REVIEW: Super Mario Party (2018)

After spending more time with Super Mario Party, I’m still left with quite a few mixed feelings. Mario Party has long been a loved Nintendo title, and we all knew it was just a matter of time until it made its Switch debut. Between the new hardware they have to work with, and the overall advances in the video game field, I was 100% ready to be blown away by this title. Over the years various additives have come and gone to each Mario Party game; some have been great leaps forward, while others are moderate to severe annoyances, and we get a little bit of a mixed bag with Super Mario Party.
Super Mario Party holds true to its roots in that the central game-play aspect is moving around a virtual game board against three other players, real or computer controlled. Unfortunately, there are only four boards to choose from, one being unlockable, and they all seem incredibly small to me. While playing a fifteen turn game (approx. 90 minutes), I always felt the boards were a little cramped, and you could easily cover the entire span multiple times in a game. This isn’t necessarily the case, as there were plenty of games where I couldn’t move more than one or two (sometimes zero) spaces forward at a time, and there are an abundance of “active” spaces to land on. So, while the boards felt small, the match still took a good while to complete, and yet I was always left thinking “That’s it?” at the end. None of the matches I played really felt satisfying.
The mini-games, of which there are 85 (not quite as many as some past iterations), were usually over exceptionally quickly, and none of them felt very challenging at all. I used to feel these little games took some measure of skill mixed in with luck, but Super Mario Party’s feel infantile. About half of the mini-games do make use of the Joy-Con functionality, which I appreciate, but even here I think there was an immense lack of difficulty. I do understand this is a “kids game,” but I’ve played various Mario Party titles throughout my life, and this is the first one that REALLY feels like a kids game, even down to how many coins it takes to get a star – 10, half the amount we usually see. There is an interesting new element added, in which every player has their own special die to use. They are all six-sided, but some people may have the options of 0, 1, 4, 4, 5, 7, as opposed to the standard die. Some people have a side that grants them coins, but no spaces moved, while others have a side that takes coins away. I’ve used my character die multiple times during every game, and I gotta say, it’s not worth it. I had about a 1% success rate; 99% of the time the die hurt my game-play rather than helped.

To its credit, Super Mario Party does give you three levels of difficulty to pick from: Normal, Hard, and Very Hard. There is also a Master Difficulty that can be unlocked, so we do have a few options to up the ante, which I appreciate. There are also various other modes and areas you can access for different gaming experiences. Sound Stage is an area that is wholly focused on rhythm and timing, while River Survival is a white water rafting experience. I actually enjoy this mode; you and three other players must paddle your way down the river, avoiding obstacles and playing through mini-games to obtain more time to make it through your adventure. There is also a Partner Party mode, in which you compete as teams of two against each other in a game of Mario Party, but instead of following the board, you move on a grid, which adds a refreshing element of strategy. So, we do see a fair amount of playability here. If you end up not really digging the standard board game aspect of Super Mario Party, you still have plenty of other options to choose from, and they’re all pretty fun. There is also the unlocking aspect to this game. There are four additional characters to unlock along with the game board and difficulty mentioned above, so if you want to play as a Koopa Kid, Dry Bones, Donkey Kong or Diddy Kong, you’ll have to complete the necessary tasks to unlock them! Lastly, we have Online Mario-thon, where you can compete in mini-games against your friends online. So while this is perfect for those competitive folks out there, as of right now, locally is the only way you can play the board game itself with friends.
I have to say, the animation in this party game is great. You get to see victory or defeat on the face of each player, respectively, and it feels closer to real emotion than the dramatized versions we’ve seen in the past. The boards are also pretty interesting. You can tell they spent a lot of time and care on these designs, as they are all incredibly unique from one another in their theme and composition. It does make it more fun to move around the board when you’re always spotting something new you hadn’t seen on your last trip through. Megafruit Paradise is actually my favorite board. It’s fun, colorful, and looks delicious. I may have to take some pointers and get a little more creative with my fruit displays next summer.
The soundtrack to Super Mario Party is precisely what you’d expect. It’s bouncy, catchy, and fits right along with every game and activity. I frequently found myself bouncing along with the music while waiting for or taking my turn, and even during mini-games. Nintendo has always been skilled with their musical use in video games, and this one is no exception. There are no great symphonic orchestras, but you’ll find yourself smiling when you hear these cute little tunes. It is definitely the perfect party music for Mario Party, an excellent contrast to the tensions that can sometimes run high as you try desperately to destroy your friends and family.

I know I’ve seemed pretty negative towards Super Mario Party; I’m just a little disappointed. I think the boards could have been a little bigger, I think the mini-games could have been a little tougher, and gosh dang it, it should take 20 coins to get a star! The Joy-Con integration with many of the mini-games is appreciated, the soundtrack is adorable and boppy, and the various modes offered add a lot to the title. In reality, I’ll continue to play this game. This isn’t one I’ll pick up daily, but I could see starting up a weekly Super Mario Party night to goof around with friends and family. It’s a fun game, but it could have been better; that’s all I’m saying. Do I recommend picking it up? Yes, it’s still a Mario Party title, and there is still plenty of fun to be had in playing it, but if you’re stuck between this and, say, Spider-Man, I’d go with Spider-Man.
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