Mario Party has long divided fans, and that’s never been more true than in the recent instalments. But this time around the changes and additions are sensible, with real innovation on show in a quality series entry.
ND Cube have been the team responsible for the Mario Party series since 2012, and it’s probably fair to say their record has been decidedly mixed. While the old board-game-inspired formula of the first eight instalments was due a change, the more recent innovations haven’t always met with acclaim. The characters sharing a single cart during the board segments in Mario Party 9 was a misstep, and subsequent games have failed to make much impact in terms of criticism or sales.
Star Rush continues the record of altering the formula, although it certainly nods to the classics. The game’s basic mode is Toad Scramble, a four-player battle to collect coins and stars on a number of relatively small boards. These aren’t as extensive as the classic courses and are intended to be played more as levels than as long games in their own right.
As an interesting departure from the typical gameplay, players must occasionally team up to do battle with iconic bosses from the Mario series. These themed mini-games see the victor decided on points gained during a cooperative approach to the challenge, rather than direct competition against one another. The boss battles are inventive and entertaining, as well as a worthy addition.
As the player progresses through the game, they gain experience and level up to unlock new game modes and playable characters. The amount of unlockables is decent – even reasonably skilled players will need a few hours to have the full roster of characters. This is a clever method of extending gameplay time, although it does mean it’s tricky to get the full experience of multiplayer out of the box.
Some of the unlockable modes offer quite interesting challenges, and perhaps the best is Coinathlon, the first unlockable. In this mode, the player races against opponents round a track laid out like a traditional Mario Party board. For each coin they gather in a rotating lineup of one-minute mini-games, they advance a space, and the first player to complete three laps is the victor. It’s a great option for single player or for on-the-go play given the fast pace of the games, and comparisons to Wario Ware would be both fair and accurate.
In all modes, the sensible decision has been taken to have all characters roll their dice blocks and move simultaneously, which speeds up movement and turn taking considerably. This comes into its own in Balloon Bash, the most traditional of the modes, where players travel the maps seeking to buy stars with collected coins. Though the maps are non-linear and the turns sped up, it will be an easy shift for those who haven’t played Mario Party in some time.
The mini-games themselves are well put together, with a large variety of gameplay styles and game concepts. Plenty could be expanded into eShop games in their own right, particularly the pinball mini-game. One standout mini-game had the task of sliding down a slope snowboard-style and collecting coins along the way – while there are 3DS-throwing moments when you slam into Wigglers and drop back 20 spaces, pulling off some SSX-style moves is definitely satisfying. It may have been casually ripped off from Sonic 2’s bonus stages, but remains an endlessly replayable challenge.
Visually, the game does a good job at squeezing a lot of performance from the 3DS and easily matches the later Wii games for quality. The visual design of the mini-games is consistently clear and helpful, and helps make them very quick to pick up.
Star Rush does, however, suffer from the same issue that plagues many other 3DS games – the lack of any use for the 3D functionality. Indeed, in some mini-games – such as one in which the player is tasked with catching Cheep Cheeps using a giant hand – the additional dimension can make the game more frustrating to play, as well as eating into the battery life.
For those with a New 3DS, the game is compatible with a wide range of Mario Amiibo, which add bonus characters to each of the game modes. These might not be great for game balance since they often make the game significantly easier, but aesthetically they’re a nice touch – and few games aren’t improved by the addition of Diddy Kong.
The audio is roughly as we’ve come to expect from Mario spin-off titles at this point. The soundtrack comprises a selection of perky tunes evoking Koji Kondo’s original score, but sadly without any particular stand-out moments.
Mario Party: Star Rush represents a solid entry in the Mario spin-off series. While it doesn’t exactly take many risks, it takes a well-trodden formula and creates a basic, enjoyable player experience. It would be best played with friends, although this raises the constant spectre of the wisdom of party games on handheld systems. If the 3DS’ release schedule of late has left you cold, Mario Party: Star Rush is a reminder that Nintendo’s first party library will always be worth some loyalty.