Over the years I’ve had my ups and downs with the Mario Party series. When it initially debuted on the Nintendo 64 it was a breath of fresh air and a ton of fun to play. Yearly sequels with derivative mini-games during the GameCube era began to sour my opinion on the entire endeavor. It wasn’t until Mario Party 8 changed things up with innovative games using the Wii Remote that I was once again hooked and having a great time with friends. But, much like a rollercoaster ride, the next two games were simply awful thanks to taking control away from the players and insisting they all ride around in a vehicle around the board together. Those were dark times for fans, but thankfully Nintendo has seen the light and decided to start over from (mostly) scratch with Super Mario Party, now available for the Nintendo Switch. In many ways it goes back to the basics of what made the series a staple party game for so many years, all the while bringing some new ideas to the table. Is it a perfect game? Hell, no. But, it’s a giant leap in the right direction.
One might say the N64 was made for Mario Party, with its four controller ports standard on every console. It’s got nothing on the Switch though, because with every system there are two Joy-Con controllers, meaning you can have a Mario Party anytime and anywhere. The downside is that no other controller options are supported, so if you have purchased a Switch Pro Controller you’re out of luck – you need two more Joy-Cons to play the four-player mode. While Nintendo could have probably made the whole thing work with people having different controllers, it probably would have been unfair in some manner or another, and this especially comes to light once you’ve played some of the mini-games. Many of them rely on the gyros inside the Joy-Cons and some of them will have you holding the controller horizontally like a SNES pad, while others will have you holding them vertical, to simulate motions like rowing a boat. There are all manners of various games to be had here (80 in total), and for the most part the motion controls work rather well. A few of them ask the player to be rather precise with small incremental movements (like the one where you have to move the controller forward or backward to put an item in focus), and these can be a bit tricky when things are heated and people are wailing their arms every which way. Add alcohol to the mix and it becomes even more challenging and/or hilarious.
One improvement this go round is that before each mini-game you no longer have to watch a tutorial video showing you what to do. Instead, you all can immediately play the game in practice mode – without having to leave the screen or load into a different area. When everyone’s set to go they simply hit the ZL/ZR buttons on the top of the Joy-Con to give the go-ahead. Other small touches include the ability to high-five the other players when playing in a team game to earn extra coins (yes you actually move the Joy-Con up in the air for that air high-five). The HD Rumble is impeccable throughout the game, gently vibrating to mimic the on-screen action. I had several people bring up the unique rumble effects so it’s definitely noticeable.
There are several modes of play in Super Mario Party, and for those just itching to play the standard board game that’s here in all its glory. You have four boards to choose from and they all have their own environments and style to them. You’ll each get a crack at rolling the dice to see how many spots you can move. Landing on a blue space nets you some coins and a red space takes coins away. You need coins to purchase the coveted stars, which is your ultimate goal – to have the most stars at the end of the game and win. Of course there are all sorts of obstacles in your way, from game board specific hazards and spaces to items that can be used against you by your conniving “friends”. Different this time are character-specific die rolls that will offer up unique numbers and/or penalties. These can be used as much or as little as you like and there is a definite risk/reward system in place that can make or break your turn. Some characters, like Mario, play it safe and will have a better chance of rolling a three, whereas others might give you multiple sides of the die with a six on them, but maybe two sides of the die will result in losing coins and not moving at all. The choice is yours!
In addition to the traditional party mode is a new two versus two mode called Partner Party that I especially had fun playing. Here you team up with a second player and you each roll your dice, which are added together for the total number of spaces that must be traversed. Unlike the normal boards, here you can move in any direction on a grid-like board. This means you can move around and then even circle back to use up the right amount of spaces to try and land on a specific spot on the board. Different tactics will eventually arise, where maybe one of you goes for the coins (they’re shared amongst the two of you) and the other moves toward the star space. Another tactic is obviously to screw over the other team. You can do this in various ways, but the easiest is to simply pass over a space your rival is standing on and you’ll jump on top of them and steal a few coins. If you’re really petty or hard up for cash, you can circle around and pound them again and again! Of course, what goes around comes around so don’t be surprised if they do the same to you. The different boards have their own hazards, special spaces and gimmicks. Some are more fun than others, but overall I really liked the team dynamic of strategizing on the fly and the team mini-games were especially entertaining.
If you have two Switches and two copies of the game you can play Toad’s Rec Room with four players. There are four different games here and they must be played on the Switch screens instead of the TV. All of them are pretty basic, but are kind of cool proofs of concepts. Three of the four have you placing the two systems next to each other where the action will be shared across both screens. Banana, Split will have a player rotating the screens to try and match up the systems to form a banana. Puzzle Hustle has players try to put together pixelated versions of Mario characters. Shell Shocked Deluxe is a four-player tank game and where the Switch screens connect the players can move back and forth between systems. The viewpoint is from the top-down and reminded me of the classic Tank game on the Atari 2600 or the Wii Play tank game. Finally there’s Mini League Baseball, a simplified version of America’s favorite pastime. All of these games are fun to play in short bursts, but were pretty much forgotten after a few minutes. They show off some cool ideas, but they’re so shallow that I doubt anyone would put more than 30 minutes into any of them. It’s a bit shocking these require two copies of the game to play four players and I wonder if the Switch just isn’t capable of single card play like the DS and 3DS were.
There are more modes to mess around with. You can just hop into mini-games and go at those if you choose. You can even dance your butt off on stage to see who has the best moves if you so choose. There’s also a mode that’s four-player co-op where you share a raft and go down some river rapids. Here you must complete games together (all of you on a team) to earn more time to make it further down the river. This was quite fun, but this mode could maybe use an additional 20 or so games in this category to avoid repeats. Finally, you can go online and play a selection of games in succession to try and come out victorious. No, the traditional Mario Party mode is still not available online – something many of us have asked for in the past. Maybe this is the baby step we need to make it to full online for the next game?
These games are all about getting some friends or family together and having a fun time. Thanks to the power of the Switch, this is by far the prettiest Mario Party game ever created. It’s bursting with color and there are all sorts of small details everywhere you look. Overall the boards could have been a little bigger and maybe have a little more creativeness to them, but the graphics and animations are fantastic throughout. The series has never been known for amazing soundtracks, but I actually found most of the music rather pleasant. Really the only annoying aspect of the entire game is that it once again relies on full player attention. This is ever so noticeable at the start of every mini-game where everyone must “buzz in” to confirm they’re ready to go. All it takes is one person to be distracted and the entire game stops. Given that many times this game will be played at a party where people are often talking to others, laughing, and having a good time, the game takes even longer to complete thanks to these small hang-ups. It can also take forever for some people to make a decision after rolling the dice. I fully welcome the day when we can turn on a countdown timer so players have to make decisions or their turn will end. Seriously, does anyone else have this problem when playing these games, or is just my group of friends?
In the end Super Mario Party won’t convert the haters into believers. If you already dislike the series this one won’t convince you to turn over a new leaf. However, if you’ve had fun with prior games, I can whole-heartedly say this is the best one in a decade. Both the traditional party mode and Partner Party are my favorite parts of the game and there’s enough content here to keep most people happy. The game could use a few more boards with more creativity thrown in for good measure, but for now I’m just thankful they ditched the awful car mechanic from the past two games. And yes, the annoying post-game awards are still here, which means literally anyone could be awarded stars at the end of the game and come out victorious (which can be annoying or the best thing ever depending on how things shake out). Still, great fun is sure to be had when you and a group of friends gather around the TV with Super Mario Party in tow.
Super Mario Party Review
Final Thoughts: GREAT
After the last to games crashed and burned, Super Mario Party is a much-needed return to form. With all-new mini-games, great presentation value, and plenty of different modes to mess around with, this is an essential game for anyone hosting a party with friends or family. Players of all ages will find something to like here.