Mario Party has been serving as a non-gamer point of entry into casual, party video game playing since its first release on the Nintendo 64. Its board game setup hasn’t really changed much in the last 20 years, with Super Mario Party being closer to the series’ roots than any of the recent installments. While Super Mario Party has the same friendly, pick-up-and-play party gameplay it’s always had, it is packed to the brim with features that may entice those looking for more than just the usual board game action.
I’ve always felt like Mario Party’s classic board game mode was the closest you can come to Monopoly in a video game. It’s a board game, sure, but it’s also one of the fastest ways to test your friendships. Since a lot of Super Mario Party is based on luck, it can help those who aren’t too great at video games have a chance against those who may be better skilled—conversely, losing can feel like total bullshit. Sometimes, even if you make all of the best decisions, you can still lose right at the end, or even eke out a win from an almost-certain loss. Most of the time you are just at the mercy of the random number generator, and it is not always merciful.
The marquee “Mario Party” classic board game mode is pretty simple to grasp: you play against three other players (human or AI controlled) and move along a digital board full of coins, power-ups, and potential traps. You gather coins in two main ways: by landing on certain spaces, or winning minigames. Coins aren’t the way to win, though. They’re just a means to purchase items to use to help you (or hurt your rivals) or, if you’re lucky, give you the means to buy a star if you get a chance. Stars are the main way to win the game, but if you don’t get a chance to buy one, you can potentially steal them from opponents, or if you’re really lucky, get one out of an item/block. As I’ve mentioned before, at the end of the game bonus stars are doled out, so even if you’re losing you might be able to eke out a win by meeting whatever conditions are needed to get bonus stars for that game.
No game of ”Mario Party” board game is ever the same. Not only are there randomly placed items on each board, there are four boards to choose from—each with its own theme and pitfalls. If you were hoping to get in a “quick” game of “Mario Party” that isn’t really possible, unfortunately, as the shortest game you can play is ten turns long—which takes about an hour. The different characters you choose to play as will affect the game as well, as different characters have the option to use their unique dice, which oftentimes have a higher risk/reward ratio than the normal dice, making whatever character you choose to play as more than an aesthetic choice. And if you don’t want to play regular ol’ “Mario Party” there are a few other game modes to choose between—some that may even preserve friendships.
“Partner Party” is like classic “Mario Party” but in a duos, 2v2 mode. You and a partner will work together to collect stars while trying to stop the other two person team from doing the same. “Partner Party” changes up the “Mario Party” formula significantly, and adds a layer of strategy and teamwork that you just don’t get in “Mario Party.”
If you’re into co-op modes, “River Survival” is entirely cooperative. Four players have to work together to navigate a raft down rapids. With two players on each side, even paddling down the river can be rough—like navigating Plessie in Super Mario 3D World. At every major checkpoint in the river you will have to play a cooperative minigame with your partners. Winning these minigames give you more time to make it down the river—run out of time, and your adventure is over.
Finally, and perhaps the most surprisingly fun mode, is the “Sound Stage.” Consisting of a series of rhythm minigames, “Sound Stage” pits you against three other players competitively as you try to stay on the beat. There really isn’t much else to it, but the Joy-Cons work surprisingly great as a rhythm game controller.
The minigames are probably my biggest draw to these games, and Super Mario Party has a decent selection of them–and there are many ways you can experience them. You’ll of course run into minigames while playing any of the other game modes—or you can play minigame specific game modes, if that’s all you’re after. There are online multiplayer Mariothons where you can play against people all over the world, or you can hold local tournaments with friends if you’d prefer. There is also the Square Off mode, which adds a strategic layer beyond just winning minigames, and a free-for-all mode that lets you play whichever minigames you have unlocked during normal play. There are lots of options here.
Once you unlock all minigames, you’ll open up a Challenge Road, similar to the ones we’ve seen in Nintendo’s Mario titles of late. These levels help you unlock the remaining roster of allies and playable characters. Finally, you can collect special gems, some of which you’ll find along Challenge Road. Find all five for a fun surprise.
Toad’s Rec Room is another minigame-like mode, but it fails to offer anything too exciting. It was shown off as a multi-Switch system tabletop mode, but what we got in actuality was a little different. Toad’s Rec room games can be played as a tabletop activity, but they can also be played on the television—except for one game. “Banana, Split” was the only multi-system Toad Rec room game, using the multi-screen patent that was floating around the internet a while ago, but it’s just disappointing. You match bananas, and trace them after matching—that’s it. Its interesting use of two Switches isn’t enough to make it fun. Toad’s Rec Room isn’t a complete bust, though, as the puzzle game and baseball minigames are probably some of my favorite in the entire package.
Beyond just playing the board game and minigames, there are things you can unlock, like gems, stickers, etc. You get points for completing activities, like playing a round of Mario Party or a minigame tournament. You can then spend those points to get stickers, music tracks, and other collectibles. It’s nothing game changing, but it’s a fun way to maximize your time with Super Mario Party.
Super Mario Party isn’t perfect, though. If you already didn’t like the “Mario Party” type board games, Super Mario Party doesn’t really do much to entice those who have already made up their minds. And being a true party game, it isn’t really the same to play solo. The AI is competent enough, but beyond the collectibles, I didn’t find an incentive to play this title outside of a group environment. Perhaps my biggest complaint is really just a niggle: you can’t use anything but the Joy-Con controllers to play Super Mario Party. This is probably because the minigames are set up in a way that you have to hold the Joy-Con vertically at times, but even so, I would have liked the option to use other controllers.
Super Mario Party may be a quick way to make your friends into enemies, but it’s also a great party game and a return to form for a classic series. If you’re looking to play with friends, against them, or just have a casual night of colorful Mario-themed games, Super Mario Party is great and highly recommended.
Super Mario Party is available now on Nintendo Switch.