by Goran Damnjanovic, Gaming Columnist
Published in Gaming on 8th January, 2020
Super Mario Party is the ultimate party title. It doesn't have tons of depth, but it doesn't need it in order to be enjoyable. A great addition to the Mario Party series.
Mario Party titles were a perfect choice for social gatherings ever since the first Mario Party game came out in 1998 for the Nintendo 64. Each title built a bit upon its predecessor but the core remained the same for all these years.
A collection of fun (and not so fun) minigames designed in order to provide innocent enjoyment while being as accessible as possible. This didn't always pan out the way Nintendo imagined and with the recent few titles, the feeling was that the series was stalling a bit.
This was bound to change with Super Mario Party. It brought a collection of new features such as online multiplayer and motion controls. Along with a wide selection of interesting minigames, many expected it to bring the series back at the throne of party games. It reached most of its goals.
Super Mario Party is indeed the best game in the series and one that can be enjoyed, in theory, even when you're alone. But, in order to experience the game as developers imagined, you have to play with friends.
When playing with friends alongside you Super Mario Party turns into the essence of party games. A fun mishmash of minigames that is here to entertain everyone. This is especially true for the co-op game mode, which is a great addition to the game.
Instead of trying to reach the first place (which is often completely random thanks to the chaotic nature of most minigames) you and your friends work together while at the same time have lots of fun.
This is why Super Mario Party is best experienced alongside other people. It's a party game that works best when it gathers people closer, no matter if they cooperate or trying to beat each other.
The new cooperative raft mode is a superb addition to Super Mario Party. This isn't a competitive mode; you don't play it to win. Instead, the raft asks for cooperation in order to survive as long as possible, and it's a blast to play.
It's mesmerizing being the outside observer during a play session. You have four persons feverishly holding their Joy-Cons, trying to avoid obstacles and to pop balloons so they can play minigames and extend the timer. They don't argue, don't hold a grudge at others; they are just trying to keep the raft afloat as long as possible.
And then when you get the hold of a Joy-Con and start navigating the waters you suddenly realize just how the Raft mode is manic in its nature.
Paddling and trying to stave the boat off rocks; coordinating with others, making minutiae adjustments so you can reach the next balloon; cheering up those who aren't as skilled as you in minigames. It's the best fun I had playing a game with friends in a long time.
The core game mode in Super Mario Party - the Board Mode - is fun but chaotic as it can be. Sure, this is a trademark of the series and at times, the chaos can be burst-to-tears fun but at other times it can lead to some lighthearted frustration. Most boards are well designed and feature branching paths and constantly changing star fields.
This can lead to some calculated moves which usually end up doing more harm than good because you just can't strategize in a game like this.
You move across the board with your character trying to collect the most stars with each round ending with a minigame. This is where chaos reigns. Most minigames - and there's 80 of them - are enjoyable little bites of fun that end in just a minute or so.
Some of them can grow old fast, like the stale memory game, and when you are hit with boring ones for a few turns the party can enter a slow burn for a while. This is the main issue with Super Mario Party. The game has zero depth and is strictly a party title to pull out when surrounded by people.
Nonetheless, the board mode is fun because there are many characters to choose from, each with their own advantages and quirks.
Players can use custom dice to shake things up a bit and the option to recruit allies is a welcome addition. Allies can help you gather more stars and sometimes can be essential to climbing up the ladder.
But in the end, the game's signature random star awards at the end of each match can be frustrating to some and godsend to other players. It is what it is, and it's best to simply not think about it. But it really can be unsatisfying to lose because other players were given a bunch of stars at the end for some random achievements.
The problem with the Board Mode is, well, the lack of boards. You get three boards from the start with one unlockable board. And that's it. Sure, King Bob-omb's Powderkeg Mine is an excellent board filled with bomb traps, branching paths and plenty of ways to pick your future route and Megafruit Paradise looks amazing with its saturated colors and tropical theme.
But only four boards is simply too little for a game that mostly relies on its Board mode. The worst thing is that the other two boards are average at best and we reckon most players will stick to the aforementioned two. It's a shame Nintendo didn't offer at least four more boards because most players will want to enjoy the Board Mode.
Finally, we have the Sound Stage mode. This is a mode revolving around rhythm-based minigames and it's really enjoyable, although it can be exhausting at times. Shaking your Joy-Con in the rhythm of the music is cool and there are plenty of minigames for you and your friends to shake at. The mode is simple and effective and is perfect for parties or times when there's too cold to go outside.
Finally, you can pick and play every minigame you unlocked on its own, and while this can be fun at times, the best way to experience minigames is playing a bunch of them in one of the main game modes. The game offers plenty of unlockable content which takes some time to unlock.
Super Mario Party simply isn't enjoyable when playing alone against AI or when trying to play against strangers online. We now understand why Nintendo kept Mario Party titles from connecting to the internet. They simply aren't entertaining unless you can see people you play with or against; see and hear their reactions and laugh together while playing minigames.
One of the best parts about Super Mario Party is its accessibility. Even someone who didn't hold a Joy-Con in their life will get used to most minigames in a matter of minutes. Before each minigame starts, players have some time to train during the intro sequence, another feature that's helpful for newcomers.
Despite the game's accessibility, most minigames are fun as hell and those with more experience will probably be victorious most of the time. The price of admission is low across the board but most games have a high skill ceiling rewarding experience, reflexes, and ability. Controls are simple as they get with most minigames relying on motion controls and just a few buttons. Super Mario Party is one of the best games that utilize motion controls.
They feel tight, precise, and won't annoy anyone most of the time. Overall, this is a perfect game for people who aren't gamers and for those who just want a bit of fun while hanging out with friends or are bored at family gatherings.
When it comes to the technical side of things, Super Mario Party simply shines. The optimization is superb and visuals are top-notch for a Switch game. Sure, technically, graphics aren't stellar but everything is combined in a way that made the game look better than most titles for the PS4 and Xbox One.
Now, Super Mario Party can only be played with Joy-Cons. It seems Nintendo wanted to make the game as accessible as possible by making controls simplistic so using a single Joy-Con is enough for every minigame. There is also talk about Joy Con's ultra-precise motion controls. On the one hand, the Pro controller support would be more than welcome. On the other, you can play with a friend even if you have only one pair of Joy-Cons.
But in order to have a 4-player multiplayer, you'll need another pair and these are quite expensive. So, unless you have a friend who also owns a Switch, get ready to shell about $70 for another pair of Joy-Con controllers.
As we already said the online component of the game is lackluster. You cannot play any of the main game modes online. You can only play single minigames and a mode called Online Mariothon.
The mode includes five randomly selected minigames where you compete against strangers (the mode also supports local play). It's okay but nothing more than a short pastime while waiting for friends to arrive.
Super Mario Party also supports combining two Switch consoles, with their screens being used together for specific minigames. In reality, the feature is cool as hell.
Bigger screen real estate is a massive advantage for some minigames while others use two screens for showing different parts of the game to different players. If you have a friend who owns a Switch, make sure they bring it with them the next time you plan on playing Super Mario Party outside.
Super Mario Party is the best Mario Party game for quite some time. It didn't reinvent the wheel but it brought enough new stuff to be considered as a premier party title. Sure, we all have our Mario Party favorites but none other can be played on current hardware.
Further, no other Mario Party game be played anywhere you like on a relatively large screen. The portability of the Switch is great for those who hang out outside a lot, or just want to have some fun while being on a camping trip with their family.
Super Mario Party has its share of quirks. Some minigames are boring from the start; others can become tedious after a while. There are only four boards to pick from and the chaotic nature of the Board Mode can be frustrating to some players at times.
The Joy-Con requirement can also prevent some players from enjoying a full-fledged 4-player multiplayer. Finally, online multiplayer is laughable and playing against computer AI is boring as hell.
On the other hand, this game is bonkers to play with friends. The collection of 80 minigames contains enough cool titles to prevent weaker ones to ruin the fun.
Playing the same board over and over again won't bother us because branching paths and excellent board design kept things fresh even after we visited the tropical board for the nth time. The other two game modes are really cool to play, especially the Raft one.
The survival co-op mode is a welcome change of pace from the chaotic board competition that can break friendships, if only for a couple of minutes. If you plan on experiencing Super Mario Party with friends and loved ones on a regular basis just go and get the game, it's excellent.
Sure, it has no depth but it really doesn't need it. The sheer fun of playing it is more than enough. If you are someone who wanted to play this one alone or online well, it's better to invest your money is some quality single-player experience on the Switch. The console is teeming with those.