NS Review – Super Mario Party (Switch)


Ahh Mario Party, the game that could change fortunes in a flash. No lead was ever safe, no victory was guaranteed, and everything could change from a dice roll. If a group doesn’t want skill to determine the winner, Mario Party was the most obvious choice.

When Hudson Soft’s Mario Party was in its prime, the games kept coming; ten Mario Party games launched in the first ten years, mainly across the Nintendo 64 and GameCube. Facetiously described as the “friendship-ender” – at least I hope that’s not serious – the series eventually slowed down after Hudson Soft closed and Nd Cube took the helm, with only two entries on the Wii and a single game, Mario Party 10, on the Wii U. Presumably so many friendships were broken by then, there were less people to play.

Thankfully the power of the Switch has healed all wounds and brought us together, so the main series is back with its debut Switch outing to make us all bitter again. Perhaps not though, as there are a couple of new co-operative modes alongside the classic board-game mode. Super Mario Party was curiously declared as a “re-launch” of the series by Nintendo, which feels like their way of saying the polarising car mechanic has been scrapped.

You ready to party?

Indeed, the classic board-game style returns; characters move around a large board individually, rather than in one group following a linear route. Coins are earned through minigames at the end of each turn, and Stars are acquired by purchasing from Toadette, or from a lucky event. When Toadette sells a Star, she moves randomly to another part of the board. At the end of the game – 10, 15, or 20 turns – the Bonus Stars are awarded and the winner is declared. Sorry, marathon enthusiasts: no 50-turn option here.

The new boards look pretty, but it doesn’t quite feel like a return to the classic boards of old. Super Mario Party boards feel compact, and they lack the erratic random events that longtime fans will remember. Bowser is now a playable character, so his games can’t bankrupt every player in a single turn.

There’s also a lack of variety with how Stars are earned. On every board, the primary goal is to reach Toadette. Mario Party 8 was the last entry to feature free-roam boards, with each offering different ways to earn Stars. Koopa’s Tycoon Town was particularly fascinating, as players invested in hotels to earn Stars. The highest-paying investor would own the Stars, and hotels could be upgraded into 2- or even 3-Star earners. That kind of creativity is absent in Super Mario Party. Granted, Stars can be earned through other means, but the focus is always to find Toadette.

Another frustration is the small amount of boards. It’s not known whether new boards will be added later as DLC, in a similar manner to other contemporary Nintendo games, and the company hasn’t made any announcements suggesting so. If this is the ultimate number, it’s fairly disappointing, especially when the boards aren’t as visually interesting as previous ones.

The game gets interesting in other ways. As well as the regular 1-6 die, each character now has a unique Dice Block with its own numbers. Typically these come in two variants – a safe Dice Block will offer middling numbers without any gamble. A risky Dice Block will offer higher rolls up to 10, but also 0’s and even coin loss. It does give players some agency as they calculate how many spaces they need to move, but each Dice Block is assigned to one character so it may affect the player’s choice.

Characters’ Dice Blocks could move you further than the regular Dice Block, but it comes with a risk

There’s also the ally mechanic, which is highly useful; certain spaces offer an ally that sticks with the player for the entire game, adding numbers to the dice roll, helping in certain minigames, and lending their unique Dice Block. Allies and Dice Blocks are the most interesting aspects of Super Mario Party boards, and they provide a stronger sense of choice in a game with little of it.

The linearity is done away with in Partner Party, a 2-vs-2 mode taking place on altered versions of each board. Pathways are opened up to several spaces wide, and players can freely choose which direction to move with the combined dice number of both partners’ dice. It’s a very good addition that may be appealing to those frustrated by single pathways and smaller dice movement in the free-for-all boards, as long as everyone is down to partner up instead of going solo.

You can move freely in Partner Party, and choose whether to stick together or split up

The magic of Mario Party still exists – lucky spaces, special events, and items are scattered across the board – but it’s turned down a notch. Minigame experts shouldn’t get too excited; winners are still predominantly decided by the dice rolls rather than minigames. But that’s what Mario Party has always been about, and those that want to compete for minigame glory can head to that area instead.

The ‘Mariothon’ plays out like a Mario Kart cup, with points offered for each minigame. With preset or customisable set lists, it’s a nice place to jump into for a few games compared to the lengthy board modes.

As for the minigames themselves, there’s a healthy range of traditionally-controlled and motion-controlled events. The Joy Con’s HD rumble comes into play, effectively used on guessing games that require sensing how much the Joy Con vibrates. Whenever motion control is required, the results feel accurate and satisfactory. You also get a full opportunity to practice the minigame before readying up, which is pleasant when newcomers are playing with veterans.

The motion controls are most noticeable in Sound Stage mode – a set of rhythm games requiring players to concisely wave the Joy Con in a particular way. It’s a fun distraction that can get the group dancing if they feel up to it, although it’s just as easy to play sat down despite what the game tells you. You can still be lazy!

You’ll definitely have to use a Joy Con too, as the nature of minigames means Pro Controllers aren’t supported. There’s no option for handheld either, as Joy Cons need to be detached. It’s a necessary concession due to the control methods, but the game could accommodate controller options by simply removing motion-control games from rotation.

One game has players fighting for the camera focus, leading to amusing photo poses. Pictured: Yoshi about to punch out Goomba

The best place to patch up those Mario Party “friendship-enders” is River Survival: a brand new mode where a team of four descends down river rapids, paddling to avoid obstacles and hitting balloons that trigger minigames. There are multiple paths to take, each offering its own hazards and challenges. Success in minigames means added time to reach the bottom. River Survival marks a welcome change from the competitive nature of the other modes, and it has a relaxed nature.

It’s disappointing then, that the number of co-op minigames doesn’t keep up with River Survival’s length. One full trip down the rapids with enough balloons is likely to have repeated games, so it gets tedious early. A leaderboard would boost the replay value as groups compete for the best time, but as it is now, no such thing exists.

Teamwork!

Leaderboards do exist elsewhere. In Online Mariothon, players compete across five minigames in one of three cups. Custom cups can be made when playing with friends. Only one cup is active at a time, and the cups rotate in a fashion similar to Splatoon 2 stages. As well as keeping track of medals, the player is given a rank based on the average total score of their last 5 cups. The leaderboards simply show the player’s all-time best score for each cup. It’s a neat system that makes repeat play more inviting, particularly for competitive folk who want to improve personal bests and climb the leaderboards.

What doesn’t make repeat play inviting is the fact that 10 of the 80 minigames in Super Mario Party are playable online. The other 70 are not. While the stability of online was satisfactory, it’s completely baffling that the vast majority of minigames are absent.

It is worth nothing too, that this is the only way to play online. None of the boards – nor the co-op mode River Survival – are available, and in the modern world where friendships can be formed with anyone worldwide, it’s disheartening not to have the full range of modes to play with friends from afar. In summation, online play feels tacked on and lacklustre, as if the developer did so out of sheer obligation.

All modes can be played single-player alongside CPU’s, but there’s a true single-player mode in Challenge Road, where the player must complete every minigame under certain conditions. It’s the truest test of skill in the game, with tough objectives on later levels. The environments have plenty of charm too, as you see other characters hanging out in the background and cheering you on.

As the only single-player mode present, it’s not enough to keep an individual invested for too long. Naturally, Mario Party shines as a multiplayer game, and between two board game modes, a co-op mode, and plenty of minigame options, there’s enough variety to satisfy most people. It’s a shame there aren’t a couple more boards, as well as creativity within those boards, but it’s nevertheless a fine party experience for the Switch. Let’s hope our friendships stay intact this time.

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