America - Front
America - Back
By Stephen LaGioia 29th Nov 2021 | 2,423 views
The Mario Party series has been a roller coaster ride, though one that’s largely seen a downturn in recent years. Its few showings on the Wii and its overlooked successor were viewed as tepid at best, and additions like Mini Stars and board game vehicles were net-negatives for most. Switch’s Super Mario Party brought a welcome breath of fresh air with more streamlined gameplay, refined motion controls, and other reworked elements. MP’s debut on Switch left some old-school fans yearning for a true return to form, however. And while Mario Party Superstars doesn’t exactly break new ground, it succeeds as a celebration of classic MP and, in rare form, offers a great way to play the series online. While thin on the board game front — and lacking motion controls — Mario Party Superstars still stands as the best entry since the N64 days.
Right from the get-go, ND Cube offers a plethora of fun, colorful content to bask in. 100 (mostly) memorable minigames are available out of the gate, along with a refined board game mode, and some of the best online gameplay the series has ever seen. While there’s unfortunately no solo-focused campaign or adventure mode this time around, players can get lost in a slew of fun content and face some more-than-capable bots, via board games or the minigame hub known as “Mt. Minigame.”
Of course, multiplayer is where the series has always thrived, and Superstars really hits it out of the park on this front. Up to four players can pick from ten recognizable Mario characters and clash in some of the most enjoyable minigames the franchise has to offer. Those seeking longer, deeper sessions will want to dive into the “Mario Party” pipe in the main hub, where they can pick between five of the best board games from past entries, prettied up and reworked a tad. The selection here is oddly limited, as only a handful of boards from the N64 Mario Party games are available. This was likely meant to set the stage for a trickling of new boards that could be available via DLC packs in the future.
The current line-up includes the simple-yet-charming Yoshi’s Tropical Island, the spooktacular Horror Land, and the sci-fi-tinged Space Land. While the reworked Peach’s Birthday Cake is a feast for the eyes, the weird arrangement leaves something to be desired, as does the more tepid Woody Woods. Thankfully, though, most of the boards that are available are winners. Board games are streamlined and as fun as ever to play, thanks to a few quality-of-life tweaks and additions. Included this time is the neat feature to filter minigames that are more kid-friendly, action-packed, or N64/GameCube specific.
Board game features are somewhat stripped down to resemble that classic style, while remaining balanced, deep, and enjoyable. Gone are gimmicks like item capsules, Mini Stars, and character-specific dice blocks. Instead, staples like Toad, Bowser, and Event Spaces, duel Minigames, and the intense Chance Time return to the fold.
Players can save and come back to a board game at any time, and pick from a wide range of turns spanning 10-30 in increments of five. There’s also a subtle, but appreciated inclusion that allows you to dial up the turn count while already playing (in the likely chance you’re having more fun than anticipated). Stage selection aside, the board game portion is well-crafted and serves as a nice blend of nostalgic callbacks and modern sensibilities.
Of course, the essence of Mario Party’s enjoyment is in its minigames, and this entry is just brimming with great ones to get lost in. Fans of a Millennial and Gen X persuasion are likely to be biased here, as most come from the GameCube and (especially) the N64 renditions. As someone who didn’t favor the Wii and Wii U entries, it’s still a head-scratcher that just a handful of minigames from those titles grace Superstars’ line-up. But in the humble opinion of this writer, the first four Mario Party titles had the best minigames anyway, generally speaking.
Included are hits such as Crazy Cutters, Pushy Penguins, Booksquirm, and the hunger-inducing Eatsa Pizza. There are also my two all-time favorites: the heart-pounding Mushroom Mix-Up and Bumper Balls. Perhaps it's nostalgia speaking, but I could have done with a few more classics from the original Mario Party, like Hot Bob-omb and Platform Peril. And of course, though this is a reprisal of various classics, a handful of brand new minigames would have gone a long way as well.
Still, for the most part, this is an enjoyable, robust, and well-rounded line-up of minigames. The list largely comprises the usually-chaotic free-for-all games, which are typically the most fun, but there are plenty of great 2-v-2 and 1-v-3 romps for those who like to gang up on opponents or stand proud as a lone wolf. Bobsled Run, anyone? Revisiting some old classics with this sleek new coat of paint and refined mechanics was truly a joy. It was also fun digging up a few new hidden gems I had missed (or at least forgotten) from the Wii and later GameCube era, such as Monty’s Revenge and X-Ray Payday.
Superstars allows you to filter your game selection by these types, along with more specific traits like coin-collecting games, sports/puzzles, and the intense 1-v-1 showdowns. One small but helpful feature allows you to “bookmark” minigames as favorites for easier access. A quick, streamlined “Practice Mode” also gives players a chance to find their footing following a minigame selection. This mitigates the need to desperately ask me how to play a minigame (every friggin time).
There are a few minor (mostly positive) tweaks to some of the minigames themselves too, which adds a bit of color, depth, and polish. Examples include the addition of design patterns in Mushroom Mix-Up, an “endless mode” option for Hot-Rope Jump, and a warning to avoid “rotating the joystick” in Tug o’ War, which gave competitive players palm blisters. But generally, these games play just how you remember them, and in better form than ever. The mechanics are mostly tightened up, while the sleek, cartoon visuals are both charming and pretty. It was a delight seeing the once-blocky, crude-looking minigames take on a crisp, sleek, and smooth quality that borders on Pixar level.
Gone are more experimental minigame concepts, strange gimmicks, and unique control inputs this time around. Methodical meat cube flips are replaced with button mashing, thumbstick rotations, and fast reaction times. While some might miss the lack of motion controls a la Super Mario Party, series vets should appreciate the return-to-form simplicity and solid, reliable mechanics.
At the same time, this more straightforward input and design doesn’t feel watered down, especially with the nice use of HD rumble, which adds some immersion to most minigames. Feeling that snowball roll in Snowball Sumit or Crazy Cutter’s drill can make a difference, however subtle. Strengthening the controls even more is the versatility when it comes to supported devices. Yes, unlike the specific input options of Super Mario Party, a variety of control methods are enabled. This includes one or two Joy-Cons, a Pro Controller, and even a GameCube controller. Basically, the game goes out of its way to ensure your experience is a smooth, joyous one.
While most of the minigames don’t need it, ND Cube incentivizes several playthroughs by showering players with Stars and coins, whether playing locally or online. These can be spent in the Data House to pick from an impressively long list of unlockables. While there’s almost nothing to unlock in the way of real content, the game provides a number of fun cosmetic goodies, music, and Encyclopedic pages that allow you to bask in the MP past. These items include trivial yet amusing emote stickers that can be used to express displeasure, gloat, or annoyingly spam when playing board games online.
Speaking of online content - Superstars’ online mode really does prove fun, well-crafted, and fairly deep compared to past MP renditions. Players are able to seamlessly connect to random players online, or with friends, while accessing most of the features offered in local co-op or solo play. Impressively, Superstars allows for entire board game matches with up to three other people online, and even lets players drop and rejoin while replacing them with bots.
Mt. Minigame also offers pretty robust online support, as players can delve right into several options tailored to different game types. These include coin-collecting romps, puzzle games, and 2-v-2 face-offs (which allows for guests to play on the same console). A fun - but frustrating - option is a “Survival” game, which forces you to keep a win streak going to continue.
Perhaps the neatest feature in the online realm is the constantly-changing Daily Challenges, which provide a few trios of minigames revolving around similar themes. Examples include games that stress jumping and sporting activities. These online options add loads of fun and replayability to the experience, even during the lag hiccups or freezes (which were thankfully rare). Matchmaking was sometimes a bit lengthy for my tastes, though ND Cube wisely tosses in a practice game to occupy you while waiting.
Aside from the lack of board games, solo-focused content, and new material in general, Mario Party Superstars very much excels. It's emphatically become one of the most appealing multiplayer games on Switch, and proves a high watermark in a franchise that’s been full of ups and downs. A slew of fun content, sleek presentation, QoL improvements, and solid online play make this a definitive Mario Party game. Being a sort of antithesis of the more unique, motion-heavy Super Mario Party, diehard fans of that game may be somewhat turned off by this reprisal, with its far safer approach. But if you can appreciate this one for what it is - a polished, fleshed-out homage to Golden Era-Mario Party - then this gem really shines.