This party is returning to form in more ways than one.
Super Mario Party is a game I'm fairly excited about. The game's Mario Party mode seems like a great mixture of the older games and Star Rush on Nintendo 3DS. In addition, it includes a bunch of unique modes with some pretty surprising ideas. There are rhythm games, co-op modes, and some unique uses of the Nintendo Switch hardware. I got to see a bunch of examples at an extended play session this past Friday. What I got to see wasn't just encouraging; I'm now pretty thrilled about what the package brings to the table.
Nintendo started by giving us a look at the Mario Party mode. The first thing I noticed is how different the board felt. What is clear from the outset is that the boards are smaller in size. Megafruit Paradise, the board we played a full game on, consists of four islands with a number of spaces on each. The way you get to different places is by utilizing pipes and bridges, which requires some careful observation. Despite the boards being smaller, they are built with that fact in mind. The events are all about approaching your rivals and staying hot on their tails. It makes the game all about close encounters. You need to know when to act, use your items, and stay ahead of the pack.
While classic Mario Party spread the players across a larger board, in this version all of your rivals are always within reach. The goal of capturing stars makes a return, and every new star brings a fast race to be the first to get it. In turn, this makes rounds on the boards high scoring games. It only took a couple of turns before players had a bunch of stars, which ensures that games don't slow to a crawl. What also helps to keep the pace up is the large number of events on these boards. Item shops and Happening, Luck, Bad Luck and Ally Spaces ensure that something remarkable occurs every turn.
As we were going through the motions, there was a gigantic smile on my face. Recent entries in the series hadn’t been able to elicit this kind of response from me. As the Mario Party games rolled around past 7, I felt a larger and larger disconnect. Everything about them started to feel less special and less concerned with making each board a real competition. Certain items like the Tornado (which steals coins) as well as the Lakitu Space (which steals coins and stars) made me aware of what the series was actually missing. The games became friendlier and less innovative as a whole with the end result being players grouped together in a car. Super Mario Party is taking gambles again, which, so far, are paying off.
What made those feelings even more apparent was the selection of minigames we got to see. In one minigame, Senseless Census, we got to count the number of Toads roaming about a train car. You had to move around, and count with the face buttons on a singular Joy-Con. Another is called Air to a Fortune, and here you try to grab coins from clouds. If two players pick the same direction with the face button, neither one gets any of the coins. It all came down to anticipating what your rival would do and reacting accordingly. The final minigame I want to highlight is called Rattle and Hmm. It is here that you had to pay attention to the HD Rumble and feel three different patterns. One of the patterns would replay, after which you had to select the correct one. Recognizing the repeating patterns becomes extremely tricky towards the end and really forces you to concentrate.
In addition to the Mario Party mode, we got an extended look at River Survival. In this four player co-op mode, you all work together to get your raft down a river. You will have to paddle as fast as you can and make progress within the time limit. Additional time can be earned by playing special minigames where communication is of the utmost importance. Depending on how points you earn or how quickly you finish the task at hand, the players will get rewarded with a rank that determines how much time the team will earn. An S-rank, for example, will net you 40 extra seconds on the clock. As you move further down the river, the obstacles become more hostile and earning more time is the only way you will make it to the end.
The minigames themselves come in the form of balloons. By popping these, you are transported to the explanation screen of a minigame. It is here that you can practise said minigame before you start. In the first game we played, Home on the 'Rang, we had to throw boomerangs to destroy parts of Pokey's body. Normal parts scored you one point, while the head got you three. In another one, called Net Worth, the idea was to throw up a net all at once by raising your Joy-Con in unison. By doing so, you would throw a bunch of Cheep Cheeps in a pool behind you. This really required us to count down and coordinate every move we did. Another example I'd like to give is for a minigame called Isthmus Be the Way. Each of us had to carry a big ball of fireworks passed a walking circuit and hand it over to the next player, relay style. This becomes intense quickly as the paths are brutal, and falls will you lose precious time.
The way we rooted for each other felt different than other Mario Party experiences. Naturally, there was the Bowser Mode in Mario Party 10, but that felt really half-baked. There were just a few minigames in that mode, and it was the regular board game outside of that. River Survival, on the other hand, is about discussing and coordinating every little thing you do, which adds a unique twist to the Mario Party formula. Honestly, it seems much closer to the group games in a game like Wii Party U, which is a title I just adored. Even in Wii Party U, the minigames never felt as tightly integrated in a gameplay mode like we got to see in Mario Party 11. The developers took what worked before, and added plenty of layers on top of it. I came away feeling quite impressed in some regards.
The final two games we played were found in Toad's Rec Room. The first game was Banana, Split. This game uses two Nintendo Switch systems to create a puzzle environment. You would slide both systems around and line up them up to create the correct pattern. These patterns are displayed with bananas and become trickier as you complete them. Another game was Shell Shocked Deluxe. This was the game showcased in the title's initial trailer at E3 2018. With two Nintendo Switch screens, you will be able to create a battlefield where teams of two duke it out in tanks. The goal is to shoot through the blocks, and make sure your shots hit the opponent. By doing so, you score points that are tallied up at the end. The ways you can set up the screens and create new fields to play on is absolutely unique. I found it most enjoyable to put it into a V-shape and see who would make the first move.
After I finished my Super Mario Party session, it sort of hit me. Super Mario Party is a fantastic showcase of what the Joy-Con and the Nintendo Switch itself can do. Think about it. Super Mario Party uses the notion of a singular Joy-Con to a fantastic degree with various modes of play. In addition, it brings new ideas by implementing two Nintendo Switch consoles for the Rec Room games. You work with or battle against each other in various modes that can be enjoyed any way you prefer. The game admirably tries to give the players freedom of play with a variety of options and games. Naturally, it remains to be seen if the game will continue to entertain, but I'm very pleased with what Nintendo has shown me so far.