Developer: Nintendo Publisher: Nintendo Platform: Switch
Review copy purchased
I guess the Mario Party franchise was starting to show its age a little too much for Nintendo’s liking. The last installment in the main series was the Wii U’s Mario Party 10. For the first (of potentially multiple) Switch version, Nintendo has opted to slightly rebrand to Super Mario Party. But is it so super?
My first impression was no. Owning a pair of pro controllers in addition to the red and blue joy-cons that came with my Switch, I figured I was all set up for some 4-player party fun. Nope. The only control option available for Super Mario Party is the singular joy-con setup — haven’t I spent enough on controllers already? So, I went into my first session feeling frustrated. We sat through the storyline (using the term fairly loosely) and entered the Party Plaza, which was designed to test the patience of players.
There’s no standard menu in Super Mario Party. After selecting the number of controllers and consoles (while only supporting joy-cons, the game can be played across a pair of Switches), Player 1 takes responsibility for leading everyone else around a mini open world to explore the attractions on offer. While this is a somewhat cute idea, it can be tedious if you just want to pick a mode and play. What’s also interesting is the decision to make 4-player the compulsory configuration. If there are only one, two or three of you playing, then you’ll be joined by three, two or one CPUs. Before entering the plaza, you must pick from three selections as to the level of the these characters’ abilities.
Speaking of modes, there are several new options in Super Mario Party, sort of justifying the Party Plaza. The standard Mario Party mode takes the franchise back to its roots. No more sitting in a vehicle travelling with the other players: you’re on your own again. If you played Mario Parties one through eight, you know what to expect here: collect coins and get to the stars before your opponents while battling in mini-games between turns.
Partner Party is the first of the new modes, and when playing in a full group of four, is the most fun. Battling in two teams of two on the same boards as in the regular Mario Party mode, an element of strategy is present, as the boards have been opened up, allowing players to travel in any direction they choose, rather than sticking to the linear paths of the solo game. Movement is still determined by rolls of the dice, but you and your partner must decide whether you are both going after the star (if you reach the star space on the same go, you can both get one) or if one you is going to focus on collecting coins and items while the other chases the star. Of course, the star moves when one team reaches it, so it can be beneficial to split up and take half the board each, as your teammate could be in a better position to reach the next star.
As movement isn’t restricted to a laid out path, the developers have added a new layer of luck (more like frustration, actually) in that when choosing where to go after rolling the dice, you can only stop an even number of spaces away from your current location, unless you’ve rolled an odd number. What this means is that if you roll a six and the star is five spaces away, you can stop after travelling just four spaces, or you can move the full six, but you’re not stopping on that star five spaces away. And while in regular Party mode you only need to go past a star to get it, not worrying about landing on it, in the more open Partner Party, you must land on the star space if you want to grab it. Of course, if you roll a five, you can move five spaces, or four or two. All mini-games in Partner Party are two vs two, and extra coins are awarded for high-fiving your partner in sync when you win.
Looking for something a little more extreme than a board game? River Survival offers something adventurous as all four characters row (prepare to make full use of the joy-cons’ motion control capabilities to paddle) a raft downstream against the clock, avoiding obstacles and popping balloons that activate mini-games. The games here are all based on working as a team and extra time is added to the clock depending on your performance. The aim of River Survival is to reach the end of the stream before time runs out. While we achieved this with plenty of time to spare when playing in a group of four, it proved much more of a struggle in a group of three, as our CPU spent much of the trip sitting back and taking in the scenery. Thanks for nothing, Daisy!
Other modes include Sound Stage, a series of mini-games designed to get players on their feet in the same vein as Just Dance. Holding your joy-con vertically, you need to keep rhythm with the beat that plays to wash windows and whack some moles for the highest score. At one point, your chosen character even gets to dance on stage instead of completing mundane household chores.
If you’re just in the mood to play some mini-games without committing to an hour-long board game or boat trip, you can head right to the mini-games menu and choose from the list of those unlocked. And if you want some more human competition when playing alone, Online Marathon mode pits players from around the world against each other in a series of five mini-games to determine the top dog. Meanwhile, Toad is hiding offline in his Rec Room with a few more games to try. Some of these are games that last too long to be classed as a mini-games, such as Mini League Baseball which takes about 10 minutes a game, while others like Banana, Split are designed for playing with two Switch consoles placed next to each other.
There’s a lot more that could be covered when it comes to Super Mario Party. New items are included to help undermine opponents and reach those stars quicker. Each character also has their own special dice block, providing a choice in which to use before rolling – the standard 1-6 die, or your character’s special block. Mario’s special die, for example, features sides with 1, 3, 3, 3, 5 and 6, meaning you’re most likely to at least get a three. By contrast, Wario’s offers high stakes, as four of the sides roll for a 6, but the other two take away two coins from his purse and leave you in the same spot. Other characters will randomly turn up on the board too, and if you pass them first, they will join you, allowing you to use their dice block if you wish, and also rolling a separate die to add to your total on each roll. With up to four CPUs trailing you, you can get around the board much quicker than your opponents.
When all is said and done, a lot of effort has gone into Super Mario Party. While luck will always play a role in these games, the quality of the mini-games themselves this time around is at a potentially all-time high – no mean feat considering this is technically Mario Party 11. Developer NDcube has worked hard to produce more than the basic Mario Party entry, taking the standard mode back to the franchise’s roots while adding in a plethora of new ways to play to keep things fresh. While it’s initially frustrating that the game can only be played with joy-cons turned sideways, the depth and quality of the mini-games almost excuses this, as compromises would most likely have been made to allow for alternative control-types. Sticking to the joy-cons allowed them to focus on that quality. And the strategy involved in Partner Party is so engaging that each time a mini-game started, our group groaned, as the antics taking place on the board were more engaging, which should say it all.
Has Super Mario Party has truly added the super to the series? Maybe. What it has added is a raft (literally) of new modes to keep things fresh for seasoned players and adding to the longevity of the cartridge with much more to explore than in previous Mario Parties. Party animals feeling nostalgic for the original Party mode will also have a ball, as the game returns to the series’ roots. Super Mario Party serves up the good ol’ days while trying something new for a cocktail of fun. Even if you’re partying alone, the opportunity to play online makes solo gaming feel a little less lame.
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Super Mario Party offers old school board game action with action-packed mini-games that make full use of the joy-cons' motion capabilities while delivering new party tricks for all.
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