Platform: Nintendo Switch
Rating: E for Everyone
For years, Mario Party has been a staple of any Nintendo console owner’s library. The series is famous for being accessible enough for anyone to pick up a controller and jump in, but having enough depth and chaos to keep experienced players coming back for more. But after the last few releases were…questionable at best, we were left wondering if Mario Party was truly dead for good. Enter Super Mario Party, the franchise’s grand entrance onto the Nintendo Switch platform.
Violence: Cartoon slapstick violence. Characters punch and shove each other, get cartoonishly squished, and thrown around by explosions and such. Nothing graphic whatsoever.
Spiritual Content: Kamek, one of the characters, is a magician who casts spells on the boards at times. It amounts to nothing more than a wave of his wand and some colors and shapes.
Mario Party has gotten at least one release on every major Nintendo console since the Nintendo 64. Up until Mario Party 8, the franchise developer was Hudson Soft, but with the company’s closure in 2012, NDcube stepped up to fill the intimidatingly large shoes as the new MP developer.
And…they kind of flopped.
Okay, that’s obviously extremely subjective. I didn’t play Island Tour, the release for the 3DS, but I did play 9 and 10. My siblings and I have been huge fans of the franchise since Mario Party 4, so we excitedly popped in the disc into our Wii U, booted up each game as we got it, played maybe one board, then promptly removed each one and never touched them again.
This isn’t the place for a comprehensive review of those games, but suffice it to say they took everything I loved about Mario Party — like branching paths, interfering with your buddies’ plans, and being able to purchase Stars instead of just pick them up for free — and threw them out the window. Both 9 and 10 were extremely unfulfilling and just plain unfun games. So when Super Mario Party was announced, I was skeptical, but willing to give it a shot, especially when trailers revealed what appeared to be a return to the good old formula.
And, to be fair, this game does at least attempt to return to the classic MP brew. Players are no longer all in one big dumb car, but each on their own path on an honest to goodness board! What a concept! Stars are again our main goal, and there are plenty of ways to mess with your rivals’ master plans.
You’d think that would fix all the problems with the last two main console entries, wouldn’t you? If only.
Pick your poison…I mean party.
Super Mario Party gives players the option of five main game modes: Mario Party, Partner Party, River Survival, Sound Stage, and a special unlockable Challenge Road. There are also a couple smaller activities: Toad’s Rec Room and the Sticker Room.
I have to say, I love the amount of content on display here. Mario Party has always been about the main game, but I’ve always enjoyed the fun little extras the team will include if you tire of the main board mode. Generally, that’s something small, most likely involving Nintendo’s latest gimmicky piece of hardware, but here, these side modes get almost as much attention as the main Mario Party mode. They’re just as prevalent in the Party Plaza, and they can take just as much time as a board. I like being able to turn to something else when I get a little tired of the boards. Speaking of which…
Hope you’re not easily board. (Sorry.)
I’m just going to say it: the Mario Party mode is boring. Yes, it’s a return to the original style of Mario Party, and to be fair, it’s far better than 9 or 10 ever were, but my goodness do these games drag on. The game gives you a time estimate for the amount of turns you pick, and the lowest amount, 10 turns, takes a whopping 60 minutes to complete. For 10 turns. Never mind the 25 or 30 I used to pick in older entries.
The main reason this game takes so much longer is the amount of waiting around you do. When you get a Star, the game pauses to show all characters’ reactions, then goes to a standings screen, which takes a good six or seven seconds to update everyone on their new standing, and then, before you can resume, the game will display a banner saying that your character has taken the lead or whatever progress you’ve made. All in all, the process takes a good 30 seconds to a minute just to tell us that a character got a Star. Never mind any event spaces you land on.
Combine this with the fact that Toad just…doesn’t shut up. The first time a player starts a turn with an item, Toad will pop in to let you know that you have an item and encourage you to use it. He does this in every game, regardless of whether or not you’ve told him you’re not new to the game. The first time you open up the board map, he’ll give you a helpful Toad Tip about the board…even though you didn’t ask him to. He’ll just do it. It’s this kind of repetitive interruption that makes the experience one that absolutely failed to keep me engaged. I didn’t care what happened, I just wanted to move on.
Still, for as much as I’ve complained, Super Mario Party does bring some twists to the game that I really do enjoy. The major addition is the fact that, along with the regular dice block, every character has a unique dice block with a different layout. Some characters have a lot of smaller numbers, for more precise movement. Others have a lot of large numbers, but a significant chance of not moving at all and losing coins, making every roll a major risk/reward gamble. This adds a level of strategy that Mario Party has famously lacked in the past. A pretty major misstep with this feature, though, is the fact that you can’t see your character’s dice block when you select them at the beginning of the game. So you’d best hope you get a character with a decent block.
Another added feature is the Ally system. Land on an Ally Space, or use an Ally Phone, and another character from the game will join you on your quest. For every Ally you collect, you get an additional dice block numbered one to three that will add to your total, as well as the option to use the custom dice block of any character you’ve recruited. There’s also a bonus Star at the end of the game for the player who collected the most Allies. Every Ally Space felt like an event, and a much-needed reprieve from the otherwise dead gameplay.
I do want to give a quick shout out to the Partner Party mode before I move on. I’ve always loved co-op games, and Partner Party changes up the main game by removing the paths, and instead giving you a full set of squares to roam around, similar to a chessboard. To get a Star, you have to land squarely on the Star space, which makes the aforementioned strategy of picking the right dice block even more important. If you get a number that doesn’t nicely end up on the Star space, well, you’re out of luck. It’s still plagued by the snail’s pace of the Mario Party mode, though, and having to plan out every move just makes it drag even more.
Those bwessed awangements…these games wifin a game.
Of course, Mario Party isn’t Mario Party without its minigames. And the minigames here are…fine. There are even some great ones (special props go to Slaparazzi and Air to a Fortune). There are also some stinkers (Tow the Line and Trip Navigator, looking at you). They’re nothing mind-blowing, but they’re fun, fast, and engaging, and are a welcome change of pace. Of course, some of them use the Joy-Con’s motion controls, and yes, these are annoying, but overall, I don’t have many complaints.
A rather odd change to the minigame formula is the way they award you with coins in the main Party mode. For as long as I can remember, you got ten coins for placing first in a minigame. Now, you get eight, and the person in last still gets two. If you want those two extra coins to make an even ten, you’d best hope you’re playing a team game, because then, and only then, the game will give you the option to swing your Joy-Con and high-five your teammates for the extra two coins. You can, of course, leave them hanging, and thus cheat them (and yourself) of the two extra coins. But…why is this here? I get that NDcube was trying to add some charm to the game, but it just feels random and forced. I just ended up swinging my Joy-Con furiously after every game to get it over with.
And now for something completely different.
The other five modes—River Survival, Sound Stage, Challenge Road, Toad’s Rec Room, and the Sticker Room—are pretty standard distractions from the main game. River Survival allows you to team up with your friends to navigate a river by padding a raft using the Joy-Cons. Sound Stage is a series of rhythm-based games played in quick succession. Challenge Road is a single-player mode that allows you to tackle minigames with special bonus challenges. Toad’s Rec Room utilizes the handheld mode of the Switch for some smaller-scale gaming, and can even spread between two systems placed side by side. The Sticker Room lets you place stickers on premade backgrounds however you’d like (I’ve never understood games’ obsession with diorama rooms, but maybe that’s just me).
They’re all fine for side modes. I particularly enjoyed River Survival, although it’s markedly less fun playing with three CPUs than it is with actual human beings. I do appreciate the fact that there’s more to do here than the main mode. But I keep coming back to that word: fine. That’s all I’ve got to say here. Which brings me to…
Super Mario Party is a competent game. It’s fine. That’s really all I can say about it. It’s not broken, it’s not frustrating (I mean, it is, but that’s the fault of the other players, not the game), and it’s a good time for about ten minutes before you realize that you’re just kind of sitting there waiting for your turn to roll around. But that’s all it is.
I don’t want my Mario Party to just be “competent.” I want it to be chaotic, wacky, and most of all, fun. Super Mario Party lacks the soul and charm that Hudson Soft was able to bring to 8 successive entries, and even a DS entry. It’s a game that you’ll pop in for an hour, play once, and honestly, probably forget about. I did until the opportunity for this review came up.
It’s almost frustrating how dumbed-down this experience feels. For 60 dollars, you’re better off picking up something like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate or Mario Kart 8 Deluxe to play with friends. Still, if you are absolutely dying for more multiplayer content on the Switch, this will probably do you just fine. But that’s all I can say about it: it’s fine. Here’s hoping that NDcube can figure out how to tap into what Hudson Soft nailed with the next entry, if we get one. But looking at the track record so far…I’m not too hopeful.
The Bottom Line
Super Mario Party attempts to return to the roots of the franchise, but ends up being a mere shadow of its predecessors, lacking any of the heart, soul, and chaotic fun of the best of the series.