There are some games that were important to me as a kid that I haven’t played in quite a long time. I played Mega Man X all the time growing up, but I’ve passed on Mega Man 9 and 10 when they came out, as well as any legacy collections. I enjoyed playing Crash Bandicoot with my stepdad, seeing all the goofy ways we could get crushed, mauled, electrocuted, or dismembered, but I have no intention of getting the N’Sane Trilogy on my Switch. And then there’s Mario Party, a series where I haven’t purchased any of the last five games to come out, but which has been a gaming staple throughout my life.
As a kid, this was a game that I regularly played with my whole family. With my dad’s family I’d play with my sister and our cousins, and with my mom’s family I’d play with my mom, stepdad, and brother. It was a normal occurrence for us to finish dinner and for someone to say “hey, want to play some Mario Party?” and we’d dive into one of the boards and face off in mini-games while trying to struggle desperately for the stars. The four of us getting to spend time together on something that all of us enjoyed was pretty rare, so those nights were quite special.
When I went to college, I took my Nintendo GameCube with me and would play Mario Party with my friends. This was a fun change of pace because while some members of the group were experienced players like me, others had never touched the game before and playing a party game of that style was a totally new experience. We’d all find an empty dorm lobby or hang out in my dorm room on open dorm nights to play. My wife still tells the story of how one of our Mario Party veterans tried to win by not explaining the mini-games to all of the new players. I can remember her practicing specific mini-games that she really wanted to beat me in, and how proud she was when she finally did. Whether it was with my family or with my closest friends, I have a lot of great memories of sharing Mario Party with other people.
Here’s the thing, though – all of those great memories happened with older games in the series. As I said during the opening paragraph, I’ve not touched any of the last five Mario Party games to come out. While some of that was due to lack of access to the proper console (I never owned a Wii U), a lot of it was because Mario Party hasn’t quite been itself for some time. The ninth entry on the Wii introduced a vehicle that all four players shared and moved around the board. No longer did everyone travel to the board in a desperate race to get to the star first, using items to get the edge over their opponents. Instead, when it was your turn to move the car, you obtained any mini-stars you passed by, and your goal was to have the most at the end of the game. How did the game end? When you reached the end of the board. Boards were now linear experiences rather than these interconnected paths with surprising ways to move around.
Perhaps the toughest change in my mind, though, was that mini-games no longer occurred after every sequence of turns. Instead, they only activated when you landed on a specific mini-game space. This made mini-games more infrequent, and their reward became more mini-stars instead of coins needed to purchase a star. These changes to the core gameplay of Mario Party may have been a much-needed experiment for a series that had become somewhat stale in its later entries, but the experiment went in the wrong direction in my view.
Additionally, a number of the Mario Party titles that I missed were portable entries rather than console titles. Mario Party as a Nintendo (3)DS game doesn’t make a ton of sense. It is, after all, the ultimate party game – ease of access to multiplayer is essential to its success. At the time, handheld systems didn’t offer that. Everyone who wanted to play had to have their own (3)DS, and depending on how you wanted to play, they also had to have their own copy of the game. Whereas with a console game, one person with four controllers can introduce Mario Party to pretty much anybody, with a handheld title every person involved had to be a gamer with their own copy of the necessary equipment.
Fast forward to the modern era and the Nintendo Switch. Suddenly we have a device that combines the best features of console play and handheld play. You can take the Switch anywhere, but you don’t need a bunch of Switches for multiple people to play together. You can play games docked on a television for that classic local multiplayer experience or share the game with friends while you’re out and about in the real world. The Nintendo Switch felt like the perfect console for a Mario Party game – and of course the next one that came out hit the 3DS instead. Mario Party Top 100 wasn’t necessarily a bad concept, but the timing of it felt off and like with many games, the refrain online was “why can’t we get this on Switch?”
But now, our time has come. At E3 2018 during the Nintendo Direct, we learned about Super Mario Party, a game which by all appearances combines the best features of classic Mario Party with some of the newer touches in recent games to give us the best of both worlds. I was quite happy to see this game unveiled and the further away we get from E3, this is actually one of the titles I am the most excited for. Thanks to the Nintendo Treehouse coverage, we’ve gotten to see a total of four games modes in various levels of detail. I’m going to discuss them in order of least to most interest to me.
Naturally, mini-game mode is back and it doesn’t look like they’ve done anything too crazy with that. You can use this mode to choose mini-games one at a time to play, selecting whichever game you want out of any of the mini-game categories. However, they’ve also stated that if you want to play with higher stakes, you can set up a ten-game competition where the person with the highest score after each mini-game wins the contest. Unlike the decathlon in Mario Party 5 (and perhaps similar modes that I am forgetting from other titles), it doesn’t have to be the same set of ten mini-games each time, so you get a much wider variety than they offered in the past.
One particularly interesting mode they’ve developed specifically using the Switch’s capabilities is Toad’s Rec Room. This mode uses two Switch consoles in tandem for specialized mini-games. There have been two main ones showed off at this point: a tank battle mini-game where the consoles create the arena you fight in, and a banana-matching mini-game where you try to successfully assemble pictures of bananas. When you place the Switch tablets side by side, they connect and interact in some cool ways. In the tank game, for example, the angle you place the consoles determines the space that your tanks can move around in. This is a clever use of the Switch hardware, and for those who have a reliable Switch-owning friend to play with, there are plenty of creative options to take advantage of (and hopefully more than two mini-games in this mode).
While these mini-game options are effectively requirements for any Mario Party game, I’m a lot more intrigued by the modes which give us game boards to navigate in addition to those mini-games. The first mode they showed off at the Treehouse was a classic Mario Party board where players move around individually to collect stars. There have definitely been some changes from the classic Mario Party formula. The standard dice block now shows only 1-6 instead of 1-10 (which makes sense since the block has always been a six-sided dice), and perhaps as a result of that the board they showed off seems a bit smaller than past boards in the series. The coin value of things has also been altered, with each player starting with only five coins but also reducing the cost of Stars from 20 to 10 coins. While it’s impossible to tell at this point, these changes seem to be present in order to offer a quicker experience where a lot more is happening – cheaper stars on smaller boards mean that stars will be obtained more often, making the game more even than it has perhaps been in past titles. This is particularly helpful for those who do not excel at mini-games, as in the past having one person dominate all of the mini-games pretty much guaranteed that player would be the winner.
Perhaps the most interesting new feature, though, is that each character in the game has a special dice block unique to them which gives different statistical odds or different numbers compared to the standard 1-6. Mario, for example, has three 3s on his dice, giving him a 50% chance of a low-middle roll, while Peach has three 4s but also has a dangerous 0, risking not moving at all. Other characters have even more variety – Bowser’s block risks losing coins in exchange for extremely high numbers, while Rosalina’s block gives coins in exchange for not getting to move. This adds a whole additional layer of strategy to the experience – want to roll a specific number? Perhaps your character’s special block will be more likely to get that number you want. There’s even an advantage to rolling a 0, as staying on the same space activates that space’s effect again, allowing you to reactivate a mini-game challenge, happening event, or any other beneficial effect you can imagine a space on the board having.
As a result of this, character choice in Super Mario Party matters in a way it didn’t in the classic titles. Do you choose your character based on their unique dice block, or based on who is your favorite? I spoke about this change to my wife, who wasn’t excited about the idea of your character choice having more than an aesthetic effect on the game. I can see the concern – if you’re used to always picking Toad and then someone scoops Toad from you just because they like his dice block, it could be rather frustrating. However, I can’t imagine that most players will take it all that seriously, and since each character has different advantages and disadvantages, I would probably develop a set of two or three different characters I liked to use.
The special dice blocks become even more valuable in the final mode they showed off, a mode similar to the Toad Scramble in Mario Party: Star Rush. In this mode you play on two teams of two, moving about a board with a lot more open space rather than a few diverging pathways. There’s still a star space to navigate to and there are some other valuable spaces to land on as well, and there are plenty of coins scattered in the empty spaces to incentivize you to move through them. And movement is what makes this mode totally unique compared to the normal Mario Party experience.
When you and your partner both roll your dice, the total number is shared between both of you. You can then move around the board however you want, with the only limitations being physical barriers and the total number of spaces you’re allowed. You have to move the number you rolled, but because the board is open you can use convoluted paths to still try and land where you want to be. For example, if you roll a 3 but wanted a 1 to land on the square right in front of you, you can step left, then up, then to the right to land on the space right in front of where you’re standing. If you roll significantly higher than you intended, you can explore the area to pick up coins and stomp opponents before finally putting yourself back on the space you wanted. It offers some very cool strategic options for your team.
Speaking of strategic options, team play makes the special dice blocks even more compelling, as combining them in different pairs really increases your options. One player, for example, could roll the standard 1-6 while someone else rolls a special block, allowing you to test the odds for big numbers while still knowing you’ll move at least a few spaces. Rosalina, whose block gives coins on some rolls, could try to earn the last couple of coins that her partner needs to get the next star. Mario and Peach together give you really good odds to roll a 7 total without taking a big risk, while Bowser and Rosalina together are risky (their coin effects canceling each other out) but could also result in the highest possible amount of movement. As someone who loves strategic games and optimizing my characters in RPGs, the possible combinations are really compelling to me and this mode seems like a ton of fun as a result.
Ultimately, the combination of new mechanisms from the more recent games with the classic elements of the Mario Party titles I love work together to create a compelling game. I’ve not been this excited for a Mario Party title in a long time and I can’t wait til the game drops in October so I can play with my friends and family. What about you, adventurers? Did you check out Super Mario Party? Do you think you’ll play the game? Let me know in the comments, and thanks for reading!