Super Mario Party has made the Mario Party series relevant again.
The Mario Party series was once a prevalent part of the gaming community, with eleven official games released between 1998 and 2007. Upon the release of Mario Party DS, the series would enter a dormant state despite consistently decent sales figures. For five years, no game under the Mario Party moniker would release for consumers to purchase, putting doubt into the future of Mario Party. Not until the release of Mario Party 9—a game that infamously did away with the classic structure of the series in favor of a team-based “car” system—did the series regain traction and continue to release a new game almost yearly.
Despite the quantity of games released, it was easy to forget the series was still going, especially with the rather mediocre average scores many since Mario Party 9 were receiving upon their release. In a surprise-but-in-hindsight-should-not-have-been-a-surprise move, Nintendo released a trailer for a new game in the franchise at E3 this year, one that promised a play style reminiscent of the series’ past. Gone was the “car” mechanic, instead bringing back the classic dice-rolling, one-by-one turn play that made the series famous in the first place.
I was definitely excited for it. While my opinion of the Mario Party games trends downward the closer it gets to the later entries in the series, deep inside I wished for the chance to rekindle my interest in the series as a nostalgic blast of my past. As the release date grew closer, I began to hear some negative rumors concerning the game, particularly with a lack of content, both locally and online. Despite this, giving the game a shot was my main priority, and upon playing the game both alone and with my family, I have much to say about the quality of Super Mario Party.
Super Mario Party is available for the Nintendo Switch for your regional pricing.
As with any true fan of the Mario Party series, what matters most is the gripping narrative surrounding the focus of the party. There’s nothing else more rewarding than getting to know these characters, whom we all know and love, and diving deeper into the inner workings of their relationships with each other and their motivations with participating in these competitions. Nothing short of the most beautifully-crafted drama would suffice and Super Mario Party delivers as usual for the series.
The above paragraph is, of course, heavily sarcastic. The plot to this game is as dry-boned as the rest of them and it matters very little to anything.
The members of the Mushroom Kingdom are discussing who the “real superstar” is among them. No one can agree on any one person because they are all voting in favor of themselves like a circus of well-behaved narcissists. They decide to settle the debate with a game (hence the title), only to have Bowser and many of his underlings drop in and demand to be included within the competition. Agreeing without much hesitation, Toad, Toadette, and Kamek (of Bowser’s army) become the organizers of the competition at hand. That’s about it.
What Super Mario Party has in store for players is a collection of game modes exclusive to this game, with inspiration taken from a variety of sources. What became immediately distinguishable about this game in comparison to its brethren is that there is a traversible hub world that the player can run around in. There isn’t too much to do, but it serves as an interesting change from simply selecting menus at a quick pace. One has to directly control the character they choose and interact with the different Toads in front of the game modes available to play.
These modes include the traditional Party and Minigame Modes, where players can play the traditional party games and minigames at their leisure. What’s new to Super Mario Party are the Partner Party, Sound Stage, Challenge Road (unlockable mode), and River Survival modes, each with their own unique challenges and rules that allow for differentiation of play styles. This level of expansive play is a great way of getting more out of the game than the simple Party and Minigame modes, those that are commonly placed in basically every game. The desire from Nintendo to include all sorts of different ways of playing with the Mario Party formula without inhibiting the core basics of what made the game fun in the first place is something I feel anyone could appreciate.
However, all these different modes come with a balancing issue that makes the game feel less weighty than previous incarnations. These issues are most notable with the River Survival and Sound Stage modes, both of which don’t take very long to finish and don’t offer much variety on multiple playthroughs. With Sound Stage, there is a grand total of ten minigames available to play in a rhythm-based fashion, and the harder difficulties only make the minigames faster, not more expansive. With River Survival, one is tasked with rowing an inflatable boat with three others characters in a timed race to the finish with multiple paths. These paths offer very little differentiation in terms of obstacles and don’t feel gratifying after one or two playthroughs.
It is always good to be able to offer a plethora of things to do in a game, particular one focused on entertaining multiple people. At the same time, the emphasis on other modes here ends up cutting into the level of polish granted to modes that may serve better to both solo and party players. Sound Stage is a cute, five-to-ten-minute distraction and River Survival could take anywhere from twenty to forty minutes, depending on how often one chooses to play minigames to extend their overall time limit. Neither has enough impact on their own to encourage multiple playthroughs aside from the completionist’s badge of honor. To this degree, a decent chunk of the game is dedicated to modes that only provide minimal entertainment.
On the other hand, Partner Party is an interesting foray into what I would like to see expanded upon in future titles. Containing a free-ranging exploration aspect that emphasizes teamwork, it does away with spaces for open movement that offers a lot of interesting strategization tools not available in the traditional Party mode. Its most notable drawback being it’s required to be 2-on-2, rather than allowing any number of team combinations. I would like to see this employed on bigger and better boards, perhaps boards designed specifically around this new mode. It reminds me some of the old isometric war-RPGs for the PC in the late ’90s or early 2000’s. Challenge Road is almost an exact copy of the original Mario Party‘s Mini-Game Island mode, so whether that still works in present day is a debate between purists and creatives.
A Casual Takeover
Though difficulty isn’t a particularly noteworthy label for the Mario Party series, Super Mario Party goes to great lengths to make the game more accessible and friendly to the casual player. In Challenge Road, if one fails a particular challenge three times, one is given the option to skip it entirely. In most cases, one is given the opportunity to practice a minigame prior to playing it for real. The notion of winner-takes-all has been removed: even those in last place can earn coins after a minigame. Hidden blocks, which contain coins and the occasional star, are much more abundant on boards. Bonus stars at the end of a Party/Partner mode seem (no evidence; gut feeling) to favor those who aren’t in first. Stars only cost ten coins (originally twenty), stealing a star only costs thirty (originally fifty); in addition, coins are incredibly easy to accumulate. The core game of Mario Party has returned, but it’s a lot more convenient and “fair” to give those less skilled at the game a good chance to win against those clearly superior.
By far the most disappointing aspect of Super Mario Party is just how little content there is to the Party mode, particularly with quantity of boards (only four) and their size. Even with how small the boards are, one is only given an option of ten, fifteen, or twenty turns, conveniently marked with how long on average each number of turns would take (one to two hours). There are very few miscellaneous activities present on each board and circling around each of them multiple times isn’t just possible, it’s inevitable. While somewhat alleviated by normal dice blocks only ranging from one to six spaces, it doesn’t help with how plentiful items that increase spaces traveled are. The game is like a wad of gum stretched as far as it can go—while it spans a great distance, one is tightrope-walking their way from one end to the other.
While not technically a “casual” aspect, the biggest (and ironically simplest) devices that Super Mario Party incorporates are character-specific dice blocks and “allies.” Allies are additional characters that players can collect by acquiring a specific item or landing on Ally spaces. These allies allow the player to gain an advantage in ally-open minigames (more on this later) and an additional one or two spaces on any given dice roll. Gaining more allies means more spaces traveled and a better collection of character-specific dice blocks, meaning that someone with many allies has a direct advantage over everyone else. And with character-specific dice blocks, it gives the player the option to roll dice blocks with higher odds at specific numbers. For example, Daisy’s specific dice block can only roll 3’s and 4’s, so it’s good for those looking for consistently stable travel. Bowser’s specific dice block has a chance of rolling anywhere from an eight to a ten, but also has a decent chance of having the player lose three coins, so it’s a type of all-or-nothing roll that’s big with gamblers.
I really enjoys these specific changes, especially with the character-specific dice blocks. It gives a better strategy aura to the game that abandons the “luck-based” stigma of earlier games. I found myself not using the character-specific dice too often, but I would do so when I maximize my chance for success by combining it with an item, with mixed results. As for allies, I really like the incorporation of them into mini-games, but on the board, they’re simply overpowered. Anyone with multiple allies is almost guaranteed to win the game because they can travel, at times, a very large number of spaces. With how small boards are generally, this means they could get a star every other turn, or sometimes twice per turn. It’s borderline unfair, especially with the specific means of receiving allies being up to chance.
I loathe “Don’t Wake Wiggler.” I absolutely cannot stand “Don’t Wake Wiggler” with all of my being and I hate that the minigame even exists. Otherwise, I think the variety of minigames available is actually fairly good. Games such as “Slaparazzi” and the collection of motion-controlled minigames (which even surprised me) are games I almost always enjoy playing. Generally responsive and offer a little more action from the player, the motion-control minigames are actually more fun to me than the traditionally-styled ones. With eighty minigames in total (twenty being rhythm games and four-player-work-together games not available in traditional party modes), there’s a great variety of games that seem both completely original and slightly inspired by past minigames. This strong collection of minigames makes Challenge Road all the more fun.
With the addition of allies, there’s a new type of minigame where one can incorporate allies gained from the board to help their chances in specific scenarios. There’s one game where the player literally plays a game of soccer (or fútbol), with the collection of players growing as more players have allies to their collection. It makes the game go from two-on-two to two-on-five or four-on-six or whatever else. It’s a truly expansive way to open the gates to a more collective collection of minigame possibilities that I find fascinating. While it only adds to the argument that those with more allies have a much higher chance of winning, it’s also a fun way of making the minigames feel much bigger.
At the end of the day, the minigames are one of, if not the most important aspect of the game to me. If the minigames are fun, I’m likely willing to overlook the less noticeable faults of the game’s whole. And they are definitely fun, even more so with friends and family who can laugh and pester you for being an idiot in an easy game. Super Mario Party definitely checks out in the minigame department.
Graphics & Audio
It’s definitely the best-looking Mario Party game I’ve ever played, though the last I ever played was Mario Party 8, so that’s a pretty large gap of time. For a Switch title, it’s definitely passable. Colors are sheen and bright, with a collection of different things to see and experience as the game throws eighty mini-games at you. Unfortunately, there are definitely games that were released prior that look a lot better, particularly Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, which only adds to what I consider a lack of polish in favor of multiple game modes. There are times when the game takes a second to focus and register every minute detail onscreen, with one instance happening prior to the results of a Party. There’s a noticeable lack of detail to the characters that the game seemingly tries to fix with bloom or saturation balance. Regardless, what it amounts to are small details that mean little to the game; as said before, it’s passable.
There’s a more jazzy exploration of themes at play with this game. Lots of main themes sound carried by brass instruments and upbeat jingles. Sadly—though this goes with most games in the franchise—there isn’t much in terms of memorable soundtrack here. One may remember certain themes just from hearing them repeatedly over the course of traveling around the main hub or partaking in the Sound Stage, but nothing sticks out as something one immediately starts gravitating toward. Much like the graphical input of the game, it’s passable, nothing that sticks out but is perfectly suitable for the type of game it tries to sell itself as.