If you’ve owned a Nintendo system in the last 20 years (well, now I feel freaking old), chances are you’ve played one of the fifteen or so Mario Party games. If not, the concept is pretty simple – roll dice to move around a game board, compete in simple minigames, collect coins (to buy bonus items and stars, the player with the most stars after a set number of turns get to rub their glorious victory in the faces of their loser friends (Suck it, Peach. Shy Guy is the boss round here. Go back to your castle and cry more! … Ahem). It’s a really simple idea that is made or broken on how good the minigames are, as that’s what you’ll spend most of your time doing.
And so we come to the eleventh game in the main console series – Super Mario Party.
Once again, Mario’s heroes and villains have gathered to see who will be the superstar. Choose from 16 characters (to start with and 4 more to be unlocked as you play), including fan favourites like Shy Guy, Waluigi, Bowser and Dry bones (I mean, Mario and that lot are in there too, but they get quite enough of the spotlight in other games tbh. Also, I think it’s time to petition Nintendo for Bowsette DLC). Each character will have access to their own unique special die as well as a basic D6. Shy Guy, for example has is five sides showing ‘4’ and one of ‘0’ – pretty handy if you’re looking to move a very specific amount to land on something good.
With your character chosen, you can set the difficulty level for any CPU players and then stroll on into the Party Plaza. Here you can check out the game’s modes. Initially, not everything is open, but in time you’ll have access to a whole range of options.
First up there’s classic party mode. 4 players go head to head to take on one of three game boards, each with their own unique mechanics to help or hinder your progress. Once all three have been completed, you’ll open a fourth board for this mode. You can choose to play 10 or 30 turns. With 10 working out to approximately an hour of play.
Different spaces on the board will have different effects, blue for extra coins, red to lose coins, exclamations cause special effects on the board (e.g. taking a warp to another area), clovers award a random bonus, bad luck spaces cause a random loss, and then there’s the ally space.
The ally space allows you to pick up a companion from the remaining available characters. You’ll get to use their special die and they’ll roll a bonus die along with your roll that will add 1 or 2 to your total. It’s cute and fun watching dialogue between sworn enemies, agreeing to help out… just this once.
Next there’s couples mode. Two teams of two make their way across a much more open board. Rather than the usual, single lane, branching path, these boards tend to have more room to move and plan your strategies. Both players on a team will roll their dice and the total is added together. Players then get to move the total of the dice roll each. I found this mode to be a bit slower on the board itself, as the teams make plans to move around. Do you move together, towards the star or split the party, with one going for a special item, to gather coins, or pound on your opponents in order to steal their precious coins?
Additionally, the fact that one player will always move first of the two, becomes important, since the first player can trigger a special event, which may change the possible routes around the board. This could mean that bad planning sees the second player being stuck behind a wall, losing some of their moves.
During this mode, you’ll find allies being air dropped in at intervals. If you can swoop in and grab them before the opposing team, they can really make or break your game. Here the ally’s added dice rolls will only go to the player that picked them up, rather than to the team as a whole.
If you’re feeling up for some rhythm action, there’s Sound Stage mode just for this. The actions range from washing suds off of a window, riding a horse by pulling on the reigns, spiking fruit with a sword, and more. The music is great and controls are suitably responsive as you waggle your way to victory.
Next up is challenge road. A single player mode where you must play through each of the 80 minigames in a specific order. The difficulty is pre-set and can get pretty tricky, especially if there’s games you know you’re weak on.
Finally, why not take a nice gentle paddle down the river? I’ll tell you why not, because the water it pretty darn choppy in River Survival and there’s plenty of obstacles in your way (Bloopers making whirlpools, Cheep Cheeps bouncing out of the water, etc.). This mode is played as a co-operative, four player team, working together to take on the many dangers of these choppy waters (and maybe overthrowing capitalism once they’re done… please?). As there were only two of us playing, I was initially concerned that having two CPU players would make life super difficult. We made sure one of us was on either side of the boat, with the CPU helping one of us each, they did a great job paddling where we wanted and held their own in the mini games.
One game in particular really showed off how considerately programmed they are. It’s a basic memory game, with cards laid out showing the suits, you’re given the target suit and after a few seconds, they’re flipped over, some will move and then you have to pick out the correct cards. My first thought was that, if I’ve been focusing on one particular card, and the CPU picks that one, I’m pretty screwed. However, I noticed that there was a distinct pause before they move, giving you good time to get to your target. It’s a simple thing, but makes all the difference and stops it feeling unfair if you’re not playing with a full team of hoomins.
Along the course of the river, you’ll find balloons, which will trigger minigames. These can be completed for additional sailing time, with higher scores/better times meaning your earn more time. There’s also stop watches which award an extra three seconds. As you progress, there’s the chance to pick different routes so you can eventually see all five endings of this mode.
If all the main modes seem like a bit of a time commitment that you can’t afford, there’s a mode to free-play any of the games you’ve unlocked and even compete in five minigame, online marathons.
That’s already a lot of game, but wait, there’s more. Anyone who’s seen the trailer for the game will have noticed that there’s a special mode using two Switches. First, you’ll need two consoles and two copies of the game. Set up is pretty simple from the tile screen, and then you can head into Toad’s Rec Room. Now, just lay your Switches down next to each other, on a flat surface. Draw a line on the screen to let the system know where they are relative to each other. Now you can drive tanks through warp pipes to travel between the screens and attack your opponents. It’s pretty cool, but expensive to get started.
This game has a huge amount of heart. One of my favourite features is the high fives. At the cue, just punch the air with your controller in hand and your characters will perform a cute little high five. In River Survial mode, you can perform the manoeuvre after every minigame, or clap your paddles together between areas to earn three extra seconds. In couples mode, you can do it to gain some extra coins after minigames.
If that’s all a bit hectic for you, why not retire to the sticker room and just cover some scenes in Mario themed stickers. If you’ve got Mario character amiibo, you can unlock shiny stickers for those characters, other amiibo will award you additional party points to spend on more unlocks.
I’d say we spent about 15 hours total playing through classic party mode, river survival, couples, sound stage mode, and challenge road. After all that, I’m still up for playing it a whole bunch more and really excited to see what it’s like with four friends. The music is great, it’s graphically beautiful, with wonderful texture work, and it never once felt like I was fighting the controller.
Speaking of which, all you need to play the game is a single Joy-Con. There’s a good variety of games using motion control (for example to throw boomerangs or shave ice), many using the stick and one or two buttons, or just single button pounding. Even the HD rumble feature is put to good use (This was really my first experience of the HD rumble as I’ve not had a chance to check out 1-2 Switch). One game features a number of passing characters (Wigglers, Bullet Bills, Thwomps, etc) each causing the controller to rumble very differently. The rumble is then played back blind and you have to identify which character it was you could feel. I was super impressed with how different they could make the rumble feel.
Another game sees you having to select boxes and shake them to see which have the most nuts inside. Once you’re happy, pop them down on your side of the play field and see how you scored at the end. It’s a really innovative use of the controller and I’m super glad it’s not been ignored beyond that pricy tech demo
- A lot of game to get through.
- AI is capable in co-op and challenging at higher skill levels.
- Very replayable.
- Looks beautiful.
- No option to use download play to try Toad’s Rec Room.
- River mode doesn’t work super well in single player.
- I was robbed in classic mode during the bonus awards *shakes fist*.