Release Date: October 5, 2018Platform: SwitchDeveloper: NDcubePublisher: NintendoGenre: Party
After years of questionable design choices and stale mechanics, attending recent Mario Parties has felt more like an obligation than entertainment. But here’s the good news: Super Mario Party is the best the series has been in a very long time, even if there are still a few nagging legacy issues.
Super Mario Party thankfully drops the car mechanic from the last two games that saw players travel around each board together. You’re back to flying solo collecting as many coins and stars as you can. You do pick up allies who can significantly add to your dice rolls and give you extra help in minigames, though. Allies can make a big difference now, as each character has its own dice, which adds a new layer of strategy to the gameplay.
There are 80 minigames available this time around, and they’re all pretty good and instantly understandable for even the most inexperienced players. Despite the high number of minigames, there are only four boards (including a secret one). That’s a little disappointing, but they’re actually all quite fun. You can also go online to challenge players from around the world in minigames, though sadly, party mode remains offline only.
At least the series looks better than ever thanks to the power of the Switch, and the music isn’t bad either. It doesn’t get in the way. You’re probably not going to pay much attention to it while playing with three other people.
You’re definitely going to want to play with other people as the AI hasn’t improved much in this entry. You can try to grind through Super Mario Party’s modes (and a solid number of unlockables) by yourself, but this remains a title that’s best enjoyed with three other friends in the same room. Those friends better have their own Joy-Cons too as that’s the only way to play most modes. This is a controversial design choice, as it means there’s no handheld or pro controller support, but it actually makes sense once you start playing.
First, it keeps things simple for everybody, as you only need to use one or two buttons for most minigames. Second, you really need the Joy-Con to play some of these games, like steak flipping or guessing how many nuts are in a box.
Since the launch of the Switch, it seems like many developers have focused on the console’s portability and forgotten how versatile the Joy-Cons and their HD rumble can be. But Super Mario Party uses these features to its advantage. It’s pretty cool to see a game take advantage of the technology and show off how far we’ve come since the days of Wii-motes and waggle controls.
There are also a handful of games that can be played by putting two Switches (and two copies of the game) together, but given the logistics involved, this doesn’t seem like a feature many players will get to try.
While the controls are brand new, one feature that remains the same is the randomness, though it’s toned down significantly from previous entries. Sometimes certain players seem to get on unusual hot streaks, racking up allies, coins, and stars, but victory never quite felt out of reach during the game. Two stars are still awarded randomly at the end of each game though, and it’s never quite clear what they’re for. It could be for winning the most minigames, moving around the board the least, moving around the most, or something else entirely. It is frustrating to lose a game at the last minute due to one of these random awards.
Ultimately, these are minor quibbles for a title that has turned this franchise around. It may not be perfect, but Super Mario Party is flat out multiplayer fun.
Chris Freiberg is a freelance contributor. Read more of his work here.