At my birthday celebration, Super Mario Party was the star of the show. We broke out the game as soon as the festivities began to wind down and I played two games with my mother, brother, and sister. It was a truly great moment for me, a break from all of the stress of adulthood during which I was able to relive some old childhood memories. Since that time, I’ve played this game in a few other circumstances – I’ve played with some of my best friends, I’ve played with my wife and son, and I’ve even played on my own (though not in the single player mode yet – at the time of writing, I only just unlocked it). I’ve also played in a wide variety of modes.
Experiencing the game with more people and trying more features of the game has led me to a singular conclusion: Super Mario Party is a poor allocation of resources. The game fails to realize where it’s strengths are and instead spreads itself too thinly between lots of different ideas. It is as if a fistful of darts was flung wildly at a board in hopes that one or two would stick. What this does for us as players is give us an experience in which we could really do without some of the content in this game if it meant other features became more fleshed out.
Today, I’m going to talk about four of the game’s multiplayer modes: Mario Party, Sound Stage, River Survival, and Partner Party. I’ll share the experiences I’ve had with each mode, as well as what I believe to be the strengths and weaknesses of each. Finally, I’ll discuss which ones I think could have been left on the cutting room floor in order to create more room for the others to shine.
I’ll start with the mode which could simply be referred to as “classic mode:” Mario Party. This is the traditional approach to the game where four players move around a board, spending coins earned in minigames to collect stars in order to be crowned the super star of the match. You move along pre-determined paths on a small game board, able from time to time to choose forks in the road which may move you closer to success, or start you down the path to failure. Random events, tricky obstacles, and the steady stream of minigames complicate the journey to victory and make it feel as though anyone could be the winner of the match.
This mode has proven itself eight times over – literally – via its presence in previous Mario Party titles. In Super Mario Party, the smaller boards and more limited obstacles make it feel as though there’s ultimately less to do in this mode. I think a big part of that comes from the lack of unique boards. There are only four in the game, which means that even after only playing three sessions I still ended up repeating boards very early into my experience. This wouldn’t be that significant except it feels that each board really only has one central gimmick to engage with. Kamek’s Tantalizing Tower, for example, relies on changing the star price after each time someone acquires the star to keep things interesting, as the only other challenge on the board is a completely avoidable Chain Chomp next a store where an item purchase is required to progress.
Overall, this mode offers the classic Mario Party experience with all of the same flaws and foibles, advantages and pleasures. A bigger variety of boards and having more to do on those boards could make the game quite a bit stronger, but overall if you’re the type of person who has enjoyed Mario Party in the past, you’ve probably found a lot to love in the classic mode of the latest entry.
Rhythm game fans, rejoice! Sound Stage is a mode of Super Mario Party completely dedicated to rhythm games, featuring a random selection of musical minigames in a series of either three or six. To play you simply pump the Joy-Con in time with the beat of the music, with the minigame’s visuals helping to serve as cues for when it’s your turn to burn up the dance floor. There are three distinct modes: Normal, Hard, and Remix. Normal and Hard simply indicate difficulty, while Remix is essentially normal mode but you play the three games a second time at a faster pace.
Sound Stage is a blast to play, and it’s the mode I’ve experienced the most since breaking out the game. This is due a lot to the fact that my wife loves it, so since I have the most access to her as a gaming partner this mode graces my screen more than the others. Sound Stage is also the shortest mode, with a typical game taking maybe ten minutes or so instead of a full hour. That makes it easier to quickly fit in a few rounds of Sound Stage when you’re tired after a long day, or when you’re pressed for time but want to get some gaming in.
The big disadvantage of Sound Stage is the limited number of difficulty levels and game types. There are only around ten minigames designed for Sound Stage, and any given mode only showcases three of them at a time. Being able to customize the length of your session in a way similar to Mario Party mode would be a nice feature, as well as having a mode where you can choose which rhythm games appear during the round. My wife and I would certainly love to turn off Hit the Block completely.
This mode serves as the cooperative mode for Super Mario Party, making the players allies rather than enemies. In River Survival, each character holds one oar on a raft floating on a river. They must work together to row to victory, avoiding obstacles while popping minigame balloons and exploring all of the different forks in the path that River Survival offers. Exploring the river has a time limit, and the time reward received for completing the minigames successfully is essential to being able to finish the game. I’ve played this game with family members as well as playing it extensively by myself in order to get the gem for this mode.
Interestingly, this mode is a lot easier in single player than it is with four human players, at least in my experience. When I was playing alone, my computer allies all played the minigames perfectly – the one who held the team back appeared to be me most of the time! Conversely, when all four players are humans with varying levels of experience, you don’t have three-fourths of the team guaranteed to perform perfectly during every game. When my computer partners never seemed to row where I wanted them to, I found myself pining for human companionship, but even four human rowing partners trying to work together in one accord struggled to keep the raft moving in the right direction.
The Achilles heel for River Survival is the same as the one for Sound Stage – an overall lack of minigames. There are only ten cooperative games that you can play in River Survival, and while you may not hit all ten of them in a single round, by your second run you’ll already be repeating minigames. In all likelihood, most of the games you play at that point will be repeats. And while the intent of River Survival may not be to play more than one round at a time, it still won’t take long for the mode to lose its appeal when it cycles through such a small selection of games over and over again.
The final multiplayer mode I’ll be discussing today is Partner Party. This mode pits two teams of two against each other in a game that is similar to Mario Party, where the goal is to win coins in minigames while moving around a board to collect stars from star spaces. Rather than sending the characters down pre-set paths, these boards have a open designs where the players can choose how they want to move their character the number of spaces that was rolled. Each team member rolls a dice block, and their numbers are added together to create a total that both characters move. You have a lot more control of where you go in this mode, but some complications arise as a result of this setup.
The toughest feature to swallow in this mode is that you have to land on the star space, not simply pass it. This means that if you don’t roll just the right number, you may miss the star even when you are in close proximity to it. This happened to my mother for three to four turns during our game together – she kept rolling numbers which didn’t allow her to land exactly on the star space no matter what circuitous path she took. She could be within five spaces of the star, roll a thirteen, and still not be able to reach it because there was no way to properly navigate to the exact spot on the board she needed to reach. This can be frustrating because you don’t have tools in Partner Party to help you maneuver a specific number of spaces.
There are other problems, too. While there are more spaces on these boards, the majority of those spaces are blanks, not granting coins or any kind of special event. This means that you’ll have turns where nothing exciting happens at the end of your movement because you aren’t able to position yourself on an item space or something similarly beneficial. And a quick note about the boards themselves – they are the same ones as in the Mario Party mode. Partner Party doesn’t have boards with unique challenges, which means that if you’ve already played all of them in one mode, you’ll have nothing new to look forward to in the other.
THE CUTTING ROOM
Now that we’ve discussed these four multiplayer modes, which ones seem like the best to leave behind so that the others could have more precious development time? I think the obvious cut here is Partner Party. This mode features the same boards as Mario Party, but with less depth and more frustrating mechanisms. Partner Party is more situational as you essentially have to have an even number of human players in order for the game to be fair. Cutting this team-focused mode entirely to instead develop more boards for the competitive mode – as well as fleshing out the ones that already exist with more details – would go a long way towards improving the core experience of Super Mario Party.
Now the decision between Sound Stage and River Survival is a lot trickier for me. I’ve enjoyed my experiences with Sound Stage more, but I have to acknowledge that Sound Stage offers less of a unique experience as well. The rhythm games that make up Sound Stage could be just as fun if incorporated into the Mario Party mode, and you could then play a bunch of them in a row in minigame mode if you still wanted that experience. Sound Stage is essentially a second minigame mode dedicated exclusively to one type of challenge – while I enjoy it more than River Survival and wouldn’t want to see it cut, doing so could make the cooperative experience a lot more enjoyable. Given more development time, River Survival could incorporate a larger number of minigames and perhaps a second river course with completely different challenges at its forks, essentially doubling the life of that mode.
My vision here is a game in which there are two main modes for Super Mario Party. A classic Mario Party mode which is competitive would feature six fleshed out, detailed boards and a large variety of minigames. Then for cooperative play, River Survival could offer two distinct river courses each with branching paths that led to five different possible endings. Having a larger number of cooperative minigames would add a lot of life to River Survival, making it feel less repetitive as early as the second playthrough of the mode. While the loss of Sound Stage certainly doesn’t appeal to me, I think what that mode offers can ultimately be achieved in minigame mode: a shorter, more contained experience focused on a specific type of minigame. As far as Partner Party, I doubt it would be missed. Mario Party does boards better and River Survival does cooperation better, so focusing on those two modes as the core experiences of the game makes the most sense to me.
What are your thoguths, adventurers? Do you think Super Mario Party could benefit from cutting specific game modes in favor of developing others? Which modes did you find enjoyable? Which ones could you do without? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below, particularly if they are different than my own conclusions about the game!