Super Mario Party review: Nintendo proves it can throw a party like no other

I have a love/hate relationship with the Mario Party series. The last Mario party I attended with any great regularity was 2002’s Mario Party 4 on GameCube. It’s here I also got my fill of his events and vowed never to commit again.

Save for a dabble with Mario Party 7 and Mario Party 10, I’ve succeeded – until now. With Super Mario Party coming to Nintendo Switch it was time to reassess my relationship with Nintendo’s long-running take on a virtual board game.

Needless to say, Super Mario Party is fantastic. It’s everything any Mario Party fan could want and, while it still has moments that make my blood boil with frustration, it’s all very good fun. Plus, if you’re a stickler for Nintendo characters high-fiving, having fun and showing their emotions, you’ll lap up what Super Mario Party has to offer in an instant.

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Super Mario Party review: Minigame mania

As you’d expect of a Mario Party game, Super Mario Party is absolutely stuffed full of mini-games and distractions. There’s even a vague goal to work towards, rather than simply playing through games for the sheer hell of it.

The biggest difference with Super Mario Party to the various other parties Mario has held in the past is just how streamlined the whole affair is. Super Mario Party may contain a slew of new attractions, such as “River Survival” and “Sound Stage”, but it’s actually as close to the series roots as we’ve seen in previous years. Stages certainly aren’t quite as hectic as in past entries, although there are still hazards and foibles to watch out for, but that simply allows for Super Mario Party’s 80 all-new mini-games to really shine.

Unlike Mario Party 6’s bizarre inclusion of a microphone, Super Mario Party makes great use of the Nintendo Switch’s Joy-Con features to create a wide array of smart games to play. While some are simply tweaks of classic Mario Party games, others ask you to tilt, twist and flick Joy-Cons; feel for slight vibrations and tactile cues and even pretend the controller is an oar or a marching baton. Just like the best Nintendo Switch games so far, Super Mario Party really makes you enjoy and appreciate the uniqueness of the console.

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There’s also the clever Toad’s Rec Room section that, while conjuring up unwanted images of a certain individual every time you see him, is great fun. In here you’ll find a slew of mini-games that require the use of two Switch systems to enjoy. They’re smart and, in some respects, somewhat magical in how they work so seamlessly between Switch systems.

Unfortunately, because they require two Switches, the games are generally locked away in the Rec Room rather than unleashed in the main multiplayer modes, which is a shame. Thankfully it’s really just a distraction from the main game mode if anything else.

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Super Mario Party review: There’s more to a party than a Mario Party

So, I suppose we should really talk about Super Mario Party’s Mario Party mode – the classic board game reimagined. It’s basically the Mario Party you remember, and the boards themselves are good fun to play on although, as mentioned earlier, they don’t feel quite as hectic. The real change this time around for Super Mario Party is the addition of character-specific special die and the introduction of ally spaces to shake up how games play out.

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Each character has their own special die that can be used at the start of each turn. These dice come with their own positives and negatives to offer a risk/reward side to play. For instance, Daisy’s special die only rolls 3’s and 4’s meaning that, while she’ll never get high numbers, she also won’t be stuck in a single spot. Another character’s die offers a mighty 10 as its top roll, but also has the risk of moving nowhere or even losing coins.

Tactical use of these dice can really make the difference in a match, helping you storm ahead of the competition or avoid traps and tricks when used correctly. Ally spaces also let you make use of other character’s die by letting you recruit a non-playing character into your team. Not only can you then use the die of that allied character, but they also have a chance to add between 1 to 3 extra spaces onto your die roll. Again, it sounds game-breaking, but something about it all just works together rather well.

So, while it’s clear that Mario Party mode is the main aspect of the game, Nintendo has also introduced two other major modes to play through. These slightly speedier games take the form of the aforementioned River Survival and Sound Stage modes.

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Put simply, River Survival is like a game of Outrun in a rubber dingy. As a team of four, it’s up to you to steer down a continually forking river against the clock. On your way, you need to pop balloons to play team-based mini-games and earn more time. Working together is key and with each fork of the river new obstacles appear and the difficulty increases. While not overly difficult, it throws the more tense aspect of Super Mario Party right into your face for about 15 to 20 minutes.

Sound Stage, on the other hand, is a little bit like a bizarre rhythm take on Wario Ware. With three difficulty levels to play through, it asks you to stick to the beat by fist pumping with a Joy-Con in hand. It then unleashes a set of short mini-games, all of which have rhythm at their core. It’s tiring and a little bit of an odd addition but, as with everything Super Mario Party, is incredibly fun to get stuck into.

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Super Mario Party review: The party aftermath

So far, so good. And, in all honesty, there’s really very little to dislike about Super Mario Party. It delivers on all of its promises and keeps a smile plastered on your face, even when you get completely screwed over by the computer. Heck, it’s surprising you can still keep smiling even when you lose out because the Super Mario Party overlords decided to award the player who moved the least or had the worst luck instead of simply accepting the fate of the board. When that happens, and oh boy does it happen, you’ll find yourself wondering what being in the lead for the last hour really meant, especially when victory is stolen from your grip so callously. I’m not bitter, who said I was bitter?

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There are also some issues with Super Mario Party’s AI opponents. On “normal” difficulty it feels as if they continually make dumb decisions and don’t try in mini-games. While this is understandable in helping people win, it also feels a bit like a slap in the face. Knock it up to Very Hard, however, and you’ll find yourself continually on the receiving end of a smackdown as the AI happens to roll near-perfect rolls and steamroll through mini-games every round. Perhaps a little bit of balancing is in order.

Super Mario Party also still suffers from really only being a multiplayer game. If you’re flying solo and don’t have access to Nintendo Switch Online for some online mini-game battles, there’s really not a lot for you here. Nintendo even seems to be making it deliberately awkward for solo players by not allowing play in handheld mode. Yes, you’re only able to play Super Mario Party in Tabletop or TV modes due to its reliance on individual Joy-Cons. It’d be fine if it simply eliminated incompatible mini-games so you could just dip your toe in while on the bus, but as it is, you can’t – and that’s a big disappointment.

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Super Mario Party review: Verdict

Despite its shortcomings, then, Super Mario Party really is an absolute gem of a game. It embraces everything that makes a modern Nintendo game just so great. It oozes personality and charm, and when playing with three other people it’s an absolute blast and a must-have for anyone who loves madcap fun with friends.

It is not, however, a game you need in your life if you rarely ever use your Switch unless you’re by yourself. It’s also somewhat more expensive than you might think, given that it only works when played with Joy-Con controllers.

But, if you have a love for even the occasional bit of multiplayer Switch fun, or you know others with Switches so you won’t have to fork out another £70 for a pair of Joy-Cons, then Super Mario Party is a Switch must have. Once again Nintendo shows that it’s more than capable of breathing new life into old favourites on Nintendo Switch.

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