Ruining Friendships On the Go in Super Mario Party

One of the few series that can likely destroy as many friendships as it might strengthen, Mario Party has long been a staple in Nintendo’s more multiplayer-centric catalog. Alongside the likes of Smash — which too will soon see its own Switch iteration fairly — the strenuous quest to come out triumphant over a span of 20/35/50 turns across a plethora of zany-themed boards and even-zanier mini-games, has been what has given this series such sturdy legs to begin with. Some of Nintendo’s new ideas and quote-unquote innovations may not have paid off that well in the long-term. Remember the microphone peripheral bundled in with Mario Party 6? No? Well I don’t blame you; most of the intrigue and joy to be had is in the software features themselves, as it should be.

While not entirely substantial, as noted, part of Mario Party’s lasting appeal is in how chaotic or otherwise competitive a supposed family-friendly affair can be. And how that competitiveness can spill over into outright betrayal when all one is concerned about is gathering the most stars and maybe the most coins if the situation demands it. Though it is sad to see Boo — the would-be tricksters/trolls of the Mario canon — now replaced by Lakitu in the role of stealing one another’s coins/stars. From the looks of things, while they may be dropping the incremental numerics for the series’ debut Switch outing, Super Mario Party does at least look to be continuing the trend of introducing smaller features that focus more on one’s actions rather than impeding on your opponent’s circumstances. There are of course items that still do that — swapping places with someone else, timing it so that a crucial path is blocked off — but one of the most notable inclusions starts at that very first moment of a turn: the dice throw.

Super Mario Party Preview Screenshot
In Super Mario Party, while you can still rely on the standard 1-6 dice, each character now has a custom block that has the potential to really turn the tide of the game. In this situation, custom blocks can have duplicate numbers. In some cases, like Bowser’s custom dice or Peach’s dice, you could even roll a 0, maybe even have a few coins deducted without ever moving. It’s a small but smart risk:reward factor to consider. Do you risk the varied odds at rolling a higher/lower value, or play it safe knowing full well that Super now restricts one’s maximum movement to 6 spaces as per standard throw?

While it may sound small, from the boards showcased, it doesn’t appear that players need to worry about the length and breadth of the playing area. Which, if this turns out to be systemic with all boards, is somewhat concerning. The restrictive, horizontal-vertical design hearkening back to the tedious structure of 4’s boards — which themselves looked nothing more than skins placed atop the same basic template. Disappointing it may be to come away from Super’s early showings and feel like the genuinely integrated aesthetics of boards in entrants like 3 (which many perceive still to be the best entry in the series) or 5 are but a distant and forgotten memory — likewise the rather minimalist and sterile user interface of particular menus doesn’t look all that appealing — it’s comforting to know that Super’s contribution via mini-games hasn’t lost any of the series’ ridiculousness.

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Case in point: one mini-game that has four players rushing to a randomly-appearing Koopa photographer, trying desperately to muscle each other into being the focal point of each snap. And then of course you have the likes of racing one another on intentionally-slow tricycles over a meaningless stretch of track. You can’t help but wonder if Mario Party is veering a little too close to Warioware-esque territory with its concepts here, but the latter will be getting its own 3DS iteration so it’ll be interesting to see how these two series deviate this year, if at all. But perhaps the most eye-catching feature to come out of Super Mario Party’s showing this year — and one that was, even by Nintendo’s standards, passively covered without that much of a focal point — was the additional multi-Switch feature that allows more than one [undocked] console to link up to create screen-spanning mini-games.

Of course, this speaks only to those who have the luxury of friends/cohorts whom also own a Switch (though it was unclear whether they too are required to own a copy of the game for the feature to work) and while it may veer once more into gimmick territory, the mere idea — like all concepts — is one that could have a lot of potential. Deciding on a preferred alignment of consoles to create custom battlegrounds and puzzle spaces does fall in line with Nintendo’s conditioning in having their heart firmly in the right place, even if their figurative head is often always up for debate as a result. Fortunately this looks to be locked securely in the realm of “optional” with only a slither of the game’s 80-or-so mini-games forcibly conformed to this mode of play.

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Whether or not Nintendo will decide to recoup the idea of single-player/story aspect to this year’s Party shenanigans remains to be seen. It’s most definitely worked during the series’ early precessions and if Mario Tennis Aces can do it, surely there’s no reason why a trek through the entire assortment of mini-games/boards one way or another can’t also be integrated. Super Mario Party does at times feel like it’s simply ticking the necessary boxes when it comes to meeting series requirements and the lack of any real oozing, party-going thematics and environmental immersion could be its undoing.

But it’s good to see that even after eleven mainline entries (excluding the handheld spin-off’s of course), Nintendo still wants to introduce new ideas. Ones that you may never touch (unless you’re privileged enough to own more than one Switch console in your household…or realistically, have friends nearby) and could be overruled as too much like a gimmick, but are accompanied alongside by those that may well increase the likelihood of ruining your long-established friendships. Because if there’s one thing Mario Party is good at, it’s destroying said relationships and Super Mario Party is looking to do just that — “anytime, anywhere with anyone”.