Super Mario Party’s Stunted Online Play Showcases How Baffling Nintendo Can Be

I was ecstatic when I first found out that Super Mario Party would feature online play. While Nintendo’s popular board game series has become little more than internet fodder in the past decade, I’ll always have fond memories of playing the original trio of N64 games as a child. In fact, my entire writing career can be traced back to my days on a Mario Party forum, so it’s safe to say that the series has had a weirdly large impact on my life.

Sadly, like a lot of working adults, I don’t often have the chance to play multiplayer games locally anymore. My friend group is spread across not just the country, but the entire world. In order for a multiplayer title to shine in 2018, online play is an absolute must. This is exactly why I haven’t been able to get the slightest bit of enjoyment out of recent Mario Party titles.

It was already known that Super Mario Party wouldn’t offer full-fledged online play, but even the most cynical of Nintendo fans have to be surprised by just how limited it is. Instead of featuring most of the 84 minigames made for the first Nintendo Switch installment, there are just a handful of them that are able to be played online. Making matters even more frustrating, is that each play session is split into playing five of the minigames at random. Sure, you’re competing against friends to see who is the best, but it’s a shockingly small and short experience.

Why Super Mario Party Online Is a Disappointment

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While I’m not sure I can call any of the games in the series truly great, what makes Mario Party fun is its variety. One moment you’re witnessing Donkey Kong conduct music, a few minutes later everyone is trying to figure out a platforming puzzle. Even the best minigames don’t have a ton of depth, but they get a pass for offering up a few moments of fun that you only see occasionally.

Super Mario Party‘s “Online Mario-thon” completely eliminates both the variety and the individual minigame’s ability to stay fresh. Since players are forced to replay the same handful of experiences repeatedly, the lack of nuance is a constant issue. It was already silly enough that players couldn’t get the full board game experience online, but this mode is so limited that even hardcore fans of the series can’t get much enjoyment out of it.

Sadly, this isn’t anything particularly unique to Super Mario Party. Nintendo has constantly made baffling decisions regarding online play over the past decade. One of the most recent examples comes from Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash on the Wii U. Despite having online play, there was absolutely no way for players to play with their friends online. The only option was to play against random players. It made absolutely no sense that you were forced to play with strangers, especially when Nintendo is the “innovator” of friend codes.

New Console, Same Weird Multiplayer

What’s most frustrating about the entire situation is that Nintendo has shown multiple times that they have the infrastructure and know-all to make a great online game. There have been multiple times when I thought that a title had seemingly been a turning point for the Japanese publisher. I remember thinking when the 2006 shooter Metroid Prime Hunters supported full voice chat and multiplayer lobbies that Nintendo had finally gotten their act together, and I figured Super Smash Bros. for Wii U had to be the final straw in 2014. However, here we are in 2018, and we are still dealing with the company’s half-hearted attempts at online integration.

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Looking back at Super Mario Party, it’s maddening that this conversation is even happening still. When I joined the aforementioned Mario Party forum back in 2006, most of the conversation was around if Mario Party DS would have online play. I tried to look at the situation rationally. Nintendo had just released Mario Kart DS with full online integration, and the company was trying to sell USB dongles and headsets for their online service. They had pretty much every reason in the world to add online play to their marquee multiplayer title! However, the next six games in the series had no online features at all.

Being a Nintendo fan can often feel like a struggle at times. Few developers can reach the company’s high points, and nobody else can capture that certain brand of charm that it regularly brings to the table, but no publisher can routinely make such baffling decisions yet remain so beloved either. It’s a love-hate relationship, but it’s one where I’m in it for the long haul. After all, it’s been over a decade since I was certain that Mario Party DS would have full-fledged online play, so what’re a few more years? Clearly, I’ll have to wait since Super Mario Party isn’t the online experience that anyone is looking for.