Super Mario Party, the 11th entry in Nintendo’s friendship-ruining series, changes up a long-standing formula with new and welcome features. While I haven’t been the franchise’s biggest fan, it’s clear that its Nintendo Switch debut ups the ante considerably. In fact, I have had so much fun with Super Mario Party with my friends that it’s definitely going to be a cornerstone of my hangout sessions with them. However, there are a few issues here and there that hold it back from being a multiplayer classic.
Super Mario Party Review- A Welcome Change to the Classic Formula
The main draw of Super Mario Party is its Mario Party mode, where you and three other players try to earn as many stars and coins as possible while playing minigames and traversing the board. The formula of this mode hasn’t changed much from prior games — stars are still needed to win, while coins can be exchanged for these stars. The real changes come from the boards, which have now been scaled back but filled with more interesting curveballs. With them each boasting their own unique quirks and traps that will change the tide of a game completely, it’s unfortunate that there are only four of them available to use in this mode.
As always, there’s a wide variety of characters to choose from, with the likes of Goomba and Monty Mole making their series debut. However, unlike previous entries, this time around your choice actually matters, with each character possessing their own dice. These character-specific dice allow you to make certain rolls that other players cannot. For instance, Yoshi’s dice will let you roll a seven, but there is also a risk of rolling a zero. So before you start a session, you should be aware of all the strengths and weaknesses of each possible option. Or you could do what my friends and I do and choose your favorite regardless of their abilities.
Super Mario Party also introduces allies, additional characters who help you as you travel across the board. When you land on a certain space or use the Ally Phone item, you will be able to enlist the aid of one of the other selectable characters your rivals haven’t chosen. This will let you use your ally’s dice, and they will also give you an extra boost on your rolls. Most of the time this is a welcome addition. However, in certain minigames, players who don’t have allies are left at a disadvantage. Considering that most allies are acquired by chance, this feels unfair during Team Minigames, where players with allies will dominate.
These additions, however, do not mean the main mode is perfect. It’s still as slow-paced as the series ever has been, with a simple ten round game taking up to an hour to play. This can often become frustrating when dealing with repetitive animations and slow-moving text, which is further exacerbated when playing against CPU opponents. They just take too long to make a decision. Additionally, the returning bonus stars still make working towards victory feel futile at times. Reaching first place before the end of the game sometimes means nothing, since the extra stars are rewarded in such an arbitrary way. This is because the objectives to receive them are chosen at random and are never consistent. It means someone who was dead last may shoot ahead to win the whole session if the game deems it so.
Super Mario Party Review- New Ways to Play
Aside from Mario Party, there are alternative and new spins on the board game formula. One of these is Partner Party. This requires you to pair up with another player before facing off against a rival duo. As part of this mode, the boards become non-linear grids, offering you more freedom to move around the map. As a result, Partner Party is less up to chance, and more about communication and cooperation. That dash of complexity makes it more interesting than the main mode.
But the largest new addition to Super Mario Party is its River Survival mode. This tasks the players with going down a river in a raft, making use of the Joy-Cons’ motion controls. Over the course of your travels, you need to avoid various traps, beat the clock, and play minigames. This is a wonderful cooperative mode which really makes you communicate with your friends over where to go next and how to survive this watery challenge. It also works up quite a sweat with all the rowing you have to do. It is a bit more gimmicky than the other modes, but the tactile fun that it offers really makes it stand out.
Super Mario Party Review- Not Everything is A Gold Star
Ancillary modes to the ones mentioned prior include the rhythm focused Sound Stage, solo mini-game marathon Challenge Road, and the gimmicky — but still impressive — Toad’s Rec Room. These modes don’t shine as much as the others but are still a nice distraction nonetheless. In addition to this, you have the option to go up against others in minigames online in a mode called Online Mariothon. This, in theory, should be interesting, however, I had multiple lag and connection issues that soured my experience with it.
That’s a shame considering the Mariothon is the extent of the game’s online functionality. You cannot play any of the other modes online, which is quite jarring considering how key multiplayer is to the game. This may honestly be a deal-breaker for many, and it’s a curious oversight (as we discussed in detail here). However, in a wide landscape of online-only games, it is refreshing to have something focus on local play so much, even if it is still baffling to see a multiplayer focused game have such limited online functionality.
In the end, though, this doesn’t detract too much from the overall Super Mario Party package. Yes, some of these issues and the lack of online play may frustrate some. However, the sheer joy I had playing this charming game really made it worthwhile. While it doesn’t propel the Mario Party series to the multiplayer heights of Nintendo spin-off franchises like Mario Kart and Smash Bros, it offers so many pleasant memories when playing alongside friends that I can’t help but love it.