Review: Super Mario Party
Super Mario Party is a love letter to the N64 titles, making it an excellent party game for veterans and newcomers of the franchise.
Before I start this review, let me just state that I am a hardcore Mario Party fan. It sounds like an oxymoron to be a serious enthusiast to a party game series, but Mario Party has bonded many of my closest friends and me (surprisingly no ruined friendships) from middle school up until today. We have played each and every Mario Party title, even establishing our own meta-game for our favorites. Despite having played all of the Mario Party games, the ones we gravitated towards were specifically Mario Party 2 and Mario Party 3. These games had such clever board design, as well as items that allowed for genuine strategy and planning (Mario Party 3‘s reverse mushroom, phone items, poison shroom). Of course there are also the mini-games, which never lost their charm, but generally speaking, all Mario Party games have had very enjoyable minigames. So, with all of my nostalgia poured out, we can delve into the refreshing design that is Super Mario Party.
Upon starting up the game, we are given an oddly familiar intro cinematic of Mario and friends in an open field. Here is the link showing a side-by-side comparison of the intros for Super Mario Party and the original Mario Party on the N64. Needless to say, they are incredibly similar. Before even entering the game, we are aware that Super Mario Party is going to bring us back to the past, before the days of traveling in a car, getting random items from capsules, orbs, microphone minigames, and all of the other gimmicks that fell flat, never to be seen again.
The game’s hub shows us the variety of gameplay options. There’s the standard Party mode, co-op River Survival, where four players paddle using the Joy-cons while playing a limited variety of co-op games, Online Mario-thon, an online mode where players compete in five randomly selected minigames for a high score, and free play minigames. Toad’s Rec Room is a multiplayer mode that lets you pair up two Switches for a tabletop, dual-screen gaming experience in which you use the consoles to solve puzzles. I’m pretty amazed with how well it works. It was a fresh and exciting change to the Mario Party format.
Super Mario Party has four boards in total. The environments range from tropical fruit islands to whomp ruins to mines featuring the infamous King Bob-omb. All four are typically pretty small compared to the N64 titles, and all felt a bit linear. Many of the previous spaces have been removed as well. Battle Spaces have been replaced by Versus Spaces, which set players up for a super-quick minigame where everyone wages coins determined by a dice block. Of course, with Bowser being a playable character, Bowser Spaces seem to have been replaced by Bad Luck Spaces, which, needless to say, granted similar results when landed upon. Chance Time, the most heartbreaking space, is completely removed, which was a bit disappointing to me as I love watching the look on my friends’ faces as I steal their stars. There are Lucky Spaces, where a player can win items or coins, and Ally Spaces, which I will cover below.
Unlike the previous Mario Party entries, the standard die only lets you move 1-6 spaces, as opposed to the classic 1-10. While this has your character move less initially, the game added one of my favorite Mario Party mechanics: character dice blocks. Each character has a unique dice block, giving them different options than the standard die. They have the opportunity to increase their movement past 6, affect their coin count, increase the chance of getting a number, or even cause them to get a zero. This allows for many creative strategies that my friends and I quickly discovered. Characters can also be recruited through Ally Spaces, which lets your character use an ally’s dice block as an additional option when moving. Your allies also roll an added 1 or 2 spaces each on top of your roll every turn, helping your movement. With 20 playable characters, there is someone for everyone.
Finally, I get to talk about my favorite part of the game, and I assume everyone else’s: the minigames. The crux of any good Mario Party. The gyro controls with the Joy-cons felt intuitive and there weren’t ever any calibration issues, which was my biggest fear. The sheer versatility with Joy-con-oriented minigames was pretty mind-blowing, and Super Mario Party has shown off how cool the Joy-cons are more than any other Switch game. The minigames stuck true to the idea of ‘simple to learn, difficult to master’. There were so many minigames that were incredibly addictive, and it’s that desire to want to retry them to push your limits that makes them so good. What impressed me the most about these games is that after all of these years, after a dozen different Mario Party titles, Nintendo still manages to create refreshing minigame experiences. Not once did I feel as if a game was bland, dissatisfying, or lacked creativity. I would have to deem the minigames as the highlight of Super Mario Party. I loved these minigames and simply could not get enough of them.
Another topic briefly mentioned that I want to go back to is the lack of online play. There is no online Party Mode, and this has been a big complaint for many, including myself. So if you’re home alone looking to play Party Mode, you’re out of luck, unless you want to play against computers, which isn’t nearly as fun. I understand not having an online Party Mode with strangers because a salty child could simply shut off the console and the game would end, but playing with friends should’ve been a sure-fire idea that Nintendo simply didn’t capitalize on.
Super Mario Party was on the right track to going back to the classics, but it didn’t fully commit to any sole direction. We got standard items/item shops back but not quite as much as there used to be. We got the original boards back without insane gimmicks, but they were very small. We got online play but no online Party Mode. I can only assume Nintendo will release character, minigame, and map DLC in the future, but it is still safe to say that this is the best Mario Party has done in a very long time.