Gonna get this Party Started…
Whenever I think back about Mario Party, I always remember the mini-game called “Pedal Power”, a game that could very well break your Nintendo 64 controller with how fast the game expected you to rotate the analog stick. Nintendo even went as far as distributing safety gloves to prevent further injuries due to analog stick actions like the one I just mentioned. While the series has made an appearance on numerous Nintendo consoles and handhelds, the party magic has finally made its motion controller debut on the Nintendo Switch.
After a disappointing Mario Party 9 and 10 on the Wii and WiiU, iterations that collected the group into a single party vehicle as you made stops together along the various game boards, Super Mario Party brings back the individual dice rolls to each player and is a return to form for the series. Each board packs a few surprises and combined with several coin-bought items, can cause dramatic shake-up’s that can see a first place domination lead into a last place disaster. While a few of the mini-games feel lazy in their execution, Super Mario Party is the best the series has been in years, even if you have to spend a few hours of play just to randomly unlock Dry Bones. Yeah, I’m still a bit salty about that.
Super Mario Party packs in a wide range of various game types into the tiny Nintendo Switch cartridge. First of which is your traditional Mario Party mode where players will traverse a themed game board as they attempt to collect enough coins in an effort to purchase Stars. The player with the most Stars by the end of the game will win, however; you do have bonus Stars given out at the end of the match that can certainly cause an upset. While you will make your way around each game board in various ways, you will always be on the lookout for Toadette as she will sell a Star to the first player that can find her, before then moving to a random location elsewhere on the board. Each game board does contain a few surprises such as a rolling boulder that will cause players to run back a few spaces, or a massive Blooper whose bridge smashing skills can cause you to fly back to the starting zone. While there is certainly some creativity in the available game boards, I was rather disappointed that we only have 4 available to choose from.
While you do have a few items available that will allow you to warp to the nearest star or steal coins from other players, one of best new additions to Mario Party is the character specific dice that can either cause you to speed across the map, or have you lose coins and keep you from moving altogether. While characters like Bowser has a 50/50 chance of having you move at least 8 spaces, he can also have you lose 3 coins if the dice roll isn’t in your favor. Other characters like Wario has a series of dice with four 6’s but two instances of losing 2 coins, while Dry Bones will have a 50/50 split of 1’s and 6’s. Now, if you would rather rock the ol’ 1 through 6 series of dice, that is also available to you should you not want to live on the wild side. To add even more complexity to your dice roll, you can recruit multiple allies, if you land on a specific spot on the board that is, that will boost your dice result with an additional dice roll per companion, turning that lackluster 3 into a possible 6 or 7.
Each board will have various paths to take and switches to hit that can change the path ahead. You can warp to other players or in the case of one board, set a toll fee for players to use that particular short cut. But, of course, each round you take with your group of friends or AI competitors is met with an epic mini-game showdown. Super Mario Party features 80 all new mini-games that will either see a 4 player free-for-all, 2 versus 2, or one player being ganged up on by the other 3 players. While there are a few dull games like selecting the color that has the most real estate on a board, hitting glowing punching bags, or catching a series of falling fruit, there are dozens that are incredibly fun that you’ll want to access the free play mode just to jump right back in. Some of my favorites where using a crane to assemble Mario’s face as each player moves the crane in one direction, throwing pies at the opposing team, shaking candy out of a jar, flipping a piece of meat to grill each side, or a mini-game that captures the hectic fun of Overcooked. I could easily list off a few dozen more, but trust me, there is some solid gold here.
While not every mini-game is reliant on the motion controls of a single joycon, many are and thus Super Mario Party is unable to be played with a Pro Controller or in portable mode with the Joycon’s attached to the system. Sure, you can rock it portable with the kickstand up, but the title excels with a large group huddled around a big screen TV. I was rather surprised just how good the motion controls work and was initially hesitant as previous games across various platforms just haven’t sold me on their use. Flipping the frying pan, shaking the candy jar, or moving a magnifying glass felt incredibly intuitive and made the game far more enjoyable than just moving an analog stick. There are still plenty of games that rely on simple movements that are quite fun, but it is when the Joycon’s are used to their full potential that Super Mario Party really drives home how great Nintendo’s tech is.
Another example at how Nintendo is very forward thinking is through Toad’s Rec Room. While it is not drowning in variety, you can place two Switch systems, each with a copy of the game, together in various ways to simulate a second screen. It’s here where you will engage in a tank battle, play a round of baseball, or match up fruit between the two screens. It is a very cool idea but one that doesn’t feel as fleshed out as it could have been. Had this feature been compatible with more than just a paltry few mini-games, then I could see the point of what Nintendo is trying to do here but it does make an excellent case for what the system is truly capable of.
Super Mario Party isn’t always content to just skate by with the bare minimum and thus brings with it several additional modes. River Survival sees a group of four players darting down the wild rapids as they use motion controls to row the raft around dangerous obstacles, all while competing in a series of co-op mini-games in an effort to extend a short timer. While I wasn’t expecting to have as much fun here as in the main party mode, I was rather surprised at how frantic and fun the timer can make this experience as you attempt to line up the raft with a jump to collect a time boost or enter into another round of mini-games. You’ll need to master this mode to unlock a few characters, and given how many paths there are to take, this mode can certainly keep you occupied for hours.
Sound Stage is by far the most enjoyable of the bonus modes as its rhythm-based mini-games certainly had me tapping my feet to the beat. You can play various remixes that add additional games and make the challenge much harder. You’ll tackle anything from wack a mole, cleaning windows, a dancing game, skewering fruit on a sword, to swatting baseballs into Star-marked goals. As there are only a select few games tied to this mode, it can lose a bit of its charm after a while, but I still find myself impressed with how perfect certain mini-games work tied along to a beat.
While there are a few other smaller modes like the single player “Challenge Road” or the various stickers you can collect, Super Mario Party also locks its online multiplayer behind its newly implemented online service. Regardless, the online portion of Super Mario Party is lacking as it only allows you and your friends to compete in a series of five mini-games minus the game board aspects that make the couch-competitive play so enjoyable. While Mario Party is certainly more fun playing alongside real people, it is a tiny bit painful that you can’t enjoy the full experience online.
Super Mario Party is certainly a good time that could have benefited from more exciting game boards and a bit more variety in its online offerings. The content that is here is solid and features some of the best mini-games the series has seen yet. The motion controls are legit and use the Joycons in ways that are not only enjoyable, but intuitive and engaging. Whether it is working together on River Survival or laughing at your opponent as you steal a Star from them through the game’s traditional mode, Super Mario Party offers up all the fun the series is known for while adapting to new technology that truly enhances the experience.
Super Mario Party was purchased by the reviewer.
All Screenshots were taken on a Nintendo Switch.