It’s Not “Super,” But It’s a Party – Super Mario Party Review

NDCubed / Nintendo – Nintendo Switch

Mario Party is one of my all-time favorite game series. I’ve been a fan of its energy and wackiness for years and can’t recall many gatherings of gaming friends that didn’t feature at least one board of Mario Party. But even as a superfan of the series, I can’t deny that the quality of its games has dropped dramatically over the last decade, leading to my friends and I choosing to pass on the last few entries. But after my family received Super Mario Party as a Christmas gift, I feel that Mario Party might finally be getting back on track. Its mini-game selection and alternate game modes prevent it from being in the same league at Mario Party 2, 4, or 7, but its unique board strategies and wonderful co-op modes help make it the best series entry in a decade.

Not Your Not Your Older Sibling’s Mario Party

For those who don’t like the gameplay of Mario Party 9 or 10, fear not, Super Mario Party goes back to the series’ roots of players moving individually around (mostly) non-linear boards. You roll your dice to move around, land on spaces that do things like give coins or trigger events, and after everyone moves you play a mini-game. You earn coins in mini-games or by finding them on the board, and use said coins to buy Stars. It’s classic Mario Party for sure, but Super Mario Party isn’t a carbon copy of the early game’s formula.

The series’ distinct 10-sided dice have been replaced with 6-sided dice as well as character-specific dice. At the start of your turn, you can roll a 6-sided die, or you can roll your character’s die with a unique set of faces. For instance, the faces of Luigi’s die are 1,1,1,5,6,7, and the faces of Wario’s die are 6,6,6,6, -2 coins, -2 coins. Each character die has unique advantages and disadvantages, some helpful for moving a specific number of spaces, others being risk vs reward in trying to move a lot of spaces.

Super Mario Party also incorporates a new “Ally” system into the mix. By landing on an Ally space, another character will randomly be selected to join you, and you’ll have access to their character die. You only get one Ally per Ally space, but you can get as many as you want by landing on Ally spaces multiple times. Your allies will roll additional dice with faces of 1 or 2 to add to you roll at the start of your turn, and you can choose between any of their character dice.

The smaller dice might be a concern to some, seeing how large Mario Party boards tend to be, but fortunately Super Mario Party’s boards are considerably smaller than most classic boards. Between the smaller boards and smaller dice, Super Mario Party is the fastest moving Mario Party I can think of, which is perfect for a portable game.

What’s Gonna Work?

Since Mario Party 4, the series has included Team Battle Mode, where two players play on the same team and share items, coins, and stars. This mode, while fun, felt tacked on as nothing about the rules, the boards or the mini-games changed other than the shared inventory. Super Mario Party on the other hand features Partner Party, which does still include shared inventories, but makes smart changes to the boards and what players can do on their turns to make co-op play its own experience.

For starters, in Partner Party both players on a team move on the same turn. They move individually, but the amount of spaces they move comes from combining the individual player’s dice rolls. Not everything is shared, as Ally character dice are only available to the player that obtained the Ally, and items will only affect the player that used them. This structure to team turns makes for some unique strategies, as players can decide what ways they want each other to move, and what items each one should use to meet those objectives. With this turn structure, both players can also land on the same space to both get its affect, including a Star Space, allowing a team to obtain two stars in one turn if they have enough coins.

The boards themselves change in Partner Party, becoming grid-based rather than following Mario Party’s traditional space design. Coins can be obtained by walking over them, or by being stolen from opponents by crossing their path or landing on the same space as them by exact count. The effects of certain spaces (including Star Spaces) will only occur if one lands on the space by exact count, which dramatically changes things. In addition, each board has a unique item that can be taken to another part of the board to get a free star. There are a lot of unique strategies to consider in Partner Party, such as whether or not to go for the item needed for the free star, making it feel more like a team effort than Team Battles were in other Mario Party games.

Though in my opinion, the co-op highlight in Super Mario Party is River Survival, a 4-player rafting game with mini-games sprinkled in. Like real river rafting, the four players have to coordinate their movements in order to move their raft around obstacles and towards items needed to succeed. The players have a limited amount of time to get to the end of the river, and they get more time by hitting balloons to play mini-games. There are 10 4-player minigames unique to this mode, where the 4 players must cooperate to succeed. The higher the score they obtain in a mini-game, the more time gets added to the clock. There are multiple paths to take down the river, and five different endings, each with unique obstacles to overcome. Good 4-player co-op videogames are still nowhere near as common as they should be, so River Survival is a real treat in that regard, and one of Super Mario Party’s biggest highlights.

Little Variety to Little Games

So Super Mario Party delivers in terms of board navigation strategies and co-operative modes. But how about the mini-games? After all, mini-games are the heart and soul of the series. I have to say, Super Mario Party doesn’t bring the A-game here. None of the mini-games are boring, frustrating, or extreme-luck based, but I can count on my fingers the number of mini-games that made myself or my family say “Yay, this one!” The main issue is that a lot of the mini-games fit into one of the following categories: speed waggling, moving a vehicle, avoid the thing, throwing things at your opponent, or using HD Rumble to find something. At first, you’ll be excited by how wacky and high energy the mini-games are, but after a while you may yourself saying “Didn’t we just play something like this?”

The balance of mini-game types is also a little weak. There are 80 mini-games total in Super Mario Party, but in a standard party you’ll only be playing 60 of them. That may not sound that bad, until you realize that 30 of the mini-games are free-for-all. Only 10 are 2 vs 2, 10 are 1 vs 3, and 10 are team games played with your allies. It’s true most games of Mario Party will primarily feature free-for-all mini-games, but this was the first time I’ve played a Mario Party and said to myself “Why haven’t we played 2 vs 2 or 1 vs 3 games yet?” Even in a 10-turn Mario Party you usually get a few mini-games that aren’t free-for-all, but frequently in Super Mario Party my family and I got none at all in 10-turn games. The remaining 20 mini-games are the 10 co-op minigames from River Survival, and 10 rhythm mini-games from the Sound Stage mode. These mini-games are all fun, but you never play them on the party boards, which is a shame seeing how they could have added some variety to the base game.

I’d Pass on the After Party

I’m one of those weirdos that likes playing Mario Party games solo, though Super Mario Party has become one of the exceptions to that. The only dedicated single-player mode is Challenge Road, which is essentially Mini-Game coaster from Mario Party 2 with no challenge as there are no lives or forced returns to checkpoints. There isn’t a story mode of any sort, which can be seen as a relief for those who don’t want to play a lot of single-player to unlock everything for a party, but it’s still head scratching that there isn’t a Story Mode despite that being a staple of the series since Mario Party 3. And for those like me who like Mario Party’s Story Modes, this is a disappointment.

In terms of mini-games modes, Super Mario Party only offers two aside from Challenge Road and Free Play, and neither feels that interesting. One is simply a contest to get the highest combined score from a set of mini-games, and the other is one where you simply pick squares on a grid to obtain after you win mini-games. There also isn’t much details to the visuals of these modes. Say what you will about Mario Party 8, but even that game had more interesting and better-looking mini-game modes. 

Aside from the earlier mentioned River Survival, Super Mario Party’s other modes are also a bit of a disappointment. Toad’s Rec Room has a selection of bigger mini-games, although they are a simple distraction at best. They’re not bad, but other than the returning Shell Shocked from Mario Party 2, they aren’t very memorable. Sound Stage features unique rhythm based mini-games that are fun, but anyone that has played a rhythm game on an HD TV knows the pain of dealing with input delay while trying to follow the music. Play Sound Stage with your Switch in Tabletop Mode or connected to a gaming monitor if possible.

I’d talk about the online features, but I don’t have a subscription to Nintendo Switch Online, so I can’t give an honest and fair analysis. All I will say is that, as someone who plays fighting games online, I have a feeling the input delay of online play would throw off players big time in the more intense mini-games.

Conclusion

Super Mario Party is definitely not a contender for the best game in the series. But seeing how much the series’ quality has dropped over the last 10 years, it doesn’t need to be. It’s a very playable game with some unique ideas to its movement strategies, and its co-op modes are possibly the best in the series. The issue is the mini-games will start to get old after a while, and there isn’t a lot of fun to be had outside of the Party Modes and River Survival. It doesn’t deserve to be called “Super,” but it’s at least a step up in quality compared to the games of the Wii and Wii U eras, and it’s the most fun I’ve had with a new Mario Party in a long time. If someone were to ask me what’s the best Mario Party to break out at gathering, I’d still say Mario Party  2, 4 or 7. If someone were to ask me what’s the best one you can get from a chain retailer right now, Super Mario Party is the easy choice.  

Buy At a Decent Price

Super Mario Party’s fast pace and high energy makes for a good portable game, and it’s fun with friends, especially in the excellent co-op modes. It’s unfortunately held back by a lack of mini-game variety and weak alternate game modes.

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