Mario Party is one of those series that most gamers have played at least once, whether as the host of Mario’s minigame shenanigans or as an unwilling participant to an all-night 50-turn board game. Once a yearly franchise, the series hasn’t seen a console release since Mario Party 9 and 10 controversially changed key gameplay mechanics. That is, until now, with the Nintendo Switch release of Super Mario Party, which restores the core experience, alongside a handful of new modes.
The main attraction is Party mode, pitting four players on a digital game board. Unlike in Mario Party 9/10 where players moved together in a car, here everyone travels independently. Scattered throughout the board are special events that alter the game state, shops that sell helpful items, and luck-based spaces that randomly help or hurt you. The goal is to collect the most stars by reaching the character Toadette and paying her coins earned from minigames. It’s as classic as it gets for the series, down to the gut-wrenching blows of losing it all because your friend decided to steal your stars.
The minigames, played at the end of every turn, are creatively fresh and utterly charming. Whether a battle royale, 2v2, or 1v3 minigame, I was always looking forward to the next challenge. Standouts include Slaparazzi, a game where you punch others out of the way so you can be in front and center in a photographer’s picture, and Gridiron Gauntlet, which tasks you to survive on a field with rampaging Chargin’ Chucks. Some guessing games cleverly take advantage of the Joy-Con’s HD Rumble, the high-tech feature that allows players to distinguish different rumble patterns. There are 80 minigames, though only 60 are available for standard parties, with the remaining ones relegated to other co-op or rhythm-based modes.
Most games are played with standard Joy-Con buttons, while others utilize motion controls. Most motion games require simple movements, but some had finicky calibration, such as Sizzling Stakes, where I had trouble flicking and rotating the Joy-Con like a frying pan. The only dud minigames were the more random luck-based ones, such as Maths of Glory, where victories are determined by dice rolls. It’s worth noting that only single Joy-Con control is supported due to the specific motions required. As such, you unfortunately can’t play with a Pro Controller or in handheld mode. At least the Switch tablet’s tabletop mode is an option for portable play with friends.
Some noteworthy gameplay changes inspired by the 3DS titles spruce up the party. First of all, who you play as matters. Each character in the large roster of 20 has their own customized dice block that you can roll in place of a normal six-sided die. For example, Mario has a balanced dice block that has a 50% chance of rolling a 3, while Bowser’s risky block yields either really high or low numbers. In addition, you may gain ally characters. They not only grant you their special dice block, but also travel along with you, rolling bonus dice and even joining along for some minigames. The character individuality rewards thoughtful strategies, granting players more agency to guide the fate of their rolls.
While these mechanics provide much-needed depth, Party mode is otherwise limited. There are only four boards, and they’re smaller and more linear than in the previous entries. The themed board backdrops are visually appealing, from a set of fruit-based islands connected by unstable bridges to a factory where entire areas are subject to Bob-omb explosions. However, the condensed quantity and sizes significantly reduce the replay value. I found myself looping around maps in the same patterns more frequently. It doesn’t help that full games tend to drag. Even though the turn count is now limited to 10, 15, or 20, every sluggish animation slows down the action considerably. Ten turns take a full hour, where older Mario Party games would let you plow through 20 in that same time.
As a compromise, there are several new modes. The most engaging is Partner Party for teams of two. As you might expect, teams share stars and all minigames are 2v2. The real game-changer is that you and your teammate have free movement on the board, which is now represented as a square grid, similar to strategy-RPGs. Consequently, more weight is given to team planning and precise dice rolls as opposed to plain luck. It’s a fine substitute for standard play, but it suffers from the same issue of having only four small boards.
River Survival is a surprisingly enjoyable co-op challenge where four players must safely navigate their inflatable raft down a river within a time limit. The only way to finish in time is to communicate effectively, paddle like a team, and complete cooperative minigames to add seconds to the clock. It’s a refreshing change from the typical ruthlessness of Mario Parties, and my team had fun facing the unique adversities around every riverbend together and high-fiving after victory. Again, like with every other mode, replayability is limited with only about a dozen routes and ten minigames that repeat constantly.
The same problem is present in the entertaining but less exciting Sound Stage mode, consisting of ten rhythm minigames where you make motion-controlled gestures in time with the beat – wielding a baton, for instance. It’s a short ten-minute diversion, but the tunes and motion mechanics synergize well. If anything, I desired a more drawn-out version of this mode, or perhaps a new Rhythm Heaven for Switch. Toad’s Rec Room, a collection of four stand-alone minigames, feels like more of a showcase for Switch functions than anything else. Depending on how you position the Switch tablet and on the number of consoles, the games, which include baseball and puzzles, alter slightly, though it doesn’t make them any more viable for extended play. Rounding out the package is Challenge Road, a single-player gauntlet of missions encompassing all 80 minigames, akin to Minigame Island in previous titles. This brief campaign was a great way to unwind when other local players weren’t around.
Of course, the real fun of Super Mario Party relies on having one to three other people to play with. In addition to every mode I’ve mentioned thus far, you and your friends can play the minigames individually or try out specialized compilations: Square Off and Mariothon. The former is set up like a game show where you fill in panels on a grid if you win minigames, and the latter is a five round competition for the gold. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, Mariothon features only ten games, so it grows stale quickly. It’s truly disappointing that Mariothon is the only mode available for online play. For a series where fans have been pining endlessly for online parties, you are limited to ten minigames. No boards, not even the full gamut of minigames – just a tedious competition that occasionally lags.
Super Mario Party’s core Party mode and excellent minigames are the true Super Stars in this package. However, they’re diluted by the extra modes. While some are genuinely creative and engaging, such as the team-based Partner Party and the fully cooperative River Survival, others feel like afterthoughts. Everything included can still be hilarious fun with a good group of friends, but a sharper focus on the classic board game/minigame combo and an increased online presence would have enhanced its longevity. As it is now, Super Mario Party may not be the life of the party, but it’s a solid step in the right direction for this long-running series.
I am a lifelong gamer, having grown up with Nintendo since I was young. My passion for gaming led to one of the greatest moments of my life, my video game themed wedding!