unfortunately, the more recent entries just haven’t been able to capture the charm of the first two legendary Parties. Thankfully, Super Mario Party rights most of the series’ wrongs by returning to the series’ roots and introducing new gameplay mechanics and modes. With this latest entry, Nintendo shows that the moustachioed mascot still knows how to Party.
The standard Mario Party mode is back and better than ever. Gone are the days of sharing a car with other players- characters move independently once again, restoring a sense of competition that was missing in the last two entries. With 20 playable characters, Super Mario Party has the largest cast yet, featuring newcomers like Bowser, Monty Mole, and Diddy Kong. This time around, there is an element of strategy when selecting a character which brilliantly changes the pace; each character comes with their own unique Dice Block, an additional Dice Block that offers the chance to roll an exciting bonus or crushing penalty. When I used Waluigi’s special Dice Block, I was overjoyed when I rolled a 7, but quickly grew furious when I kept rolling -3 coins.
Equally exciting is the new Ally Space, a game-changing mechanic that lets the player tag in another character to follow them around the board. When the player gets an Ally, not only do they have access to their character specific Dice Block, but they can also combine dice rolls. The Ally Space can become a bit unfair though- there really are no limits to how many Allies a player can collect, which can completely destroy any sense of balance in the game. On top of that, Allies follow the player around in mini-games, sometimes offering special perks. One particular mini-game put each player in trains, with the object of punching opponents from behind to knock them out – with every Ally a player has collected though, they essentially get another life. It’s one of the small but noteworthy balancing issues the new mechanic introduces to the game.
Players looking for a co-op experience will have a blast with the new River Survival mode. In this mode, players make their way down a river in an inflatable raft, dodging hazards and playing co-op mini-games to gain more time. The river itself branches off into multiple paths with unique obstacles, forcing players to work together to go down the path of least resistance. Motion controls are required for this mode but actually feel fun. Players on the left side of the raft wave their Joy Cons to move to the right, while players on the right steer to move left. This constant back and forth, combined with the time limit, creates a wonderfully hectic pacing, perfect for any party.
Super Mario Party also offers a more intensive co-op mode with Partner Party, a two on two mode that spices up the flow of standard Mario Party. Each team not only combines their dice roll, but they can also move in any direction they want. This new twist comes as both a blessing and a curse, as players must land on a Star Space in order to buy a Star, rather than simply pass by it. Communication and teamwork are key to success in Partner Party, making this mode one of the most challenging, but also rewarding ways to play the game.
Sadly, not all of Super Mario Party’s game modes are created equal. Toad’s Rec Room is an interesting concept, but just fails to create a fun party-like atmosphere. In this mode, players take on a series of competitive mini games with the Switch in undocked mode, lying face up on a table. It’s great to see a game that takes advantage of the Switch’s hybrid nature, but in reality crowding around a table with a bunch of friends to look at a six inch screen is just more trouble than it’s worth. Toad’s Rec Room explores some other cool ideas like linking up other Switch console screens to create a unique map, but this feature is really better suited to something like a co-op puzzle game. Most of the mini games available here, like Shell Shocked Deluxe, would probably play better on a larger screen.
Sound Stage is another mode that just missed the mark, it sees players go head to head in a series of motion control based mini-games. For the more seasoned gamers out there, this mode almost feels like WarioWare gone wrong. Players will find themselves performing simple tasks, like following a dance instructor’s moves, removing a tablecloth, and washing a window. The reason this concept works so well in WarioWare is the super-fast pace and completely unpredictable nature of what will come next. With Sound Stage though, each mini-game lasts too long to be enjoyable by the more hardcore crowd. On the other hand, new comers and casual gamers may just like the easy to understand nature of these games.
The mini-games scattered throughout the entire package range anywhere from fun to just plain boring. The best mini-games typically involve each player running around and fighting each other – one great example sees players having to throw pies at each other. The worst games tend over-rely on the more gimmicky features of the Switch- not just the motion controls, but HD Rumble as well. One game required players to pick up boxes and guess how many acorns were in them by shaking the Joy Con and feeling the rumble. The problem with this mechanic though is that it just feels imprecise; I was never able to really differentiate the vibrations, so it was difficult for me to tell how many acorns I was dealing with.
There are a few mechanical issues with the game as a whole that need to be addressed as well. Unfortunately, Super Mario Party can only be played with Joy Cons and for players with larger hands, this could be a huge issue as they just can’t comfortably hold the smaller controllers. The Pro Controller is technically capable of pulling off most of the motion control aspects of the game, making this glaring omission a huge mystery. The available board game modes continue the tradition of awarding random bonus Stars at the end of every game, which can completely destroy any sense of balance in the game. The overall randomness of Mario Party is great- up until the point when a computer controlled Peach wins out of nowhere, solely by collecting the most Allies and travelling the farthest.
Finally, we have the issue of online functionality. Super Mario Party only allows online play through a new mode called Mariothon that solely focuses on mini-games. How players respond to this mode will depend entirely on their feelings towards online play but the casual nature of Mariothon makes it a feature that players will either hate or not even think about. Paired with the recently launched Nintendo online service, which is already facing issues over it’s value to players, the online elements of Super Mario Party will likely be forgotten quickly.
At the end of the day, the Mario Party series is all about the interactions between the players off screen- the triumphant cheer of victory when collecting a Star, the competitive razzing, and the laughter from the ridiculous mini-games are all essential to the overall package. With its wonderful new additions and focus on co-operation, Super Mario Party brings these real-life player moments to heights that the series has never seen before. Even with its balancing flaws and weaker mini-games, Super Mario Party is an incredibly enjoyable experience that sets a new standard for the series. If Nintendo stops relying on gimmicks, they may produce a perfect game yet.