When Mario Party debuted on the N64 in 1998 Nintendo had no idea that the concept would spawn many sequels over various console generations across multiple decades. For many gamers, it became the first game to feature tabletop board game elements and a robust mini game collection. While the general pacing issues that have always plagued the series aren’t completely addressed in this instalment, it is the most enjoyable entry I’ve played in at least a few instalments of the game. This being the first Mario Party on the Switch many interesting decisions were made to make clear to the player that the designers of this series went back to reconsider some misses of the past, and to make it more approachable to new players.
Once you start the game you’re treated to one of Nintendo’s signature cut scenes which basically crafts an unnecessary narrative justification for all of your favourite characters to come together and party. After you’ve selected which character you’d like to play, you’re given three difficulty levels with corresponding CPU characters assigned to fill in any spots (since all games are played with four characters). You can then walk around a small 3D space filled with different coloured Toads that serve as the menu for all of the modes available to choose from. Walk up to a Toad to initiate classic turn based Mario Party where you compete for stars against your opponents. Or approach the green Toad and do the River Survival challenge where you paddle downstream in a raft and beat mini games to make it to the end. It’s a fun little touch to move in a space in order to begin certain events. For those who are more into traditional menus there is also the option to select all of those options in a menu via the Party Pad which is one button press away.
There are a couple of other modes such as Sound Stage where you play a rhythm-based dance mini game which functions properly and seeks to break things up a bit, but it’s hardly compelling. Also, there is Partner Party where two players share dice rolls but go their own path which I found provided some opportunities for some interesting strategies when playing co-op in order to beat the other pair. One of the coolest features and newest additions to the series is character specific dice blocks which you can use in place of the standard die. For example, if you played as Boo you could roll a standard 1-6 like every other character, select his signature die and the values of the six sides will change to now have the chance to roll a 7. The flip side is that there is the same chance that your roll could deplete a couple of coins when you could be in need of certain number of spaces to gain on the board. I found it adds another layer to the strategy when considering how to act before a roll.
Another feature I’m happy to report is the quality of these mini games (although there are fewer than previous entries) are mostly fun and easy to get into. Once the mini game is randomly chosen during any mode, you immediately spawn into a practice screen which makes the process of learning new controls for the new mini game more streamlined. As soon as everyone feels comfortable, all player characters indicate that they are ready to begin. The thing I’m surprised by most is just how much fun this instalment is. From using the Joy-con to flip meat cubes until all sides are browned, to slapping opponents out of the way in order to shove my way into the frame of a picture being taken on a timer. There are some interesting mini games on display here. It should also be noted that the motion controls for the most part work well and are implemented in a fun and intuitive way.
While there is no proper story mode, there is a sort of progression that reveals itself once you’ve completed your first game in any mode. One of the biggest issues, I found, was the lack of different stages. There is an unlockable level, for a total of five different maps. But that’s it. I mean the different modes are a great change of pace, like the online mode which is a series first, but you’ll wish there was more to see if you really enjoy playing. Especially when it comes to Toad’s Rec Room which is the mode where you can connect two consoles. Some great ideas are presented that make for some of the best fun you could have across the entire series, but there just isn’t enough of it. While this is the best Mario Party in years, particularly for playing along with less experienced gamers and/or younger players, that might not be saying much to the gamer who was hoping that the series would take a notable step in a different direction. The only disappointment for this reviewer comes from the thought that Nintendo could always go further with certain concepts and in more of an interesting direction with others. However, if you’ve typically enjoyed this franchise and are looking for decent value and a fun, albeit short time filled with some great content, then you’re going to have a great experience with this game.
Forged in the 8 bit era, Duarte can be found quietly contemplating the future of the games industry. Wondering what the exhilaration of digital achievement will look like on the next horizon.