For many, Nintendo’s last mainline Mario Party game was a step in the wrong direction. Mario Party 10 took the cooperative and competitive elements central to the multiplayer series, threw out the latter, and ran it over with a car. The good old days of screaming at your friends for stealing your star transitioned into screaming at the Wii U game’s insistence on team play. Playful fights among friends are what fuel the Mario Party dream, but Mario Party 10 didn’t seem to get that memo. The good news: mistakes can be remedied.
Super Mario Party is not only the first in the series on the Nintendo Switch, but it also acts as a return to the competitive form featured in the first eight core games. Players can jump into new versions of the modes that made the series great, including the classic turn-based Mario Party boards and a huge library of minigames that include free-for-all, 2v2, and 1v3 formats. Plus, there’s more quality control this time around when it comes to the brand-new features. Nothing new to the series feels like a gimmick, from Super Mario Party‘s utilization of two Switch consoles for expanded gameplay to the River Survival mode. Overall, there are tons of fun ways to duke it out with friends, which is what Mario Party is all about.
The bread and butter of this latest entry is still the Mario Party board mode. Up to four players can enter a Monopoly-style board that lasts 10, 15, or 20 turns. Each player takes a turn to roll a dice and make their way across the board, avoiding hazards and collecting helpful items along the way. The typical variety of spaces are back, such as standard, negative, item, and versus. The goal is also the same: the player with the most stars at the end of the game wins.
What’s new are the character-themed dice that changes up how the beginning of each turn operates. Now, players start their turn by picking either the standard 1-6 face die or a custom one exclusive to each of the 20 playable characters. Some are high-risk, high-reward, like Bowser Jr.’s dice block that has a max of 9 but three chances to roll a 1, while others, such as Daisy’s, which is fitted with only 3s and 4s, offer a more reliable boost. The option to take your chances and go for a big roll turns the formerly mundane task of simply rolling into one of strategy. It also makes character selection a more meaningful process, as players can get a different experience on a board depending on who they pick.
Nintendo made the right choice by bringing back the need to unlock certain minigames, too. While players can access a fairly large collection of minigames right from the start in a separate mode, there are a handful locked behind the Mario Party boards. There’s always been an element of excitement to uncovering a game that’s behind a “???” label, so it’s nice to see that small touch of mystery come back. This same feeling is also in the new River Survival mode, which has players rafting down a river to reach open water in a set amount of time. With the Joy-Con motion controls, each of the four players is in charge of steering the raft toward minigame balloons, speed or time boosts, and branched paths. The mode essentially feels like the spiritual successor to the car mechanic in Mario Party 10—but just much better done. Players must work together to reach the end, but instead of sitting in a car and waiting for your turn, everyone is active throughout the entire run.
While there’s a lot that’s familiar here, there are a few features that haven’t been seen before. The standout easily goes to Super Mario Party‘s two-console minigames. A selection of the short games can be played using two Switch screens to make the gameplay area larger or offer a different point of view. Connecting two consoles is easy and makes some games, like the tank-based “Shell Shocked Deluxe,” a more interesting experience than when playing on one screen. The one minor but noticeable downside is that a few of them are only playable with two systems. These are only in the side mode Toad’s Rec Room, but it still feels like an odd choice for a game that otherwise lets players play in the format they want.
Speaking of which, the one aspect of Super Mario Party that I was nervous for—the controller option—was all about limitations. The game plays with a single Joy-Con per person, which means Pro Controllers and even Joy-Con grips aren’t an option. For the most part, I actually appreciate the simplicity of a Joy-Con, but I rarely use them alone—hence my trepidation when hearing the entirety of the game would involve holding the tiny input device. However, the controller scheme ultimately didn’t bother me at all. Nintendo did a stellar job of making minigames that are a blast but simple enough to play with a Joy-Con. Most of the time, players hold the controller horizontally to use the analog stick for movement and the right face button for a command, making it an accessible format to learn. Some of the games require motion controls, but even those aren’t too hard to get the hang of after some practice.
I would even argue that the limitation to one Joy-Con per person was a brilliant choice. With Super Mario Party being the first entry in the series on the Switch, Nintendo could’ve played it safe and just implemented the two-console minigame support as the selling feature. However, crafting each game to work with this new simple control scheme makes it easy to meet up with a friend, play a few minigames, and move on. It strangely makes the game feel less restrictive than any other title in the series, and I can see myself bringing it along to events or parties to play with others.
The other new modes—Sound Stage and Online Mariothon—offer more ways to experience Super Mario Party‘s minigames, the former being a rhythm-style event and the latter a ranked tournament against players online. Sound Stage isn’t for everyone, especially for those that hate games dependent on musical timing, but it’s a fun option nonetheless. Players do need a membership to Nintendo Switch Online to access the Online Mariothon, but a local version of the tournament is also available for those that don’t want to spend the extra cash.
In the end, there’s not much that disappoints in Super Mario Party. The two-console minigames should be optional, but since only a few require that setup, it doesn’t take away from the significant number of enjoyable minigames available. There could also be more Mario Party boards to play, but that’s more of a nitpick than an actual problem. What’s more important is that Super Mario Party does fans right by bringing back fun but competitive minigames, several ways to play them in new modes and screen formats, and changing up what worked before just enough to make gameplay feel fresh and exciting.
After the misstep that was Mario Party 10, Nintendo has gone back to basics with Super Mario Party. The competitive boards and minigames are back, along with a few welcome gameplay twists that make this party game feel like a fresh start for the series. From two-console minigames to the Joy-Con motion controls, the new Switch features elevate the entire experience, making Super Mario Party the best in the series so far.
E – Everyone
|Super Mario Party is available on Nintendo Switch. Primary version played was for Nintendo Switch. Code/hardware was provided by Nintendo for the benefit of this coverage. EGM reviews on a scale of one to five stars.|