Review: Super Mario Party (Nintendo Switch)
- Release Date (NA): October 5, 2018
- Release Date (EU): October 5, 2018
- Publisher: Nintendo
- Developer: NDcube
- Genres: Party
- ESRB Rating: Everyone
- PEGI Rating: Three years and older
Single playerLocal MultiplayerOnline MultiplayerCo-operative
Turning on the game for the first time, Super Mario Party feels different from the offset. Before so much as greeting the title screen, you're asked to commit how many players and systems are participating in your party, the maximum here being four players spread across either one or two systems. After locking in your choice, you get your standard Mario Party setup: Mario and friends are arguing over who the superstar is, and it can naturally only be settled by board game. Added to the mix for the first time is Bowser and his cohort of minions, the Koopa King himself convinced one of his crew has what it takes to prove themselves the superstar. The setup here isn't much, but it does everything it needs to for the game to kick off straight away. After this, you pick your party entourage and off you head to the plaza!
The Party Plaza is a small area you can explore with the other members of your party following behind you. Though it serves as little more than a means of choosing your game mode, I appreciate how it brings the world together and gives your characters a genuine sense of togetherness and comradery to be later destroyed as you betray one another in traditional fashion. Before jumping into each game mode, there are a few smaller things worth noting. First, there's no touch control for menus or wandering the plaza. With the focus on multiplayer aspects, it makes sense for these not to be here, since it'd mean one player has the system to themselves, but it's something I like to see regardless. Second, not everything is unlocked from the start. The Party Plaza starts out feeling somewhat limited, though it soon grows. Finally, the miscellaneous speech from characters as you choose who to play with is just perfect. The game keeps the last three characters you played with as a recommended group, with them asking for you to pick them again for the party. It's adorable, and it's these small touches throughout the game that make it into the experience it truly is.
This is probably the mode you're here to learn about; are there cars? Is it too gimmicky? Do Joy Cons ruin the experience? Won't somebody think of the HD Rumble! Perhaps more thorough than my usual review style, I can hopefully answer all of your questions and more as I break everything down.
Going through this chronologically, the first option you'll have is your choice of board—Whomp's Domino Ruins, King Bob-omb's Powderkeg Mine, or Megafruit Paradise. Just three boards. Though there's a fourth gated behind beating these, it's easy to think you aren't really getting much for your money here. Looking past the number, I find reasonable conflict in the board designs. While each one looks graphically impressive and alive, they feel flawed in their boxy and squarish layouts. Gone are the curved and wacky paths of games gone by, everything now feels cleaner and more clear-cut, for better or worse—whether you get on with will really come down to personal preference. The major positive in aesthetic is how much more it feels like a board game; it's as though each one could be folded away nicely. On the other hand, it makes it more of a challenge to look at the boards as unique and individual, this furthered by the distinct lack of boards numerically speaking. While Megafruit Paradise sets itself apart with its bright and vibrant fruity colours, Domino Ruins and Powderkeg Mine come across as too visually similar to me, despite their clearly different board hazards and themes.
My other main point of conflict with the board layouts is just how small they feel, and there's a good reason for this; they are a fair bit smaller than usual. Looking at Domino Ruins as an example, the outer ring of the course consists of 35 spaces—that's 35 spaces from the starting space to go around the board and be back at the start. To draw a few comparisons to previous entries, Toad's Midway Madness of Mario Party 4 had a huge 55 spaces on its outside path, every one of the dreams in Mario Party 5 felt vast in scale, with a variety of paths and shortcuts; even Yoshi's Tropical Island in the first game had 43 spaces on its outside path. I understand it's not a perfect metric to use to measure board length, but it at least offers a reasonable comparison. The biggest difference between Super Mario Party and previous entries would be the dice. Ranging from 1-6 on the normal die, and character-specific ones coming with a variety of benefits and downfalls, you're moving through the boards at a slower pace than you would with the previous games' 1-10 dice. It all balances out to some extent, but it's a little jarring when you first jump in.
Overall, I think the dice are a fantastic idea to bring to the traditional board. Essentially the same as they were in Star Rush on the 3DS, the dice give your character choice meaning. Sure, every character has your standard 1-6 dice, but when Bowser's dice can roll a ten, you're obviously going to try for it. Each character has a good balance and an associated sense of risk and reward; in my first game I played as Rosalina and didn't move a space for three turns because I refused to give up on using her dice. These dice also are interesting in providing the idea of a best character for each map. The easiest example I can think of would be Hammer Bro's 50% chance of rolling a five on Powderkeg Mine, the fifth space being an ally space, granting you an ally for the rest of the game (more on these later).
Making their return for the first time since Mario Party DS, hidden blocks also lurk beneath blue spaces. I love these. They're completely random, completely disgusting, and can completely ruin your game, but that's what makes them so perfect. Mario Party as a series thrives in these moments of random unfairness, and I couldn't be happier to see these again. After landing on a space with a hidden block, a nice new feature is a small spinner with a highlighted area; if the spinner stops within this area, you get a star, otherwise you get some coins. This visualisation of luck is a brilliant fit for the random nature of these blocks, giving everybody playing a moment of suspense to find how just how bad this might be for everybody else.
At the end of each turn, as you might expect, waits a minigame to be played. I'll discuss the quality and variety of minigames later in the review, but for now, I want to focus on their relevance to the party. The most immediate thing I noticed is how games are selected; Super Mario Party will always choose a game you haven't unlocked yet. Though a minor design choice, it's one I appreciate above most. By forcing the spinner onto locked games, you simultaneously ensure the player is always engaging with new content, as well as putting them closer to unlocking a game mode that requires every minigame. Without this design choice, you might find the game dragging on as you repeat maps you didn't necessarily want to in order to unlock an additional part of the game; it feels like natural progression as it is now, and the pacing is perfect as to unlock the final mode after experiencing the others.
One of the more notable changes to minigames comes in how players are rewarded for their participation. Gone are the days of winner takes all, in its place standing tiered rewards; first place taking eight coins, second taking four, and third taking two. In 3v1 and 2v2 games, the losing side always gets two coins. While this might be a small change, it has a significant impact on how longer games play out. With second and third place still rewarded for efforts, and first place having their prize reduced by two coins, it's much more difficult to dominate a map as it would have been in previous games. Where you could have kept winning minigames to deprive your opponents of coins, and by extension stars, you'll now find them creeping behind you. This is furthered by the cost of stars being only ten coins, making them a world more accessible to your opponents.
Touched on earlier, allies make a return from Star Rush, something I am overjoyed to see. While Star Rush was by no means a perfect Mario Party game, I feel it did a lot of things right, and it's great to see these ideas being brought into a more traditional setting. As in Star Rush, gaining an ally grants reasonable benefits; you can use their special dice block, and you also get an extra 1-2 dice rolled each turn for each of your followers. Ally spaces aren't exactly common on boards, there generally only being a few on each, so it's not uncommon to go full games without getting any yourself. This shines a light on the importance of their balancing, and it's here I feel the game does well. With its small boards and risky dice, the addition of one or two to your roll never feels particularly game-breaking, instead being a pleasant bonus or safety if you really want to try your luck. Though I can imagine it getting out of hand if you had a full party of three allies, with how uncommon the spaces are, the effort required to gather them would be a skill in itself.
Aside from ally spaces, each board also has an array of fun things to land on. First, you have your standard blue and red spaces, giving and taking three coins respectively. It's interesting to see how few red spaces there are on each board, clearly putting a focus on high star count and frantic games, in oppose to the constant losses you might have experienced in previous games. A versus space acts as the game's alternative to battle minigames, each player throwing coins into a pool, with the winner of a not-minigame taking the biggest portion of it home. This not-minigames pleasantly surprised me, presenting a challenge limit-pushing, instead of the usual luck-based activities. Quite simply, it involved each person blowing up a balloon, with the largest one winning. Sadly, computer opponents don't seem to put up much competition here, you being able to edge them easily, but I can imagine a room full of friends would play differently.
You then have good and bad luck spaces, each providing a spinner of good and bad things that could happen for your character; item spaces to give you a random item; and event spaces, the effect of which varies from space to space. While there may not be many types of space, spread across the smaller boards, they're ample in keeping the game from becoming stale. As well as spaces, you also have characters you interact with by walking past them: your item shop, and friendship destroyer. Though I'm most used to seeing Boo in this role, Lakitu steps in as the game's star and coin thief while Boo parties on. As usual, when you pass Lakitu, you can steal coins for free, or a star for 30 coins. A nice addition to what would be the cause of many arguments, Super Mario Party is kind enough to include the option to randomly select your victim. While this option is designed to save friendships, it's also nice to see CPU opponents using it on occasion instead of all simply ganging up on 1st place (usually me). I'm not sure how the higher difficulty CPUs would use such power, but I can at least get along with my crew on normal difficulty.
Coming towards the end of each game, you have your last push; this time it being three turns before the end, in oppose to the usual five. The game seems to have a theme of making things smaller, contrary to its Super title. I'm really fond of the changes made here, Toad calling a stage-specific character to the floor to ask who they think will win. Instead of simply rewarding who is falling behind, they can root for anybody, including first place on rare occasions. While I understand it somewhat defeats the purpose of this last push, I found it refreshing to see the middle ranks get a renewed chance at victory. Aside from this reward, the blue and red spaces have their values doubled as usual, and Kamek turns bad luck spaces into extra bad luck spaces. With stars being so cheap and coins flying everywhere, the last turns are exactly as frantic as the game desires, perhaps more so than previous entries with the reduced cost of stars.
When all is said and done, the game wraps up with the love or hate king of the game: bonus stars. You thought your poxy two star lead was enough to win? Think again! Selecting randomly from a list of possible bonuses, you may be rewarded for collecting allies, landing on unlucky spaces, or using the most items, amongst other things. With no way to tell how these will turn out, you feel a genuine pressure to take a significant lead while you still have the chance, strategically stealing stars and manipulating the flow of the game as best you can.
While I definitely enjoyed my time with the first three stages, it's in the unlockable fourth where the game really shines. If you want this stage to remain a surprise to you, feel free to skip over this paragraph. Kamek's Tantalizing Tower differs from the other stages in a number of ways. Red and blue spaces have their values doubled from the start, the star is always in the same place, the price of stars changes after one is taken, and you can buy more than one star at a time. This stage puts a huge emphasis on gathering coins and keeping up with your opponents, assuring you either maintain pace to match their rapidly increasing star count, or find a way to stop them being able to buy them. This is the board where I feel its small size does it justice, keeping the game constantly moving at a fast pace and first place changing turn by turn. With Lakitu's services locked behind landing on a single event space, the focus is on grabbing what you can and moving quickly. It is by far the most fun stage of the Mario Party mode, with turns disappearing before you notice you've started.
Moving on from traditional play, it surprised me to see the inclusion of not just Star Rush's allies and dice, but its most unique gameplay aspect in its entirety. Featuring free movement across boards, gathering allies as you go, you have everything you remember from the 3DS version. While I enjoyed Star Rush, there was a lot holding it back from really shining as a prolonged experience; the changes made by Super Mario Party elevate it from obscurity.
Serving to splice this modern game style with the tried and tested formula, these changes ultimately create something I genuinely believe to surpass both. This comes down to three major factors—the mode played as 2v2, minigames being at the end of each turn, and the objective being changed to start collecting. On top of these, you also have smaller things like more board events and a few different items to encourage exploration, but these are minor design choices in comparison.
Where Star Rush had you competing for allies to dash across the board and score the most points against a boss, Partner Party feels what a 2v2 Mario Party should've been years ago. By using a combined dice roll of both team members, it creates a sense of union and strategy in choosing the risks you'll take together, without an arbitrary link binding the players together, such as two people driving in the same car or something similar. It feels like a natural evolution of team-based Mario Party, and is probably my favourite mode of the game. It also goes a long way in explaining a few of the lacklustre elements of the Mario Party mode.
Partner Party using the same maps as the Mario Party mode comes with several limitations; boards can't be too big, boards can't be too crazy, and boards must have some means of accommodating free movement. That both modes use the same boards is the reason why they feel so uninspired by comparison to previous games—fitting the requirements of Partner Party whilst maintaining the interesting sense of escalation, progression, and variation required for Mario Party leaves us with something that doesn't quite reach the desired heights of either. I have no issue saying the boards are fun, but if they were completely different whilst remaining thematically similar, I feel they'd have excelled far beyond what they currently are.
One final thing to mention about Partner Party is that while the boss battles of Star Rush are no longer present, the idea of frantic ally-filled minigames have been repurposed into team minigames. Unlike the boss battles of Star Rush, team minigames are simply additions to the end of turn minigame pool, and allow you to play a 2v2 game with your human teammate, as well as any allies picked up on the board. These are all fantastic fun, if not a little unbalanced if one team has a lot more allies than the other, but that in itself puts an emphasis on gathering them as soon as possible. With allies visible on the board, they're not a just a nice addition as they are in Mario Party, they're an integral part of the mode, where you can plan who you want and how you'll move to get them. Partner Party is your standard gameplay mode with more freedom; a fantastic addition to the series that excites me for what can be done further. It's as if the development team knew players wanted traditional play, and added to it in a meaningful way, in oppose to going in completely different directions seen in other recent releases.
One Trick Pony Modes
After your main two modes, Super Mario Party includes a few other things to keep itself fresh, the big two here being Sound Stage and River Survival. With each of these modes adding ten uniquely-styled minigames, they're fine additions to the game, but they aren't much good beyond one playthrough with a group of friends.
Sound Stage is one of the more interesting modes of the game in the fact that it doesn't really feel like Mario Party at all. Featuring ten rhythm minigames, with three used per play session, you're thrown into one after another with a constant faint beat coming through the Joy Con's HD Rumble. These games are each incredibly easy to pick up, but with a reasonable degree of difficulty to master and score perfectly on. Much akin to Rhythm Paradise (or Rhythm Heaven for American readers) in its premise, it's reasonable fun and does well in not being tiresome to complete, despite its limited minigame quantity. Where it falls somewhat flat is in its replayability and rewarding of mastery, or thereby lack of both. The replayability is an easy matter to discuss; there aren't enough games to keep you coming back. It's a fun mode while it lasts, and I'm glad to say it lasts long enough to keep you entertained until you get its mark of completion, but the only reason you'd come back to this mode would be to score perfectly on the games, another issue I have. Where Rhythm Paradise has gold medals to strive for, giving you a trophy of sorts for your efforts, Super Mario Party has… Nothing. You're rewarded for beating each difficulty of the mode, but never for sticking with it to the end, and I feel that a shame. Any replayability this mode could have had feels squandered because there's nothing left to be had. You can go back to both party modes thanks to their random elements. With each game being different, each experience with them brings unique memories and events. Sound Stage's fixed and samey nature means it needs a different approach, and this just wasn't thought out enough.
River Survival sees you in a raft with three friends as you paddle with the Joy Cons down the fast-moving river rapids. Your aim is to traverse the rapids without running out of time, getting more by manoeuvring into minigame balloons and playing well. With everybody working together, you get a different amount of time as a reward based on how well the team performs, ranging from S rank to C. I love most of these games, working together in a Mario Party game being a relative rarity, and one I did find myself enjoying a lot. The issue here is that there are only ten minigames in the pool. Where Partner Party can get away with its ten unique games being part of a larger pool, and Sound Stage can lean on the fact it only uses three per session, along with remixes, River Survival soon grows drab when each playthrough has 15 minigame balloons. It's one thing to be repeating levels each time you play, but to always get multiple of the same minigame in one session is just bad. It puts you in a frame of mind to be dodging the minigame balloons and cutting it as close to the clock as possible, which is fun and entertaining in itself, but leaves you with what is only half of the mode. It's a shame other minigames couldn't be remixed with a team spin; a lot of free for all minigames have a scoring system that could've been retooled with this in mind. All things considered, it's fun, but I can't see myself playing it more than once with the same group of friends. With you needing to beat it at least five times for the mode to be marked as complete, this might become a drag for completionists.
Both of these modes do a lot right and there is definitely a lot of fun to be had, especially if you have a large group of friends. What they both seem to lack is a reason to keep playing. They're interesting ideas that do well in padding out the overall experience, but once you've played them once, you've played them a thousand times. On top of these modes, you also have Toad's Rec Room—a collection of four smaller games, each supporting the ability to use two systems in unique and interesting ways. There are some really interesting ideas in action, but again very little to keep you coming back. With these hidden off to the side, this feels more acceptable, generally feeling more like extras than something the game wants you to focus on.
Finally, the big kahuna itself—how do the minigames hold up? Perhaps the most integral part of any Mario Party game, it is no understatement to say the experience can be made or ruined by the standard set, so allow me to break it down for you. Super Mario Party features a total of 80 minigames, these divided into 30 free-for-all, ten 1v3, ten 2v2, ten team, ten co-op, and ten rhythm. Mario Party selects its games from the free-for-all, 1v3, and 2v2 pools depending on how players did on the preceding turn, giving you 50 games in the pool. Partner Party also sports 50 minigames, selecting again from free-for-all and 2v2, as well as its exclusive team minigames. And finally the other modes as mentioned earlier use their exclusive games; River Survival having co-op games, and Sound Stage having you play rhythm games.
Comparing Super Mario Party's minigame total to previous games in the series is an interesting task. For the sake of comparison, we'll only look at minigames in the Mario Party pool, a total of 50 from the categories mentioned earlier. Looking at the same sample in other games, we have 34 in Mario Party 4, 47 in Mario Party 5, 52 in Mario Party 6, 43 in Mario Party 7, and 37 in Mario Party 8. Be aware these numbers exclude non-standard minigames such as duel and battle games. As the series goes, Super Mario Party much to my surprise is amongst the top in minigame quantity. Contrary to its lesser modes, this gives Mario Party and Partner Party a great sense of replayability and variance, but numbers are only part of the story. On the whole, the quality is again surprisingly high. The game makes great use of the Joy Cons' features; enough so to warrant the exclusion of the Pro Controller as a play scheme. If you're interested in a brief word on each minigame, I've included a summary and personal rating for each in the spoiler below. Be aware that even a brief word for 80 games is quite the wall of text.
Along with your standard Free Play option for minigames, you also Mariothon and Square Off as means of keeping the play experience fresh. Mariothon is a relatively standard mode for Mario Party minigames, seeing you play five consecutive games and competing competing for the highest score. Square Off on the other hand has you capturing territory for each minigame you win, with the player with the most territory at the end taking the victory. Essentially being the classic game Othello with the addition of a free-for-all minigame to see who can pick the next tile. I enjoyed both of these modes for what I played of them, but neither really have a factor to keep me coming back. If I want random minigames, I'd really just go to a party mode; if I wanted a specific minigame, I could easily find it in Free Play.
The final mode worth mentioning is the game's primary single player content—Challenge Road. Featuring each of the game's 80 minigames, it tasks you with completing a challenge on each to progress. While you don't necessarily have to win each game, the challenges presented were definitely enough to keep me hooked. It should be kept in mind however that this mode is ultimately just a minigame gauntlet. Aside from the challenges, the games aren't remixed in any way, and there's nothing particularly special done to make you want to play it after having already played most of the minigames to unlock the mode in the first place. If you are willing to brave it, you can expect to unlock a few additional characters for your troubles, but don't be expecting much more than that.
The Small Things
Super Mario Party does a lot of clear-cut things right. Returning to the traditional formula of its predecessors, it puts forward an evolution of the series with meaningful additions. Looking past the obvious however, you begin to see the extent of care and thought put into the end experience. If playing as Bowser or Bowser Jr, you'll see Kamek apologising for carrying out his duties on bad luck spaces. You'll see Shy Guy jumping asking for you to play with him again as you return to the plaza. It's easy to love the amazing content, and be put off by the lacklustre additional modes, but to experience the care and attention put into this entry to the series is an experience unto itself. Super Mario Party is a game I'll be coming back to for weeks, months, and perhaps even years to come, and I hope its sequel can build on its successors and learn from its downfalls.
+ Traditional gameplay returns!
+ Partner Party provides the best 2v2 mode in the series
+ A huge assortment of minigames
+ Allies and unique dice make a return
+ Small touches throughout the game make each interaction feel unique
- Small and unspecialised boards
- Lacklustre additional modes
- Poor online support
The game looks great on the Switch, its real limiting factor stemming from the limitations imposed by Partner Party. If the modes had separate boards, I'd be excited to see how their designs were tailored to make each experience unique.
This is Mario Party, but better. Building on the traditional formula, it merges great ideas from obscure games to create something that surpasses what could have been expected from both the great and the unknown.
Lasting appeal is difficult to gauge for Super Mario Party. I can see myself coming back time and time again for its Mario Party and Partner Party modes, but beyond that, I doubt other modes will get a second look. It's a shame, but with no real draw past the initial experience, they give me no reason nor desire to come back to them.
out of 10
(not an average)
Super Mario Party is where the series should have gone years ago. Gone are the cars, the mini stars, and the one player chasing down the team as Bowser. Here we have a Mario Party game for the ages, one that builds on and will hopefully be built upon, and one I'll be coming back to happily.