Over twenty years ago, at the dawn of 3D video games, Nintendo released spin-off to the Mario series, Mario Party. The side franchise would go on to have eleven core games across five generations of consoles, three side games on portables, and much more. After the last two failed attempts that shall not be named, we have finally been given the first true Mario Party game in eleven years, Super Mario Party for the Nintendo Switch.
Like most multiplayer games on the Switch, SMP can be played with singular Joy-Cons. In fact, it can only be played with single Joy-Cons. So, Pro Controller and Duel Joy-Con fans, I’m afraid you’re out of luck here. This means that two sets of Joy-Cons are needed for a full 4-player game, which, to be fair, only costs another $80, or you can just buy the new SMP + Joy-Con Bundle pack for $100, which does save one $40. However, the real reason for the single Joy-Con play is Nintendo’s attempt to market the Switch as a “social console’. It’s wonderful in theory, and usually works in practice, but when it comes to Joy-Con controls, the issue always comes down to comfort, something Nintendo has already been criticized for with other games that use the control scheme. While comfort grips do exist for single Joy-Cons, because of how SMP is played, switching between vertical and horizontal orientations constantly, the comfort grips don’t really make sense here. So, people with bigger hands, such as myself, are still stuck playing with a controller meant for a child’s hands. But then, this is a game designed with children in mind, to be fair.
Controller issues aside, SMP is the party game the Switch seriously needed, and the shot in the arm the series has been waiting for since the release of MP7 in 2005. Every mode is unique and engaging, whether you have no friends, or a few acquaintances that like to play video games together. SMP gives us the return of OG Mario Party Mode, which has received a beautiful makeover with some updates. Additionally, team battle now has its own mode in Partner Party. There’s also Sound Stage, a mode that features rhythm-based motion controlled games. SMP also gives us the series’ first 4P co-op mode, River Survival. Then there’s the mandatory single-player mode, Challenge Road, which has players fight their way through 80 challenges based on every single mini-game from every other modes. Additionally, there is, of course, the Mini-Game Mode which includes a free play mode to play every mini-game at one’s leisure, and the Mariothon, SMP’s answer to the Decathlon from games past. There’s also Toad’s Rec Room which includes puzzles for multiple Switch systems, and the Sticker Room where the player can screw around with Stickers they’ve earned.
Mario Party: Life’s a Party
The mode that started it all, all those years ago. The broken friendships, the vile tricks, the screaming, the chaos. Party mode is back, and it’s better than ever. Good old-fashioned dice rolls with individual movement make their return. But, it has been a while, and things change, and Party Mode is no different. First, each character now gets the option of two dice; the Normal which only rolls 1-6, or character-specific Character Dice, which can roll anything from 0 to 10, with varying probabilities. For example, Shy Guy’s die has a 1/6 chance of getting a 0, or a 5/6 chance of rolling a 4. Some characters, like Rosalina, can roll for a coin gain, and others, like Bowser, have a chance to roll for a coin loss. This adds a uniqueness to this version of Party Mode in that there is now actual strategy involved when choosing your character. There are real advantages and disadvantages. Bowser can roll a 10, but he might also roll that -3 coin instead. Koopa Troopa can also roll a 10, but he’s more likely to roll a 1, however, at least he still moves. It leaves the game open to a lot of experimentation, to find the Character Die one likes working the with the best, how much risk/reward you’re willing to work with.
This new version of Party Mode has strategy sure; but it’s biggest changes worked to streamline the game, allowing the players to focus more on the game itself and having fun with each other. The major flaws are in the nerfing of the underdog. Whereas in the past, the guy in last place could sneak up from behind by winning a few Duels or Battle Mini games, much of those mechanics have been altered to point that’s nearly an impossibility. Which, made me a little sad. Despite this, I still really enjoyed my time playing each board to the bitter end.
Partner Party: Friends Who Kill together… Shouldn’t be friends
Team Battle has always been a thing in Mario Party. The concept was two teams of two against each other. Each team pooled coins, stars, and items, starting with twenty coins. Meaning, teams could usually purchase a star right away. Furthermore, mini-games are restricted to only 4P and 2v2. And that is where the similarities end in SMP. First, each team only starts with a total of three coins, not enough for a star right away. Not just that, but in Partner Party, the boards are laid out in a sort of grid, allowing the player to move in any of four directions at any time, according to the total number rolled by both partners’ dice. Other concepts from Mario Party Mode carry over, such as Allies and Special Events. However, Red and Blue spaces are gone and some Events require board-specific items to activate. Additionally, to purchase stars, the player must be able to land exactly on the Star Space. And the Star only moves after both players on the team finished their turns.
This is certainly an interesting take on the Team Battle concept, made into its own play mode. I really enjoyed the basic idea behind. However, I found it to still be a little unpolished. For example, key thematic Special Events now require board-specific items to activate, something that wasn’t necessary in the regular Party Mode. Requiring items in such a way seemed like a weird way to inject challenge into this mode when it’s already hard enough to fight basic probability and land on the star space when it’s literally right next me. Right there. It’s right there. Just give me a four so I can- nevermind the CPUs took it. Those jerks. But, other than my friends and CPUs stealing stars from under my nose, I really did have a lot fun playing around in this mode. I hope it returns in the future, but with a little more polish.
River Survival: One for all and One for Not Drowning
A four-player co-op mode in Mario Party is something I never thought I’d see, let alone a good one. But here we are, twenty years later, such a mode exists. And weirdly enough, it really fun and engaging. Assuming you like your friends, that is.
River Survival drops four compatriots into a raft and has them fight the river and its hoards of Cheep-Cheeps, rocks, and Bloopers to make it the end. This is a timed event, with the game being over when the clock strikes zero. To prevent the zero hour, players can play ranked mini-games, or earn three-second clock items from the river. The mini-games were honestly the only points where I found fault with the mode and even then it came down my own basic craptastic skills with video games. Can’t win them all, as it is said. Despite that, I still really enjoyed my time on the virtual river. I keep coming back for more, because I’m a bit of a video game sadist.
Sound Stage: Rhythm and Blues
If you ever wanted to find out if you or your friends are tone deaf, there are plenty of other rhythm-based games out there, most of them motion-controlled these days. Rhythm-based motion-controlled games are nothing new, not even in the Mario universe. There was an officially licensed Mario Dance Dance Revolution on the GameCube back when DDR and the GCN were at the peak of their popularities. So, this concept is an old one, not even made new, unfortunately. I didn’t need to know I was tone deaf when I was 16, and I really didn’t need the reminder 13 years later.
I didn’t hate the rhythm mini-games, but I didn’t like them either. I more just didn’t understand why we needed a revival of the genre. So, I can’t catch a beat. I’ve known that since I was 10 when my mother forced me to learn the flute, and I don’t need a video game to remind me of my shame. But even if I could catch a beat, I would still find myself wondering why the Switch needs a rhythm game. And sure, it’s not a full game, just a side mode in Super Mario Party, but still. Why? It’s not really a gimmick anymore considering that the Switch already has Let’s Sing 2018 among others. And, being based in rhythm, there’s really not much one can do creatively from a design or challenge aspect. All the mini-games come down to just shaking the joy-con to the beat. You don’t even have to hold it correctly. The game is programmed to only recognize the x-axis (lateral) or y-axis (vertical) movement of the controller, depending on the game. That’s literally all you have to do. Just tap to the beat! Even for people like myself who couldn’t recognize a rumble pattern if their lives depended on it, after a little practice, you’ll get it to. And then promptly stop playing after everything’s unlocked because unlike the other modes, I got really bored with the concept really fast.
Challenge Road: The Path to Destiny
Super Mario Party, if you couldn’t tell by now, is an interesting mixed bag of challenge and cool proofs-of-concept for the series. Except for Sound Stage. But Challenge Road, though, is the peak of this game’s innovation and, well, challenge. First things first, for better or worse, this is SMP’s version of the single-player story/battle mode other versions of the game have had in the past. But, unlike in the previous games, Challenge mode doesn’t really have a plot, beyond just reaching the goal and beating all 80 challenges based on the 80 different mini-games from every single mode, except for Toad’s Rec Room.
Challenge mode is quite honestly, a lot of fun to play, if you have nobody to else around to play with, or have a cheering squad waiting with bated breath. Alcohol helps too. I mean, some of those challenges are HARD. Especially the stupid Sound Stage challenges, but that’s mostly because I don’t know what rumble patterns are, as previously discussed. Though, other challenges are easy. It’s not a complete progressive difficulty, as one might expect from such a play mode. Which I really liked about it. Sometimes you got a break, sometimes you had a chug a beer, crack your knuckles and tap the joy-con like you life depends on the beat. The only real problems I had with this mode was the lack of multiplayer support. It just seemed odd to me that the whole of the game is so focused on 4P support for every other mode, but this one mode is only for single player. It’s an odd design choice, sure, but the mode is still a lot of fun.
The Rest of the Enchilada
As mentioned, the only remaining modes are Toad’s Rec Room, the Sticker Room, and Mini-Games modes. These modes, except for Mini Games mode, all have to be unlocked by playing through the other modes first.
Toad’s Rec Room features some unique puzzle games. Each of these games is designed to be played in the Switch’s Portable Mode, on a table top. Most of the games are compatible with multiple switch systems, so long as they all have SMP on them. They are all extremely unique and a lot of fun to fool around with.
The Sticker Room features four backgrounds based on the Party Boards that can then be adorned with stickers. Stickers are unlocked by either answering a random trivia question from Birdo, or by purchasing from the Party Pad. It’s a time-waster if nothing else. Nothing truly special.
Mini-Game mode, which has been around since the beginning is here, but with some minor changes. Unlike past versions in the series, Mini-Game mode only has two sub-modes; Free Play and the Mariothon. Free Play allows for the free play of all unlocked mini-games. It’s fun for some practice, but that’s about it.
Challenge Road is thing, and includes all the mini-games with added challenges, which is much more fun, in my opinion, granted it is exclusively single-player. Mariothon is a version of the Decathlon that was in past versions of Mario Party.
It hasn’t received any major update beyond the name change, and includes the option of three preset cups with five mini-games each. There’s also a custom option to pick the games you want. This is of course also an online option for this mode. It’s a lot of fun. If you ever want to see what an infinite time limit for certain mini-games felt like, this the mode for you to play around with. The point scaling system is still weird and misunderstood as it was in the past, but the better you do the more points you get seems to general idea behind it.
And the verdict is…
Super Mario Party is a great party game. It took advantage of the inherit nostalgia the Mario Party series has, and then gave a much-needed facelift. The old mechanics feel new and fresh, and a bit more refined. The new stuff is wonderful and fits seamlessly with the rest of