Mario Party’s debut on Switch is a conservative game.
Like everyone else who grew up on the N64, I played a lot of Mario Party, specifically Mario Party 2. I adore that game – it was essentially just the first (another game I loved), but improved in every way. I never owned Mario Party or Mario Party 2. I never needed to – our neighborhood copies traveled between houses – but it was as much a part of our multiplayer rotation as Super Smash Bros., Mario Kart, GoldenEye, and Conker’s Bad Fur Day. Until it wasn’t. We played those games to death and each was eventually replaced by some other game in that genre: Super Smash Bros. was replaced by Melee and Guilty Gear, Mario Kart was replaced by Double Dash, Burnout, and Need for Speed 3: Hot Pursuit, and GoldenEye and Conker were replaced by Tribes 2 and Halo: Combat Evolved.
Mario Party never got replaced. Maybe it was because we, like so many kids eager entering their teenage years, figured we’d collectively outgrown something so childish. Maybe it was the barrage of releases: from 1998 to 2015, there were 10 Mario Party games on consoles, and more if you counted the handheld releases. Whatever it was, I didn’t play another Mario Party game – aside from one at the odd get-together with friends – and I never owned one, until Super Mario Party.
"“Mario Party” is just like you remember. You and some friends (or a few computers) roll dice and move around one of four themed boards gathering coins, completing mini-games, and competing for stars."
Popping Super Mario Party into your Switch feels like meeting up with an old friend for drinks after not seeing them for a decade. They look a little different – sharper, better dressed, more confident, more mature – but underneath it all, they’re the same person, and you’ll be chatting it up like it’s the good old days in no time. Mario Party 9 and 10 tried to switch things up by having players move through the board all at once, but Super Mario Party drops that idea in favor of a back-to-basics approach that wouldn’t feel out of place on the GameCube.
There’s a quite a few ways to play, but “Mario Party” is just like you remember. You and some friends (or a few computers) roll dice and move around one of four themed boards gathering coins, completing mini-games, and competing for stars. Core gameplay is pretty simple: each character rolls a dice and moves that many spaces, choosing where they go when the board offers multiple paths. The spaces they land on determine what happens to them that turn: some spaces provide coins and others allow you to purchase (or provide) items. There are also special spaces that may trigger a board-specific event, allow you to steal items from another player, get you an ally, or punish you. Once each player has rolled their dice and moved, everyone competes in one of the 80 (yes, eight zero) mini-games. Winning mini-games gives your coins, which can be spent on stars and items. Then the process begins again.
Super Mario Party adds a few wrinkles to this core formula. The first is character-specific dice. In addition to the standard six-sided dice than can be used by any character, each character that their own dice with its own specific strengths and weaknesses, and you can switch between them any time before you decide which dice to use. Each dice fits the personality of the character it belongs to. Mario’s dice, for instance, is a balanced all-arounder that features a 1, three 3s, a 5, and a 6. Boo’s, on the other hand, features two faces that will lose you two coins, but the other four faces are two 5s and two 7s. Bowser’s dice is similar. It’s essentially a gamble: you’ll either rocket forward with high roll (a 8, 9, or 10) or lose coins or move one space.
"Landing on an ally space or using the right item will grant you an ally character that will follow your character around the board for the remainder of the game. You can have a maximum of three, and each will give you bonus dice rolls and even assist you in certain mini-games. "
This change is a great addition because it changes how you play, and makes your character selection matter in a way that it didn’t previously. It also incentivizes players to unlock the four hidden characters if for no other reason than to obtain their dice. This addition also factors into the new ally system. Landing on an ally space or using the right item will grant you an ally character that will follow your character around the board for the remainder of the game. You can have a maximum of three, and each will give you bonus dice rolls and even assist you in certain mini-games. Their AI is questionable at best, so they’re often good for little more than accidentally getting your opponent’s way (often literally and in really funny circumstances), but the real benefit is that you get access to their dice blocks on the main board. It’s not an overstatement to say that entire games can and have pivoted on who has the most allies, and what allies they have.
Beyond that, most of the new additions come in the form of new modes. Partner Party is particularly great. In it, you’re paired up with another player and dropped into remixed versions of the existing boards with the caveat that you can move in any direction and you can move separately. There’s benefits to going it alone and sticking together. On certain maps, for instance, one member of your team might head for an item while another heads for a star. Or, on certain boards, one member might grab an item needed to get a star while the other one heads for the star.
There’s additional wrinkles, too: you can steal coins from opponents by landing on their spaces and if both players from the same team land on a star space, they have they opportunity to purchase two stars, should they have the coins. Partner Party is a great mode, but the emphasis on teamwork means you need to have human players for it to work. It’s still fun with computers, but unlike standard party mode, it doesn’t work as well with 2 or 3 players. They just don’t have the teamwork skills to pull off the shenanigans of a human team. And as any Mario Party veteran will tell you, shenanigans matter.
"Challenge Road runs you through the game’s 80 mini-games with special objectives, like “score this many points in this much time.” It’s fun, but Mario Party works best in the context of the board game, where winning and losing the mini-games matters in a larger context."
There are other gameplay modes, too, but none of them manage the appeal of Mario Party or Partner Party. River Survival has players use their controllers to paddle down a river. Teamwork and communication are important, because you’ll need to trigger mini-games (which is done by running your raft into floating balloons), avoid obstacles, and decide which path to take when the river forks. Thing is, your journey’s timed, so navigating the river properly matters.
Doing well in the mini-games grants you bonus time, and the whole thing is pretty easy to get through, even with AI companions. The other major issue is that team mini-games tend to be the least interesting; that’s not to say they’re all bad, because they aren’t, but with 80 mini-games, they are bound to be wink links, and most of them happen to be here. There’s also only 10 that can be played in this mode, so you’ll got through them pretty fast, and it’s easy for fatigue to set it.
The other modes are nice palette cleansers, but they don’t hold up for extended periods. Challenge Road runs you through the game’s 80 mini-games with special objectives, like “score this many points in this much time.” It’s fun, but Mario Party works best in the context of the board game, where winning and losing the mini-games matters in a larger context. Without that, you’re left with the individual quality of the games, and while none of them are outright bad, many aren’t engaging enough to stand alone. Depressingly, the mode is single-player only, so even if you want its unique take, you can’t share it with friends.
"Online Mariothon, the game’s sole online offering as of this writing, is solid, but it’s just an online line-up of the mini-games. There’s no option to play the core modes at all; this is all you get. It’s yet another problem for Nintendo, who just can’t seem to nail online play."
Sound Stage is a cute series of rhythm games that’s over in a flash. It’s fun, but it requires players to be standing, which may make it hard for players with limited room to play effectively. Toad’s Rec Room is built around unique mini-games that allow you to combine two Switches to make your own stages and puzzles. It’s fun, but requires you to have two consoles on hand to get the most out of it, meaning that most people will never see the mode at its best. Online Mariothon, the game’s sole online offering as of this writing, is solid, but it’s just an online line-up of the mini-games. There’s no option to play the core modes at all; this is all you get. It’s yet another problem for Nintendo, who just can’t seem to nail online play.
If I’m harsh on Super Mario Party, it’s because of what the game doesn’t do. Much of what’s here is good: the core gameplay loop of Mario Party has always been enjoyable, if exceptionally random. The issue is that the new modes don’t go far enough to compensate for the game’s shortcomings. There aren’t enough boards to play, and many of the newly introduced modes like Sound Stage or River Survival, don’t offer enough variety to make up for this. The individual mini-games have issues, too. The best ones are almost universally the free-for-all mini-games, and when the game does team up you, it seems uncertain of what to do. The 1-on-3 mini-games are an exception, but they’re the only one. It’s great that the game has so many mini-games, and many of them are actually quite good. But when they aren’t it’s obvious, and that’s made worse that all of the lackluster ones seem to be of the same type.
Even the online mode, in typical Nintendo fashion, comes up short on what players want: the ability to party together. Super Mario Party is a good game when it all comes together – when you have friends to play with, when you’re all in the same room, when you’re playing the right modes, when fatigue hasn’t set in. But when these things aren’t there, it just can’t keep up, even with 80 mini-games. Super Mario Party is a solid foundation to build on, but without more, it’s not gonna make its way around the neighborhood. It’ll be part of the rotation, sure, but nobody will be surprised when everyone moves on.
This game was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch.
Lots of mini-games to play. Character selection matters. New dice and ally system improves replayability. Lots of modes to play. Still has that Mario Party charm. A blast to play with friends.
Only four boards to play. Modes besides Mario Party and Partner Party have limited appeal. Team-based mini-games tend to be weak. You need friends to get the most out of it. The AI is pretty dumb. Online play is disappointing.
Super Mario Party is a conservative return to form that makes the most of its core modes, but you'll need to get some friends in the same room to get the most out of everything it has to offer.