NDCube finally rolled a high number in their party.
Mario Party. The very name invokes fear into nearly every player who has had the honor (and misfortune) of playing a round. Whether you’ve thrown the virtual dice just a handful of times, or are a veteran partygoer, you’re likely aware of the ups and downs the series is known for. The best titles are the ones where players rage against their friends, forming strategic alliances, and sacrificing lifelong friendships. The worst ones pit players against the endurance of the randomness the series revels in, whilst removing the quirks that give players some control of the odds. NDCube’s latest offering is the second in the series to grace the Nintendo Switch, this time promising to capitalize on the parties of long ago, as it harkens back to the Nintendo 64 era. Make no mistake, the series has been in decline for nearly a decade outside of its mini-games. But this time around, NDCube hasn’t pulled their punches, instead delivering a top-notch experience that gives a level of meta context to this Mario-themed celebration.
In 2017, the Nintendo 3DS received, “Mario Party: The Top 100.” This handheld experience promised to bring the 100 best mini-games that the series is known for into one singular title. There was only a single, uninspired game board for players to play the minigames on, however, which polluted the context for the mini-games. Its mixed reception left it as a fairly forgotten excursion, a real wasted opportunity. This time around, the concept has returned with 100 familiar mini-games (that are not the exact same as the 3DS title), and more excitingly, remastered game boards from the Nintendo 64 era. Mario Party Superstars is rolling in nostalgia, and it wants you to know it.
From the attempts at recreating the original game’s main menu, to the narrative of which character is the coveted “Superstar” (whatever that means), down to showing screenshots of the context for each game board—even if you haven’t played the N64 games, the gameplay is a return to the traditional style of gameplay that was utilized in the Nintendo GameCube and Wii eras. Players each take turns moving around a game board collecting coins, trying to buy stars, and then competing in mini-games to screw one another over. The mini-games are from all ten numbered-titles in the series as well, and they look fantastic here. Each looks to be handcrafted to match its source material, with a new HD sheen. I could tell that corners were not cut in the visuals department. From the lighting used to the material textures, everything is really gorgeous. Characters are even just slightly more expressive; pushing other players out of the way when passing them on the board in a very passive-aggressive fashion. Not a big deal, but I did notice that the character animations were reused from the previous Switch title, Super Mario Party, which isn’t a bad thing if it means more of a focus on new content can be achieved. If I had to knock anything at all, it’d be a nitpick, and that’s a compliment. While Mario Party Superstars is using nostalgia as it’s selling point, it’s worth noting what is missing that may be obvious to fans of the prior games. Elements such as the very quirky, stylized Toad citizens of the Mushroom Village that acted as a main menu are gone. Costumes for the characters to wear have not made a return, despite being shown off in screenshots of the source material. Mini-games that had different gameplay based on the time of day are absent. Some of the mini-games even had visual gags that were cut once the mini-game was over. These are all minor elements that I imagine most might not bat an eye at. But it is something worth mentioning in a game that is capitalizing on its history and players’ nostalgia.
While Mario Party Superstars features content from yesteryear, it also puts forth an avenue to bring this content to the modern age via Nintendo’s online service. And shockingly, this is where I found the game to shine the brightest outside of its brilliant presentation. Upon booting up the game, you’re presented first and foremost with how you’d like to play: offline, locally, or online. This precedes the title screen, and sticks out as emphasis of player control over gameplay. Yes, you can truly play every single mode online, with or without friends. If a connection is lost while playing on a board game, you can pick right up where you left off. If you dawdle, a CPU will take over your spot while you scramble to get back on. The single-player focused Mt. Mini-games allow players to compete against others online for the best score, and there are friend invite systems. Various modes pit players against one another as they try to survive the most mini-games, collect the most coins, or brawl it out in sports; it's a swift and clean attempt at creating an enjoyable single player experience. I didn’t think I’d enjoy playing random strangers, but even that has been contorted into something that left me with a smile on my face. The inclusion of stickers that can be used during the game board segments are a wonderful way to taunt and communicate with others. Couple this with the light progression of leveling up your player profile to unlock more from the in-game shop, and you’re in for a fairly addicting time. As someone who has been with this series since Mario Party 4, this is a dream-come true. Of course, you will occasionally hit lag issues (I’m looking at you, “Pushy Penguins”!), but by and large I can say this is the most fun I have had with Nintendo’s online multiplayer maybe ever? Mario Party is all about playing with your friends, and while nothing can replace the joy and laughter of being with your friends in the same room, the option to finally be able to duke it out with online friends is arguably a bigger treat than the nostalgic trip the game focuses on.
So where exactly does Mario Party Superstars falter? Aside from the footnote on its pure representation of the older titles, there really wasn’t a moment where the other shoe dropped. Everything here is a grand ol’ time that I highly recommend. It has been my most played, and most enjoyed multiplayer experience since Super Smash Bros. Ultimate dropped three years ago. If anything, I just wanted more. Mario Party Superstars is quality over quantity. There is really great content here, but the entire time I could not help but think, “there could be more of this idea.” Call me greedy, but five boards still isn’t enough to satisfy even if it’s still more than Super Mario Party. I don’t know how fair it is to compare it to older titles, simply because while some of them boast seven or even eight boards, the ones here are phenomenal reimaginings of the originals, which were flat images.
As of now, there are five boards, 100 mini-games, and ten playable characters. Rumblings of DLC have been floating around, and that would be very welcome. Such rumblings invoke a greater discussion on whether a sequel should be made with the same or different mini-games, or if this title could now act as a platform for the series. It’s a tricky issue, that I don’t envy the creators having to face, but the fact of the matter is that NDCube has set a bar for themselves now that they absolutely cannot afford to go under. Whether they continue to remake older, beloved experiences, or take this success as an experience to apply to new, original content, they have won me over with this Mario Party. I suspect this get-together is one for the books.