Super Mario PArty
Still partying like it’s 1998
Rolling dice, playing minigames, and hating on Waluigi. Sounds like our idea of a party all right.
What does the word ‘party’ mean to you? Fizzy pop, bouncy castles, and tails pinned on donkeys? Heavy basslines, inept dancing, and a lot of morning-after regret? Or perhaps a cheeseboard, a bottle of something nice, and conversations on the latest bit of prestige telly? In the Mushroom Kingdom, parties are none of these things – instead, they’re a sacred and time-honoured way of settling arguments. So, a party.
In the case of Super Mario Party, the argument is about who is the greatest superstar in all the land. It could be Mario, Peach, or Yoshi; but equally it could be Bowser or one of his cronies. The only way to resolve this conflict, between figures who might at any other time be locked in mortal combat, is through a sort of giant board game, where characters move according to the whims of the dice and play quick minigames between rounds. You know, a party.
This has been Mario and pals’ preferred format of shindig for two decades now, with ten entries in the main series and five handheld spin-offs. Super Mario Party isn’t here to smash any preconceptions, but it does promise a bigger hootenanny than ever before. There are just north of 80 minigames on offer here, and they can be accessed in a variety of ways.
There’s the traditional board game mode, but also a Partner Party team variant, borrowed from the Star Rush 3DS instalment. Or you can opt to play just co-op minigames, presented as a white-water rafting adventure in River Survival, or test your rhythm with Sound Stage’s music-themed selections. Then there’s the single-player Challenge Road mode, and Toad’s Rec Room, a collection of slightly more fleshed-out games which can be played across two Switches.
All of this is grounded in a hub world where you can interact with familiar characters that developer Nd Cube couldn’t quite squeeze in anywhere else. It’s an impressively big package, although perhaps deceptively so – ultimately, these are just different ways of squeezing a bit of extra life out of those 80 minigames.
Size doesn’t matter
Fortunately, that selection of minigames is pretty solid. They vary in complexity, from classic Mario Party push-and-shove platforming to a three-card-monte-style game of shuffling Russian dolls. There’s a basic two-button football match in there, but also a round that challenges you to get the boiled sweets out of jar more quickly than your opponents.
Many of the minigames utilise the Joy-Cons’ motion controls, for example to flip a steak in a pan or rotate two tetromino-like blocks until they line up, and in some cases their ‘HD Rumble’ haptics, which is basically always a case of identifying the strongest rumble.
None are going to have you clamouring to spend hours exploring their depths, and some offerings are certainly stronger than others, but there’s a nice range on offer. Their simplicity and brevity – each game lasts around a
“won’t smash preconceptions, but it does promise a bigger hootenanny than ever before”
minute – is actually a strength. With most games limited to a single button and the analogue stick, or a shake of the Joy-Con, just about anyone should be able to pick up a controller and play.
Drop a Switch on a table at an actual, non-Mario party – it actually works surprisingly well on the small screen, even in the games that split it four ways – and people can cycle in and out, playing a couple of games before handing off to whoever’s been watching quizzically over their shoulder.
We tested this in the field (a busy pub on a Saturday night) and found that, even after we walked away from the console, the basic rules of play were passed organically between a dozen friends, some of them unused to videogames, before interest eventually petered out. In this kind of environment, the game can truly live up to its title.
In this case, the minigames were served as a sort of finger buffet, with players free to grab whatever they liked from the 80-strong menu. This isn’t the game’s own serving suggestion, however. It puts the board game mode front and centre, so much so that it’s actually called ‘Mario Party’. This mode treats the minigames more as canapés, tiny appetisers brought out at regular intervals, between sessions of the board game. And presented this way, these morsels of game can seem flimsy and lightweight.
This mode continues to be the game’s weak point. Nd Cube has tried to add complexity to the board game, with a few additions to the formula. Each character now comes with a customised dice block they can choose to roll instead of the usual D6, reflecting their character in some way – so reliable old Daisy has a die made up entirely of mediocre 3s and 4s, while the hulking Donkey Kong either rolls a 10 or 0.
This is coupled with Allies, one of many ideas borrowed from Star Rush. Characters not currently in play will linger on the board, ready to join whoever lands on their square. Once they’re recruited, you can choose to roll their custom dice block, and they’ll also roll a smaller die, adding one or two to the total.
The boards themselves are more sophisticated than ever before too, loaded with fun gimmicks from warp pipes to exploding Bob-ombs, and branching paths to choose from. But all these choices don’t change the fact that it’s a game of pure luck.
Random chance can produce great stories: the player in last place managing to pick up two of the game-winning stars in a single turn, pushing them into the lead… then immediately landing on a Bad Luck space and forfeiting one to the new loser. With friends, that can be a source of laughter, but it can also be infuriating. While the game’s presentation might be kid-friendly, the language you’ll use when a bad roll loses you an hour-long game certainly won’t be.
Worst of all, this structure makes the minigames feel inconsequential. Winning yields coins, which can be exchanged for stars, but so does landing on the right space. Played this way, Super Mario Party feels like it’s ashamed of its minigames. But it shouldn’t be.
For experienced players and Mario Party newbies alike, these 60-second nuggets of game provide plenty of bouncing, inept dancing and a fair amount of cheesy thrills. In short, they bring the party. Just don’t be tempted to break open the board games, or it’ll be a long night.
One minigame has three players working together to control a mecha crab, because… well, why not?
Once you’ve got another character on side, you can take their dice for a spin. Monty’s is fairly unremarkable, but it does look quite cool. This is a Bad Luck space. Land on them and you’ll initiate the worst game of (non-Russian) roulette of your life. Each victory feels genuinely significant, with celebrations specific to the game and character. Every board has special event spaces, like these secret presents in Megafruit Paradise. Will you trade it all in for what’s in this box? Mario has recruited an ally – in this case, breakout star Monty Mole – to help with the festivities. Every minigame has a punny title. This is called ‘Slaparazzi’. We assume the localisation team knocked off early that day.