Super Mario Party is a step forward for the series, but it is still not quite as fun as you remember the old games being. Advertised as a series reboot, Super Mario Party attempts to simultaneously return Mario Party to its roots while moving forward with new modes and conventions. While it mostly succeeds in this regard, there are still a few steps to take before these games reach their full potential.
Back to basics
After a long hiatus, vehicle-free linear boards are back. Making good on its intent to return to form, Super Mario Party does away with the divisive car and Mini Stars from Mario Party 9 and 10. Party mode is also significantly less experimental than 3DS entries, boasting the first bona fide party mode in several years. It does, however, keep (and make good use of) some recent conventions such as Star Rush‘s allies and character-specific dice. The result is a fun return to classic board-game gameplay, although the boards occasionally feel almost too linear, with scarce opportunity to separate from the pack. A lot of luck goes into winning the party due to cheap stars spawning right next to each other and a slew of stars from hidden blocks and randomized bonuses. Despite this, party mode boards are still a very fun vehicle for adding a little extra tension to minigames.
Outside of standard board games, there are several side modes for those who crave new minigame experiences. Partner Party, Sound Stage, River Survival, Mariothon, Square Off, and Challenge Road all blend together to greatly enhance the game. Partner Party has teams of two move freely around the board, Sound Stage composes a seamless arrangement of rhythm minigames, and River Survival has a group of four navigate treacherous whitewater between cooperative games. Mariothon is a run of five minigames in a row (this mode is also available online), and Square Off’s main objective is to win minigames and take over spots on a neon panel. Challenge Road, meanwhile, is a single-player mode that attaches a specific – you guessed it – challenge to each minigame.
Speaking of the minigames, Super Mario Party has one of the best libraries yet. There are 80 easy-to-pick-up minigames brimming with inventiveness and charm. Among the many standouts are Trip Manager (navigate a slippery banana peel maze), Just For Kicks (a standard soccer match), and Slaparazzi (push and shove your friends out of the way so that you alone can star in a photo). A good deal of minigames involve simple motion controls and, impressively, several of them are actually quite fun. Fuzzy Flight School has you pilot a ship through crowded tunnels, Sizzling Stakes challenges players to cook each side of a meat cube, and Rattle and Hmmm is an HD rumble-driven quiz game. Unfortunately, the worst minigames in the lot are the repetitive, tedious motion control games – a couple offenders include Precision Gardening and Trike Harder, which are virtually the same. Both involve simply pumping the Joy-Con very quickly, which wears thin almost immediately.
One noteworthy new minigame addition is Toad’s Rec Room, featuring four complex minigames with advanced rules and controls. These games enable players to play traditionally or to utilize two Switches in creative ways. The minigames, which feature fun team-based puzzles, tank battles, and a full-fledged, multi-inning baseball game, are more fleshed out and time-consuming than the average minigame. Down the line, Toad’s Rec Room will certainly pull me away from the main game time and time again.
Not so portable
While Super Mario Party is propped up by the return of boards, a massive range of quality minigames and modes, and well-integrated gameplay features, it is also held down by some of its own design decisions. Super Mario Party’s most cumbersome trait is its lack of technical accessibility. The game is not playable in handheld mode and you cannot use Pro Controllers. This is almost understandable given that Super Mario Party is built for a single Joy-Con and multiplayer (with motion controls to boot), but Super Mario Party has single-player components, online play, and even the built-in option to disable specific minigames. There is no reason that handheld mode or even Pro Controllers should not be usable in exchange for temporarily blocking off motion control games. Tabletop mode is still available, and many will go largely unaffected by this, but my experience was hindered by the inability to play handheld when taking on Challenge Road or going against AI.
A new hope
Mario Party on the Wii, 3DS, and Wii U was mediocre at worst and polarizing at best. Super Mario Party stands above that as a consistently great game. Despite luck-driven boards, some subpar minigames, and technical limitations, Super Mario Party is enjoyable at its core. It has not perfected the original formula, but it has moved closer to the classic fun that fans missed. Furthermore, it tries hard to move the series forward with a mix of old and new, fresh modes, and online play. Super Mario Party is the best Mario Party game in a long time, and series fans now have a great title on their hands as well as hope for the future.