Over the years Mario Party games have been a bit of a mixed bag, with some far more successful and enduring than others.
I think it’s fair to say the most recent entry, the Wii U’s Mario Party 10, didn’t set the world alight, with overall disappointing changes to the core formula. And so it was with a small amount of trepidation that I approached Nintendo’s attempt at revamping the franchise on its immensely popular hybrid console the Nintendo Switch. Will this be a return to form, or will it extend the run of bad form the franchise has now become known for?
To test it out I invited some friends, gamers and non-gamers, over to try out Super Mario Party to see how the game performs in its natural setting. At its heart Super Mario Party is a mini-game-filled board game that can’t properly be experienced by yourself. Technically the game is playable in single-player mode, but I can’t imagine a situation where it would be satisfying as a full-time single-player experience.
Nintendo’s commitment to local co-op play is commendable, and stands out among publishers in the industry, especially with multiplayer-only games such as these. Graphically, however, Super Mario Party doesn’t stand out, but graphical fidelity is never the focuses for this series, and the bright colours and strong design of the classic Nintendo characters pulls this game through.
Super Mario Party Switch returns to the traditional board game structure of past games. And it works so much better than any other structure Nintendo has tried before.
Especially for non-gamers, the less abstract and more familiar board game metaphor is easy to pick up, though in the main traditional mode there are only four boards to play with at launch. I hope that, as with other recent Nintendo releases such as Mario Tennis and Splatoon 2, Nintendo continues to support the game with new stages and new content release over the next few months, because while these four boards are a good start, they will quickly become stale and unexciting.
A new addition to Mario Party is Toad’s Rec Room featuring a second lot of mini games. You can play on the TV, but if you take the Switch into handheld mode, you can actually link up to Switches by placing them side by side, dominoes style. This allows you to create unique courses, making them far more interesting than the default rectangular courses. While it looks promising, and one of the most innovative uses of the Switch to date, I unfortunately couldn’t test it out, as each Switch needs to own the full version of Super Mario Party to play. This is a step back from how the Nintendo 3DS handled these situations with Download play, which allowed multiplayer games across multiple systems with only one copy of the game. Local wireless network is already a key feature of the Switch’s network stack, so this is a missed opportunity that will limit how popular this mode ever becomes.
For those looking for controllers for their friends to use, there’s no support for the Pro Controller. You’ll each have to use a joy con (preferably with the grip on) as a huge amount of the over 80 mini games use motion controls. While this may be disappointing to some, the use of motion controls is handled intelligently, and I never felt like it was at the level of early-Wii waggle controls. The mini games were generally at a good level for the non-gamers and games in the group, were clever and had strong variety throughout. My only real complaint is that at the end of each mini game you need to raise your joy con in a ‘thumbs up’ motion, which not only is incredibly finicky to do, but completely unnecessary.
There are strange limitations to how many and what type of mini games you can play online (10 mini games, rotated periodically) at any one time, even further reinforcing that Nintendo sees the primary use of this game as it always has, with four or more friends crowded around a TV, with dedicated space and time to commit to this game. It’s anachronistic, but also refreshing. Many may never try Super Mario Party online, but for others online will, or would have been, a mainstay of their time with the game. Your mileage may very but personally this wasn’t an area I had much interest in.
Much like Mario Kart 8, Towerfall, ARMS or other essential local co-op games on Switch, Super Mario Party is an straightforward recommendation for a game that is always an easy choice for a short, or longer casual game with friends. Its solid foundation, additions to the genre, and its move back from the mistakes of part Mario Party games make it an essential game for Switch owners who play with family and friends.
Single players won’t find much here for them, but that’s the case with nearly every Mario Party game anyway.
Released: October 2018
Genre: Party Play