It’s no secret to those that have followed the Mario Party franchise that it’s been in a bit of a rut recently. While the recent Super Mario Party gave passable entertainment to players (and sold pretty well), it wasn’t quite the triumphant rebirth that fans may have hoped for. So what was Nintendo to do going forward? They decided to go backwards.
Mario Party Superstars is a culmination of the series’ former glory, shown through with modern visuals and techniques. Sporting a variety of different modes and online play from the start (a first for the franchise), there was reason to be fairly excited. These feelings ache doubly so for those (like me) that grew up playing the first games in the late ’90s and early 2000’s. Although, with such a heavy commitment to reviving the past, there’s likely to be questions about how much more would be added to keep the experience fresh. This, like most other things, may depend on your tolerance for classic formulas done with a modern mindset.
Mario Party Superstars is available now on Nintendo Switch for your regional pricing.
Story – This Is Mario Party
Most people are aware that with a party-heavy title such as this, “story” is not going to play a heavy role. Most are also aware that Nintendo games featuring Mario and friends won’t include a deep narrative. Combining both of these, you have, relatively speaking, one of the most shallow franchises among Nintendo’s archives. Mario Party Superstars continues the trend of providing vague context to the games and letting players fill in the blanks from there.
With this said, what most could be said about any “story” present is one of continuity. Comments made by various characters imply that through this game, one is “going back” to levels of old. Levels that have already been played within this, er, “Mario Party Universe.” So while some titles feature stories such as “A group of people want to hold a party,” to “Bowser is causing mischief,” this game’s story is simply, “Let’s return to places already traveled.” Sure, okay.
Gameplay – Mixing Up Timeframes
At this point, Mario Party has essentially become the blueprint for how party games should be. Boards to travel on, currency to collect, mini-games to play, and events that shake things up. Superstars is one that aims to stick to the basics, not introducing anything more groundbreaking than the act of bringing old to new. What the final product ends up providing is a solid mix of what fans loved and current qualities of life.
To elaborate on the essentials, this latest iteration takes five boards and 100 mini-games from past Mario Party games for one big “Best Hits” collection. As some have already echoed, it’s “like The Top 100, except with boards.” Complete with updated visuals, it takes the foundation of the N64-era games and brings it to current times. One can play the standard party games, shop with currency earned from playing, look through game data, and head to a mini-game-oriented mode to challenge themselves or others. Basically, most of the things players can do in Mario Party (the first).
New things to do here include Mt. Minigames, the aforementioned mini-game-oriented mode. Here, one can participate in a variety of different challenges based on mini-game types. Some are only available online, all can be played online. Feel like only playing coin-collecting mini-games? There’s a mode for that. How about solo puzzle or sports games? There’s a mode for that, too. It’s more fulfilling than a simple “Mini-game Mode,” which only allows you to choose mini-games to play at your leisure, and maybe a practice board or tournament mode. And for the record, Mt. Minigames allows you to freely choose mini-games to play, too.
Outside of that, it’s a fairly standard Mario Party affair. You have your Party Mode, and… that’s pretty much it. Other screens include the Data House, where you can look at records and organize your profile; Option House, where you can adjust in-game settings; and the Toad Shop, where you can spend coins earned from Party Mode or Mt. Minigames to use on things like stickers, music, or encyclopedia pages. When it comes to actual gameplay content, there’s a whopping two modes. It helps that Mt. Minigames has so many different options, though some may find the amount of total content somewhat lacking.
When it comes to the “prime” content of the game, Party Mode is what it comes down to. With five boards straight from the old days, chances are that if you’ve played them before and enjoyed them, you’ll enjoy them here, too. Not much about them has changed too much, though some added features are incorporated to make things more interesting. Lucky spaces, which provide good things to the player, are littered all throughout boards. VS spaces, duel mini-games in the last five turns, and tons of random bonuses can ensure one person is never securely in the lead. It’s among the more volatile games in the franchise thus far.
100 mini-games make their return here, and for the most part, the selection is pretty strong. Some duds return, though the strength of hindsight allows the developers to pick predominantly fun classics. Because of this, Superstars most likely sports the best selection of mini-games of any Mario Party game to date. Perhaps the best part is that no mini-games need to be unlocked—all are available to play from the start. It ensures that fun is never too far out of one’s grasp.
Speaking of “unlocking,” something that I somewhat miss is unlocking anything of real value. Sure, having all mini-games and boards from the start is nice, but I do like the feeling of being rewarded for the time I put into it. A lot of what you can buy in the Toad Shop is superfluous; some stickers to use as in-game taunts and info about characters and boards we already know about. You don’t unlock any boards, characters, mini-games, or things that add more pizzazz to gameplay. Pretty much all content is there from the get-go. If you really wanted to emulate the essence of older games, I would think you’d want to include some secrets.
At least they added some RPG elements. One now has a “level” that they can improve upon by playing various modes. Upping one’s level can unlock more things to buy in Toad’s Shop, and various achievements one can unlock can give your profile card some snazzy names. Mine was “Bringer of the Night” for some time. While not a substantial addition, this emphasis on making numbers go up does provide some incentive to keep playing.
As stated previously, Mario Party Superstars is the first game in the series to feature online play from the get-go. Outside of the content already provided, online play was likely a factor in getting people onboard (ha). Though given what many already know about Nintendo’s online integrity, this could end up being more of a detriment.
I played one Party game online and a few Mt. Minigame modes online. That’s all I ever wanted to play.
While certainly playable, there is a considerable amount of lag and input delay that ruins the experience overall. Mini-games become all the harder to pin down and the general pace of the game slows tremendously. In-game, it specifies that a 15-turn Party game should take roughly 45 minutes. My time doing a 15-turn Party game online, taking into account that all three players with me dropped out at some point, took me well over an hour. For online play being a staple, the actual execution is about as good as one would expect from Nintendo’s online service.
Graphics & Audio – Familiar Faces
One of the more magical aspects of the older Mario Party games for me was its animated cutscenes. How characters expressed themselves in various situations, and the bounciness of the whole process. A lot of this is still present in Superstars, which is a nice plus. Although, somewhat similarly to Super Mario Party, there’s something of a simple cleanliness to it that kind of thwarts the energy of prior titles. Indeed, characters express themselves adequately enough, only it seems more sterile, more professional in execution that begets artificial cheeriness. Even the end of each board simply supplies a photo, rather than an extended cutscene showcasing real-time character placement.
Regardless, there remains a considerable amount of color and character that is reminiscent of the franchise. While the smoothness of characters looks kind of bad in certain lighting, it’s generally pretty and on par with what the Switch offers. Boards carry a pleasant sheen that display more prominence than their original forms. And with additional characters not originally present in past games, it’s mostly familiar with a touch of modernity. Though I’ll just comment—Birdo? Quite random as a final roster spot.
The original Mario Party has an iconic soundtrack; I was actually shocked going back and realizing how great it was recently. Superstars recreates a lot of sights and sounds from the original game, specifically, though I’d argue it’s not always for the better. The “simple cleanliness” ends up affecting the bombast of the soundtrack, as well. A lot of orchestral instrumentation that, while a pleasant alternative, doesn’t compare to the classic techno bops. Sometimes, what makes something work is that it perfectly encapsulates the time period it was in. Trying to re-capture that is fickle, especially when it’s also trying to balance present expectations. At least one can switch between modern and classic themes.
Generally, the sound effects do have the kind of spunk I would expect from the series. Veterans will have no trouble distinguishing the sounds that have historically made up the Party series. Newcomers will also find it easy to understand the general goings-on of games. Stickers keep games pretty noisy, and traveling across boards is as consistently audible as always. There’s enough to allow one to remain focused, but not to the point where it seems excessive.
Mario Party Superstars was reviewed on Nintendo Switch.