On Christmas Eve rather than wrapping presents or dutifully going to bed early in preparation for my child waking up at the crack of dawn, I instead played my first game of Mario Party Superstars. If the commercials were anything to go by, Superstars was everything I wanted in a new Mario Party…by just being old Mario Party but with refreshed graphics and some new characters to play as. I felt like the series had lost its way for quite some time, so returning to the roots of when the playing these games truly felt magical seemed like a great idea on paper. In practice? Well, I can only say based on a single session of play so far, but let’s dig into my first impressions of what Superstars brings to the table!
First of all, as someone who has been playing these games since the very first entry, I must say that they deliver on the nostalgia excellently. Music from the original games has made a return, albeit reworked a bit for a modern system and for modern sensibilities. That said, the retro-style music is unlockable through play, which is a touch I really enjoyed. The main menu is the Mushroom Village from the first Mario Party, and as you select your settings for the game you fall down through the pipe just like the setup menu from the original game. My first few minutes were spent just basking in how good it felt to hear that music again and to see the presentation revitalized first on my Switch screen in handheld and then later on my big ole television screen.
The game isn’t all nostalgia though and there are immediately some quality of life changes that you can find as you are getting started. Some of these are subtle but important, like the ability to amp up the text speed and board movement speed to keep the game moving at a brisk pace. You can also skip a lot of introductory sequences as well as fast forwarding scenes that frequently repeat. All of these touches work together to help the game feel more focused on the action and to keep match length reasonable. Another big change is the inclusion of more playable characters, bringing in some modern favorites like Rosalina while also keeping characters who have been around for awhile but weren’t introduced til a bit later like Daisy and Waluigi. There are more changes integrated directly into the game mechanics, but we’ll touch on those in a minute.
The basic premise of Mario Party is as follows: four players compete in a board game to collect the largest number of stars. Each turn of play, every player can use an item if they have one and then roll a dice block to determine how far they move on the board. The type of space you land on gives you an outcome like earning or losing coins (which are spent on stars), moving around elements of the board, or activating a special minigame like an item game, versus game, or Bowser game. After each player has made their roll during a turn, they compete in a minigame based on what spaces each character landed on. These minigames range roughly from 30-90 seconds in length most of the time, and the winner(s) get(s) coins to help them purchase stars, or the items needed to help them reach those stars. Rules vary based on certain settings that you choose as well as the board you select to play on.
The board I chose was the Yoshi’s Tropical Island board, which according to the game’s difficulty rating is the easiest board in the game. On this board instead of the star moving each time someone buys one, there are two static positions where the star can be. Whichever one is not currently occupied by Toadette (the NPC who gives stars) will instead be occupied by Bowser, who takes your money and gives you a useless or near-useless item instead of a star. There are multiple spots on the board which cause these two positions to switch, and they are on opposite sides of a pair of islands separated by bridges with a toll. So the challenge is to try to always be on the island with the star, which involves a lot of praying that the person who goes right before you doesn’t move it.
During my match I was playing against computers set to the normal difficulty – this is the middle-low setting with easy being below it and hard followed by master difficulties above it. I made this decision hoping for a sufficient challenge, and I certainly got my wish. My first ten turns of the game were spent trying to reach a star to no avail. I had a quick start with some early game success in minigames and good dice rolls that brought me directly in front of the first star. Then Yoshi, who had won a warp block in an item minigame, used it to flip places with me, putting me on the path to Bowser while taking the star for himself. After I got Bowsered the star switched to my island, so I needed to get around as fast as possible to get to Toadette. I purchased a double dice for this express purpose, doubling my potential movement. I rolled a 1 and a 2. By the tenth turn of a fifteen turn game, I was completely without stars and had seemingly been foiled at every turn.
That’s the thing about these classic Mario Party games, though – if you know how to use the game’s tools to your benefit, you can turn around a difficult match. One factor that makes this possible is bonus stars, extra stars given at the end of the game to players who meet certain conditions. You can either play with random bonus stars or choose the classic setup where there is a star for the most coins, the most minigame victories, and the most event spaces landed on. I prefer the classic setup because I’m a grouchy 30-year-old who just wants to play Mario Party 1-3 again but also because you can strategize around this approach. My no-star behind needed to make sure I was the richest guy on the map to guarantee an endgame star, and that meant taking on some risky duels.
Duel minigames are one on one challenges where you battle another player for a pot of coins. Each of you contribute the same amount and winner takes all. The person who starts the duel sets the stakes, and I was able to engage in two different duels during my game: once by chance and once by design with a dueling glove. By making some very risky plays with those duels and betting my entire wallet of coins both times, I was able to double my money twice and secure my coin lead for the game. This also gave me the resources to steal a star from another competitor (which costs a whopping 50 coins) as well as still having the money to buy a star when I finally got around to one.
The dueling glove wasn’t the only item that came in clutch. In addition to items that add to your dice rolls or give you more dice to rolls, there are certain items that allow you to move to specific places on the board. One such item is the golden pipe, which allows you to instantly transport to where the star is located and start your turn from there. Another is the warp block. Normally this item randomly switches you with another player, but in my case I had a super warp block that allowed me to strategically choose a target to put me as close as possible to a star space. Items are an important tool in your arsenal and winning one in an item minigame or discovering one on a lucky space can be a gamechanger for you when RNG has not worked in your favor.
Despite being tied for last at turn ten, by turn 15 I was able to use some lucky item drops as well as my stash of coins to put myself tentatively in the lead at 3 stars to 2. But my plan to secure victory via bonus stars was still in play too, and thanks to that I managed to come away with a clean 5 stars total, putting me well ahead of Yoshi’s 3 when the match finally came to an end. Despite seeming like a bit of a blowout when all was said and done, that blowout felt hard-earned because of how far behind I was during 67% of the game as well as the risky plays I had to make in order to come back from the early struggles. The feeling of getting so close to Toadette to nab a star only for the player right before you to land on an event space and bring Bowser to your door instead – it was tense!
This is how I remember Mario Party being as a kid: a game where the winds of fortune could blow against you one minute and then fill your sails the next. Minigame skill and good decisions regarding your items can mitigate tough luck with the dice in a way that still feels like it could be anyone’s game. Combine that with the features that keep the game moving along quickly like sped up text and movement, fast forward and skipping options, and the ability to practice minigames at the rules screen instead of opening a distinct practice screen and you end up with an experience that feels dynamic and exciting. Truly reproducing my nostalgic feelings would require some other players on the couch with me, but based on my experience with this board Mario Party Superstars has the potential to finally recapture my heart the way the series once did so many years ago.