If you’ve ever played one of the 10 previous Mario Party titles, odds are Nintendo’s latest entry won’t feel that surprising. Not to say that’s in any way bad thing; Super Mario Party for the Nintendo Switch manages to cherry pick the highs of the storied franchise, making for a fun and satisfying (if familiar) experience.
In Super Mario Party you and a group Mario characters traverse a board game-esque map, competing in fun minigames and hunting for stars and coins. Games can be played against friends either in couch co-op or online, or against the game’s AI. Coins are earned by landing on certain spaces on the map, by winning minigames or by stealing from your rivals, and are used to purchase various items along your journey. Stars are bought with coins at specific locations and can also be stolen, depending on your luck. The player with the most stars at the game’s conclusion wins, so stars are always in high demand.
The minigames themselves are very fun, but varied in their originality. In Super Mario Party each player uses a single Joy-Con, lending play to the controllers’ in-built motion control and HD Rumble features. The minigames that use these features over traditional button inputs are some of the best in the game, both for their creativity and difficulty. A particular standout is ‘Metal Detectors’, which requires players to tune into the HD Rumble capabilities of their Joy-Con to find coins underground and dig them up.
Just as entertaining as the minigames are the boards themselves. There may not be many, but what’s on offer in Super Mario party are fun, diverse and riddled with secrets and opportunities for exploitation.
The design of these boards is stunning and packed with patented Nintendo charm. My favourite so far is Megafruit Paradise; a tropical fruit-themed collection of islands, with warp pipes and perilous bridges connecting each of the four areas. Each of the four islands has its own distinct flavour and perks; some are safer and better suited to building up coins, while others are dangerous and best for stealing stars. There’s a lot of love and attention to detail put into these boards (I appreciate the sun bathing Shy Guys), something that has been less apparent in past Mario Party games.
One of the biggest additions to Super Mario Party is the new River Survival mode. Here all four players team up to cooperatively row a raft through winding rapids and dangerous hazards. Each side of the raft is helmed by two players who control the how hard the raft turns in their respective opposite direction, so constant communication to avoid obstacles and obtain time bonuses is key.
Speaking of time bonuses, success in River Survival is measured by how quickly you and your friends manage to traverse these waters. While the aforementioned time bonuses help (adding three seconds per bonus to the countdown clock) the big boosts come from ranking high in the unique set of minigames. All minigames in River Survival are cooperative and offer massive time bonuses, depending on your ranking as indicated by each minigame’s scoring criteria. Some activities, like Net Worth, require your team to collect a certain number of items within the allocated time to score high. Others, like Isthmus Be The Way, reward you based on how quickly your team can perform a specific task.
This mode is genuinely fun. Rowing down the river with your friends and working together in the minigames is a great way to relax after a tense competitive session. It feels entirely different to Mario Party’s signature style, but works well within its family of game modes.
Possibly the most revolutionary aspect of Super Mario Party’s game design is Toad’s Rec Room; a selection of minigames that either utilise or require two Nintendo Switch screens and two copies of the game to play. Certain modes here, like Banana Split and Shell Shocked Deluxe, let you connect the two screens into a single larger screen of any shape, while Mini League Baseball and Puzzle Hustle only offer alternate perspectives on the same game.
These games are interesting, but don’t hold up to extended sessions of play. More than anything they feel like prototypes for whatever Nintendo has in store for the future. They’re not bad – I’m happy Nintendo is trying new things and pushing the boundaries of game design – but they don’t add much to the experience as a whole, and probably wouldn’t be missed much if they had been left out.
My only real gripe with Super Mario Party is its lack of interesting items. Items can be purchased with coins or picked up randomly around the game board and used perform a number actions. Some items boost your dice rolls, while others steal coins from other players. One particular item, the Golden Pipe, lets a player warp to the space directly before a star, basically guaranteeing a star for that player. Although the Mario Party games are designed for family-friendly play and often cater to less technically capable players, this particular item feels a bit cheap.
I would also liked to have seen some more creative items like those in Mario Party 8. One example I can think of is Duelo Candy, which gives the player two dice blocks to roll and the ability to fight one-on-one with any player they pass to steal coins or stars.
I hope Nintendo continues to support Super Mario Party – as they have been doing so well with their recent first party titles – and manage to round out what is close to the perfect Mario Party experience. That said, if you own a Switch this is a must-by, especially in the wait for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. It’s a beautiful example of the joys of single-screen multiplayer and a stellar display of the Switch’s potential. Fun is guaranteed.
Super Mario Party is out now for the Nintendo Switch and available at AUD$69 from JB Hi-Fi and Big W, or AUD$79.95 from the Nintendo eShop.