The Mario Party franchise has been considered one of the best couch co-ops experiences you can have with a video game ever since its debut on the Nintendo 64. With its simple to pick up board game aesthetic accompanied by its hectic minigames has helped it to attract a wide range of players over the years.
While Mario Party has had a presence on almost every mainline Nintendo console since its inception in 1998. The quality of the franchise’s more recent iterations has been varied, with releases like Mario Party 9 & 10 diverging too far from the series’ competitive roots. Going for more teamwork driven gameplay that was never received so warmly by the game’s fanbase. The last game in the series was released on the Switch, Super Mario Party was a good return to form for the series. By going back to a more traditional style of play that the series had been primarily known for. However, it was bogged down by too many tertiary mechanics and a core gameplay loop that could get tired before a game with it was finished. A game of Super always left me feeling that there was the potential for something so much greater. I can happily say developers ND Cube have met that potential with their newest game, Mario Party Superstars.
Mario Party Superstars is the video game equivalent of a band’s “greatest hits” album. With Superstars taking a lot of the best elements from the previous games in the series. With the game’s 5 playable boards being recreations of some of the most fun stages from the series’ Nintendo 64 entries. Boards like Horror Land and its spooky vibe of ghosts and giant eyeballs contrast well with the beachy atmosphere of Yoshi’s tropical island. While the selection is smaller than the classic games, each of the boards chosen have their own unique design elements and gameplay gimmicks to them. With each stage feeling like it can always add its own blend of excitement to each turn but never overstepping itself. Superstars doesn’t bog players down as the game’s predecessor had the tendency to do. Where stage gimmicks could dictate the flow of the game. Personally, I feel like the game should have included at least one more board to increase the number from 5 boards to 6. But I can’t knock the smart selection of boards that the game decided to include.
Along with old boards returning, Superstars brings with it over 100 minigames all taken from the series 20 plus year history. Free-for-alls, 2v2s, 1v3s, 1v1s, and battle minigames have been recreated with modern graphics but still have that old magic to them. With each minigame displaying which title in the series it was returning from along with a lil drawing of the console it debuted on too. It gives this feeling of honoring not just Mario Party’s history as a series, but for Nintendo’s past as well.
While not all of the returning minigames are always going to have you excited to replay them. (I’d argue that Piranha’s Pursuit should’ve stayed on the Nintendo 64.) It does however show off the strengths of the series’ real winners. That even two decades later games like Bumpers Balls or Shy Guy Says are still a blast to play.
The gameplay of Superstars has been trimmed down when it comes to how it stacks up to the past entries, but in a good way. Retired are character specific dice, buddy spaces, motion controlled minigames, orbs and other unneeded gameplay elements. All you got this time around is your wit, a handful of items, and a (hopefully) lucky dice roll. I can say though, this back to basics approach is the smartest thing the developers could’ve done. Really offering an all killer no filler style that makes it so that it never feels like a game drags on for too long.
My time playing Mario Party Superstars was with three friends and to me that is absolutely the ideal way to play this game. Being able to soak in the chaos as you all are trying to claw, scheme, and steal your way to first place. Is definitely the most fun you can possibly get from a game like Mario Party. A notable new inclusion to the madness is stickers, which you’d think wouldn’t be much of note. But when you get one of your stars stolen, only to have the person who did it lay down a loud “CONGRATS!” sticker. It’s a simple, but effective way to increase tension between players. Sure it may lead to some real world violence but hey, that’s just a part of the party.
The genuine reactions it can get out of a group of people is what I’ve always appreciated about Mario Party and it’s something that Superstars has recaptured. How one wrong roll of the dice can have someone shaking in fear. Then having another player cheering because they were lucky enough to get a star from a hidden block. Rage, sadness and excitement, not every game can have you feeling in a 30 minute timeframe. But with a good game of Mario Party, it’s always guaranteed.
Now if you can’t get friends over there are still other options for yourself. You can either play against three computer players or use Mario Party’s online multiplayer mode. While it may be serviceable, Nintendo’s less than ideal online experiences may make minigames that offer pinpoint precision a much more unfair challenge.
It may have been easy to knock this game for leaning so heavily on the franchise’s past. But when it is done with as much care and detail that it has been with this game. It’s hard not to view it all as a celebration of just how good Mario Party can be. This is because just like with any other good board game you can find out there. Even though the pieces you play with are the same, the time you’ll have with them will always be different. In the case of Mario Party Superstars, the time you’ll spend with it is guaranteed to be a fun one too.