In my household—and, I’ll wager, plenty of others—few videogames have caused as many rows as the Mario Party line. Sure, a well-placed shell can turn the tides of a Mario Kart race and the occasional spammed move can sometimes best a superior opponent in Smash Bros., but those are games of skill.
Mario Party, by contrast, finds players at the mercy of a roll of the dice. And even if the dice are on your side, the very game board itself is actively out to get you, with traps and penalty spaces littered dangerously around the sought-after coins and stars.
Then there are the minigames. Guaranteed at least once per round—and often supplemented by additional minigame spaces on the board—these run the gamut from eating pizza and clearing blocked roadways to dodging, drawing, and dancing. Some require forethought and precision, while others, historically, have simply seemed arbitrary and, at their very worst, cheap.
Mario Party Superstars, the twelfth installment in the franchise, doesn’t fully commit itself to shaking this reputation for randomness, but it does an admirable job of updating many of the series’ classic features for play on the Nintendo Switch by gamers of all stripes and skill levels.
While this is not Mario Party‘s first appearance on the Switch—that would be 2018’s Super Mario Party—it is the first to be released since the arrival of the new Nintendo Switch OLED Model. This is notable because the game looks positively spectacular in Vivid mode.
Far removed from the processing demands of free-roamers like Breath of the Wild, developer NDcube (a subsidiary of Nintendo) seemingly took care to make Mario Party Superstars‘ game boards and minigames as aesthetically pleasing as possible. Light and water effects, as well as subtly changing environments, are a wonder to behold, and its cast of Mushroom Kingdom characters (including Waluigi and Birdo) looks equally as attractive.
Gimme More N64
With the arrival of even more classic games on the Nintendo Switch Online service’s new Expansion Pack, there’s already been an abundance of Nintendo 64 nostalgia this week, and Superstars capitalizes on this in a unique way; the game’s five core boards are each remakes of classic game boards from the N64’s original Mario Party trilogy.
Peach’s Birthday Cake and Yoshi’s Tropical Island return from the inaugural Mario Party, Space Land and Horror Land are back from Mario Party 2, and Mario Party 3‘s Woody Woods rounds out the offerings. While returning fans will surely appreciate these old favorites, it’s worth noting that each has been smartly redesigned.
While still a relatively straightforward two-piece board adjoined by Thwomp-guarded footbridges, Yoshi’s Tropical Island is now much more lively and vibrant, and it’s a joy to explore even for first-timers. The day/night cycle and ghostly scares of the more challenging Horror Land also greatly benefit from this new graphical fidelity, and it’s become an easy family favorite.
The (Other) Top 100
Like 2017’s 3DS outing Mario Party: The Top 100, Mario Party Superstars likewise draws its 100 madcap minigames from the series’ previous installments. Encompassing 1 vs. 3, 2 vs. 2, Free-for-All, and the occasional duel (1 vs. 1) formats, these range from old standards to… “Uh, that one.”
Much has been made, for example, of the inclusion of the dreaded Tug o’ War. However, with explicit gameplay instructions and the nicely responsive Joy-Con configuration (all minigames are designed to be played with button controls), I think we can avoid a class-action lawsuit this time around.
For those who want to try and recapture their glory days or finely focus their gameplay experience, you can limit the pool of minigames to that of a single style or system, those being Family, Action, Nintendo 64, GameCube, or—wait for it—Skill. Yes, it is entirely possible, by using a limited minigame pack and disabling the Bonus Stars, to have a purely skill-based game of Mario Party Superstars.
I mean, you’re still contending with the dice and your cutthroat opponents, but you can excise practically all additional Mario Party wackiness by tweaking no more than these two settings.
Good Clean Fun
I am the first to admit that Mario Party games aren’t for everyone, but Superstars goes out of its way to provide the most accessible experience possible. Whether in offline play on a single system, local play with other nearby users, or online, it’s easy to pick your poison as well as your partners.
The traditional Mario Party experience allows equal flexibility, and from 10-turn half-hour affairs to 30-turn 90-minute marathons, there are plenty of options here surely suited to your family’s free time. You can adjust the aforementioned Bonus Stars to decrease (or increase) the randomness with which additional stars are distributed, and easily enable Minigame Help screens to keep all players on a more level playing field.
Once you’ve racked up those victory coins, you can access the Toad Shop from the main menu to spend your hard-earned lucre on new stickers to cheer on or taunt your fellow players, as well as new music tracks and card designs. And if the basic board game format begins to bore you, Mt. Minigames is there to cut to the chase with bonus minigame modes like Sports and Puzzles, online single-player Survival, and the rotating Daily Challenge.
The Data House rounds out the experience, making it easy to chart your achievements, including any unlockables, and a special user-specific Mario Party Card to showcase your playing prowess.
In some ways, Mario Party Superstars is the most Mario Party of all Mario Party games; it heavily mines the series’ history for both its overall inspiration and core content, making it a blast from the past for those in need of a solid shot of nostalgia.
On the other hand, it’s also brave enough to buck convention, or, rather, to allow its players to control how much of that trademark Mario Party randomness they’d like to allow in any given gaming session.
Regardless of which way you choose to play, Mario Party Superstars arrives on store shelves and on the Nintendo Switch eShop this Friday, October 29th, making it the perfect pickup for the upcoming holiday season.