Super Mario Party Review (Switch)
The Mario Party franchise has been a bit all over the place over the past few years, with several unsuccessful attempts to reinvent the series through new gimmicks. Super Mario Party on the Nintendo Switch brings back the classic boardgame mode mechanics from past games while also exploring other more gimmicky modes. It tries to be a jack-of-all-trades by incorporating a big variety of modes and mechanics, but it results in each one lacking the depth and replayability it really needs. In any case, there’s a lot of multiplayer fun across all the modes that will inevitably turn you and your loved ones against each other; as is tradition.
Super Mario Party features various modes in which players compete or co-operate in series of minigames in order to progress through some kind of metagame. Generally this has been some kind of boardgame. This mode returns, labelled appropriately enough as ‘Mario Party’, with mechanics more in-line with the classic games than those of Mario Party 10. A group of 4 players (consisting of human or AI players) take turns moving around a board, aiming to land on the right spaces that give them coins. Coins can be traded in for stars, which you’ll need because the player with the most stars at the end of the game will be the winner. At the end of each turn, players are divided up depending on what kind of space they landed on and compete in a minigame to earn even more coins. The strength of this mode comes from the combination of the strategic elements of the boardgame play with the skill-based minigames.
You’ve got to make use of items and special die in order to move to advantageous places on the board and limit your opponents’ options. This works well enough against AI opponents but it’s much more fun when you’re playing with other people because you can form alliances and betray each other, with more personal stakes in play. You’ll then jump into frantic minigames at the end of each turn, the results of which can shift the course of the game. Again, this part of the game benefits from playing with others because of how personal things get. There’s layers of out-of-game strategies that you can make use of as well – when playing with my sister we agreed to gang up on an AI who was in the lead and made sure that they couldn’t win any minigames. Things can be made awkward and hilarious when players get divided up into temporary teams during the minigames, and allies get forced to compete against each other or two close rivals end up on the same team but try to betray each other.
Where this mode suffers is in the design of the actual boards, both visually and mechanically. The four boards you can choose from are generic and uninteresting to look at, and they’re lacking in fun gimmicks and hazards. It hampers the strategic play of the boardgame sections and means the excitement from this part of the game comes more from the player to player interactions rather than happenings on the board. There are random events to trigger (which are usually just traps that take your coins away) and prizes awarded at the end for randomly selected criteria that spice things up a little, but the boards are by far the least interesting parts of the boardgame mode. Which isn’t ideal.
Boardgames can be played in teams as well, in a new mode called Partner Party. This pairs off players into two teams and adds a co-operative element to the boardgame. It uses the same themed boards as the regular mode except turns them into open grids like the boards in Mario Party Star Rush for the 3DS. You can get bonuses by co-ordinating your rolls and landing spaces with your partner, and have to ensure that your progress through the board doesn’t create obstacles that prevent them from moving. There’s an extra level of strategy added through your character choices, because each character has their own unique die with different numbers on each face. You can select characters who are more likely to roll the same number or that increases the chances of you ending up on the same space, so that you can get bonuses. The boards are still quite dull to play on, although some get a few additional gimmicks that encourage you to work together and explore the entire board.
There’s a number of other modes on offer in Super Mario Party that put different twists on the mechanics and throw you into different styles of minigames. You’ll need to play through all of them to acquire gems that progress you through the extremely light story of the game. There’s a co-op based mode called River Survival where all four players have to paddle a raft through a downstream obstacle course, triggering minigames along the way to get extra time depending on your performance. This is frantic and exciting, improved by the motion controls you’ve got to use to row your raft. If you don’t all work together and co-ordinate your rowing then you’ll end up crashing into things and missing minigame opportunities. A more competitive mode you can play is one called Sound Stage, where a series of rhythm-based minigames are played one after the other. These games require you to perform actions with your JoyCon to the beat, like raising and lowering it like a baton or swinging it to hit baseballs. It’s a neat gimmick that separates these games from the others, but I found that the motion controls weren’t always as precise as the timing requires, resulting in lost points.
You can play all 80 minigames by themselves, either a la carte or tied together via tournaments. There’s a mix of free-for-all, team-based and gimmicky games that all feel distinct from one another. There are very few duds amongst the selection of games, and some are even enjoyable and meaty enough to play on their own outside of the main modes. One section of the game holds a unique set of minigames that you can transform by connecting two Switch consoles together. I unfortunately only have a single Switch console so I couldn’t see what the full experience is like, but the games are still playable with a single Switch. They’re designed to be played in longer sessions than regular minigames, but I found them quite shallow without the dual console gimmick and didn’t put much time into them as a result.
The biggest problem with Super Mario Party for me is that there’s all these different modes that require different kinds of minigames, which means that there’s not enough of each in order to fill out every mode. The minigames that are here are fun and varied, for sure, but you’ll end up repeating them painfully quickly within each mode. The rhythm minigames from Sound Stage won’t show up in other modes, and are the only games to be played within it. Likewise with the co-op minigames from River Survival – there’s only a handful of them, and they’re exclusive to that mode. Grinding through this mode to earn the gem at the end was painful because we got stuck playing the same games over and over. It’s especially egregious in Partner Party because there’s not enough 2 vs 2 minigames so sometimes you get stuck playing Free For All games… with your teammate as an opponent. It would have been a wise choice to cut down on the number of modes available if it wasn’t possible to make more minigames, and focus on filling those with a larger pool of varied games.
Now there’s been a lot of talk in this review about how Super Mario Party shines when you play with other people, but there’s a large number of people who won’t be able to do this very often. So what’s it like in singleplayer? Well, for starters, you can’t actually play it in handheld mode. This is understandable to an extent, because a lot of the modes revolve around motion controls. The boardgame modes don’t depend on them though, aside from when specific minigames are controlled through motion controls. I think there’d be enough minigames left if you filtered those out for handheld mode though, so it would have been nice if at least these modes were available in handheld mode. You can still play the game in all modes while the console is undocked but you have to separate the JoyCons from the system, which makes playing on public transport difficult to say the least.
Playing against the AI isn’t enjoyable because a lot of the strategy and drama is removed when there’s no other human players, and at higher levels the AI blatantly cheats in some games. A singleplayer-only mode does exist, which has you play through each minigame in sequence with the added twist of giving you a challenge you need to complete in order to progress (like hitting a certain score or completing it in a certain timeframe). It’s about as good as a singleplayer Mario Party mode can probably be, but still pales in comparison to playing the main modes with friends. There’s an online mode (which I haven’t been able to test) but it only allows you to play minigame tournaments, not any of the other modes on offer. Definitely don’t buy this game if you’re after a mostly singleplayer experience.
The amiibo usage in Super Mario Party isn’t very exciting, which is probably why it hasn’t been featured in the marketing. By tapping an amiibo of one of the playable characters, you’ll unlock a special shiny sticker of that character. These stickers can be used with other stickers available in the game to make funny images. You can slap stickers of characters and items from the Mario series onto different backdrops to make your own scenes. The shiny stickers are able to be unlocked without amiibo, it’ll just take you a fair bit longer.
Super Mario Party provides a great avenue for fun with friends due to the series’ trademark wackiness, however it spreads itself so thin across each of its modes that repeated plays can quickly wear them out. This wouldn’t be as big a deal if the metagames (like the boardgame) within each mode were a bit more interesting, but as it stands the game could have benefitted from focusing on just a few of the modes. You’re a lot worse off if you’re a singleplayer gamer due to the nature of the game being better suited to playing with human opponents. If you’ve got a regular group of friends to play with then Super Mario Party is worth checking out, but keep in mind that it may not last as long as you’d hope.
This review was written based off a game or game content provided by the publisher. We don’t assign review scores to game reviews.