Mario Party has been through a bundle of changes over the past 20 years, some for the better, and others sending the series in weird directions that nobody asked for. With over 15 iterations in the franchise, it’s fitting that Nintendo has finally reinvented the franchise with Super Mario Party.
Booting up the game for the first time was most surprising due to the fact that I was presented with an over-world reminiscent of a village from Animal Crossing. Firstly, you’ll get to choose your party based on difficulty, which is actually great as you’ve then set your difficulty for the duration of that play session (no matter which mode you go through).
The world is also filled with an ever changing roster of top-tier Mario characters such as Toad and Bowser, but you’ll also come across lesser known characters such as King Bob-omb and Whomp. This overworld is full of Nintendo charm and is the way of accessing all of the many modes that Super Mario Party has to offer. It’s ever-changing both from a character point of view, and also providing new activities to play within the game.
One of the biggest issues with Mario Party from a single-player point of view has been a sense of progression, and this is what Super Mario Party does really well, both thanks to this over-world and also the fact that you’ll be collecting a series of gems from the many game modes placed within the game. You’ll need to complete tasks such as playing through every board, or completing every difficulty of each mini game mode (it’s actually hard) in order to collect gems and complete the story.
You’re presented with the Mario Party Pad as soon as you get in the game, which is basically where Toad, Toadette and the evil Kamek will direct you around the world in order to try different modes and spend your party points on things like advice and stickers.
You’ll be happy to know that Mario Party (the main game mode) is pretty faithful to the original that we’ve come to know and love over the years. No cars, or other weird things that completely change the game. Just choose your character, the amount of turns, try and get as many stars as possible and prepare yourself for a few twists a long the way. There’s a few new elements like each character having their own secondary dice and allies that you’ll get along the way, but it’s probably the best that it’s been since the original Nintendo 64/Gamecube games. Unfortunately, I was disappointed with the lack of boards (only four) and really wish that Nintendo focused a bit more effort on providing a few more to play through.
From a pure mini game point of view, there’s 80 of them which all feel rather fresh. There’s also a really good mix of mini games that use a traditional control scheme and those that rely on HD rumble, the gyroscope in the Joy-Con and motion controls in general. They’re all really fun and I can see them being played out in the multiple modes for months to come.
Online is something I’ve longed for in Mario Party. Whilst some of the fondest gaming memories are spending all day playing the original trilogy on Nintendo 64 during school holidays, I don’t often have a group of people over to spend hours playing on the couch. I was really excited to see that they’d incorporated online into Super Mario Party, but it looks like it under delivers. For some odd reason, there’s only a small handful of mini games out of 80 that you can play through online, which seems like a massive missed opportunity (especially when they’re so good).
Sound Stage and River Survival are great additions that are all about mini games. At firsts, they’re really fun to play through, but unfortunately, get repetitive rather quickly and just become a stop barrier between mini games (and a way of padding out the same content). They’re worth your time and great to play with others that might be jumping in for the first time, but you won’t want to go back to them after the first few times.
Toad’s Rec Room is definitely one of the more interesting parts of the game. Whilst it’s gimmicky, there’s a lot of potential here for future Switch games. There’s a few mini games (such as baseball and a little turret defender) that can change the perspective of what you see based on whether the Switch is lying down, in tabletop mode or on the TV. It also changes again if you’ve got another Switch (I was impressed just by changing views with one single Switch). Once again, it’s not something you’ll spend a bunch of time with, but it’s worth messing around in.
At the end of the day, a lot of what is in Super Mario Party feels like a prototype that could be fleshed out in further iterations or other Nintendo franchises. The best parts of it are what you already know and love (the boards and the mini games), but I’m more than happy that there’s a few gimmicks along the way, even if they fall flat after a while.
Super Mario Party has successfully stripped back a lot of the bloat to return it back to the simple, fun and classic game that it was intended to be. At the same time, the game cleverly uses a number of key Nintendo Switch features making it a game that almost anybody could enjoy. Unfortunately, the weirdly implemented online and lack of boards are only thing stopping it from joining the most top tier of Switch titles.