Mario Party has been a long-beloved series since its first debut on the N64. Every iteration that followed brought with it brand new ideas and creative ways to play. While the most recent versions were fun in their own right, they were missing a lot of what made the originals so much fun for a group of friends to sit down and play. When Super Mario Party was revealed it seemed like it was set out to fix that and go back to classic formulas, but does it manage to embrace what made it great or is it another subpar attempt?
Sometime in the Mushroom Kingdom, all the iconic beloved characters have gathered together to determine one thing; who is the Super Star? Everyone believes it to be them, so in order to decide who it truly is, they decide to have a Mario Party with Toad and Toadette hosting. Bowser and crew decide to interrupt this proceeding and claim that they also have a chance to choose themselves as super stars too. In order to keep things on fair grounds, Bowser hires Kamek to also judge alongside the Toads. This begins the great party to prove who is truly the best and each character heads out to try and make sure it’s them. While the story isn’t incredibly important, it does begin one of the key elements to Super Mario Party which is collecting every gem to become the one true super star. Characters can’t just win one round and win that title, they have to really earn it to be the king.
As players start up Mario Party, they’re given the option to choose the amount of humans heading in and then are taken to the hub area. Here they will choose and NPCs they’re playing with to give the party four maximum players and then can dive into the available game styles. Instead of just having menus to scroll through, whoever is first can actually walk around while leading their party and explore a small area. They can interact with other NPCs who will give them information or even answer quizzes to win prizes. It’s a nice mix up that makes it feel like a party that everyone is participating in, instead of just going through menus. Areas will slowly unlock as groups make their way through each mode and talking to NPCs is nice quick conversation that even allows the player one to swap out their CPU characters with another who might be roaming around. As Nintendo usually does, there are nice little details hidden throughout that make for a great experience even before jumping into an actual playable mode.
There are a good number of ways to play, but the core draw is of course the Mario Party. This is the classic board that requires players to expertly navigate their way around and purchase or win stars along the way. In Super Mario Party, there are three starting boards alongside a fourth which can be unlocked. The boards this time around seem small at first glance, but are filled to the brim with tons of actions to be used and fast-paced star gathering that can make each round more chaotic than ever. The big change to Party mode is the addition of character dice blocks, where each individual character has their very own. These can be used in place of the regular dice and let players have the chance at a more consistent or higher number with a chance of not moving at all.
One of the new changes is the Partner Party mode, which allows two players to team up while heading around a board. The boards all take place in the same area, but all make some big changes to shake up how to play. In Partner Party, teams take their turn at the same time but don’t have to stick together. They can separate and freely choose their paths or star together and team up on the opposing pair. It’s an interesting strategic take and works well in being a creative new way to handle the boards. The nice thing is this game mode doesn’t limit players to only team minigames, giving it lots of variety along the way. This style of Party mode can be a little more difficult to play with an NPC, as there’s a lack of direct coordination, but still makes for a great way to mix things up.
River Rafting at first looks like an entirely new minigame, but is actually a full-blown activity on its own. Instead of working against each other, four players team up in order to reach the end of a long river rafting segment. This has a time limit to reach the end, but fortunately more can be earned along the way. Two people on each side must paddle to steer left or right in order to avoid obstacles, and hit balloons that contain minigames. These are all completely cooperative minigames that will help earn more time to continue going to the end. Once time is up, or the end has been reached, distance is calculated and players can see how well they did together. While this can be a fun enjoyable alternative to the party mode, there are limited minigames for this mode which end up getting repeated almost immediately on subsequent playthroughs.
Sound Check is the most physical of the modes in Super Mario Party and while every mode uses some motion controls none do it quite like Sound Check. This rhythm-style mode requires being on beat for all these unique minigames and is fun when wanting to feel the beat. Four players compete in a handful of challenges that test their ability to stay on beat, with the most accurate being revealed at the end as the rhythm champion. These challenges are a bit reminiscent of Rhythm Heaven in a good way, as they’re all fun, but much like River Rafting the challenges are far and few between and make one wish there was a little bit more variety overall.
The minigame section not only lets players settle the score in some of their favorites, but has a few different ways to challenge one another. Mariothon, which is also available online, tasks a group with five minigames that earn them points. At the end of all five, the one with the most points is determined and crowned champion. Square Off has four characters trying to capture as much space as possible on a light up board by winning minigames, and takes all those skills to the test. While these aren’t lengthy, it’s a nice variety for those who enjoy the minigames and want to try out their favorites or just want a quick way to go head to head. Once every minigame has been unlocked this opens up the brand new Challenge Road. This single-player mode is a straightforward challenge with the simple goal of completing minigames and tasks to reach the end, and for those who enjoy the minigames, this is a nice breather from the otherwise heavily multiplayer elements found in every other mode.
Mario titles always manage to look top notch on their system and Super Mario Party is no exception. The presentation is wonderful, from the music and visuals to all the small details in every minigame. It’s fun to run around the hub area and a wonderful touch that each playable character is able to bounce, and even jump off a friend’s head if they aim right. The main flaw with Super Mario Party is that while every mode is enjoyable, each one feels like it still could have been expanded further upon. There was so much time put into making multiple ways to play that many feel a bit incomplete. Only having four Party mode boards also seems underwhelming, especially when considering the stages themselves are small in comparison to previous titles. They may be unique, but it would have been nice to see a little bit more.
Super Mario Party is a welcome comeback for the series that seemingly plays it safe with its modes, but still manages to be fun. The best way to sum it up what exactly is missing would be a lack of focus, as it feels a little bit like the teams were scattered and didn’t get together to discuss how to make each mode a little more in-depth. It still itches that party-game urge that Mario Party fans have been looking for and will continue to be wonderful to play for a good while to come. Hopefully Nintendo realizes that this is exactly what players were hoping for, but they just want a little bit more to keep them coming back time and time again to Super Mario Party.