Party like it’s 1999 with the greatest hits from the series in Mario Party Superstars. With five classic board games, ten playable characters and all modes available to play online, can the twelfth instalment in the series take home the most stars or will there be temper tantrums to rival those of Bowser Jr? Who knows, it may just take the cake.
For over 20 years, we’ve been partying with Mario and friends. From tears of joy to those of utter despair, the final few rounds of a board game can ruffle the feathers of even the most stoic of individuals. With Mario Party Superstars, it’s no different. There’s always that one character who everyone gangs up on (sorry Birdo), one that always lands on Bowser spaces and genuinely just has the worst luck in the world (that’s a-me, Luigi) and one that just keeps getting pipped to the post every time a star moves either in front or behind them (aw no, Yoshi!). The good news is that it’s generally anyone’s game, since even the most skilled players can falter when push comes to shove.
In Mario Party Superstars, fans can finally rejoice as the entire game is centred on boards and minigames, with Mushroom Village (from the original Mario Party) returning as the hub. No gimmicks, no party cars, no motion controls – just freedom and flexibility. For example, you can play with a pro controller, classic GameCube controller and in handheld or tabletop modes. Plus, there are plenty of options to customise your gameplay. Between classic and default bonus stars, the ability to toggle the CPU level (with master unlocked from the beginning), six types of minigame ‘bundles’ to choose from, and the option to pop a handicap on for less-able players are all a major win in our book. Not to mention the strategic and unique ways players can use items around the board (Super Warp Blocks, Mushrooms to cancel Cursed Dice and more) to really turn the tide.
With five classic boards making a return from the N64 era, developer NDcube has remade each of them from the ground up with excellent design flair and adorable animations. Take Yoshi, for instance, with his little tail wag and gleeful cheer each time it’s his turn is super cute, while Luigi wallows in his own misery twiddling his thumbs when a minigame is lost. Even the Shy Guy speed-chaser animations in Space Land, the Cheep Cheep Chomp swallowing Toadette in Yoshi’s Tropical Island, and the Piranha Plant’s revenge in Peach’s Birthday Cake are hilarious to watch. It’s these small yet memorable moments that make Superstars a joy to play.
Another excellent addition is the amount of minigames available. Up to 100 minigames can be played with a fantastic variety of 2v2, 1v3, dual and free-for-all games from the entire Mario party (1 to 10) series. Re-experience games like Bumper Balls, Hot Rope Jump, Shy Guy Says and Sneak & Snore, with the odd few able to set on different stages or via an ‘endless mode’.
While the majority of minigames are fun to play, games like Tug of War and Cast Aways are problematic. This is mainly due to the unchanged controls, which require players to rotate the left stick quickly, making gameplay farcical. In fact, in the Mt. Minigames mode during Trio Challenge (strictly 1v3 minigames), Tug of War is almost impossible in solo mode due to the forced gameplay mechanics. These game styles even offer a ‘warning’ to players before progressing due to the skin friction burns you may encounter. Why NDcube did not enable an optional setting to change these controls feels like a major oversight.
There are other issues afoot too. Although rare, some minigames can glitch and often render them unplayable, forcing players to exit. We experienced it in Cheep Cheep Chase where the winner was able to dive under the stone slabs and then unable to exit, resulting in a softlock. And while the CPU players offer much challenge in Master mode, the difficulty feels unbalanced in favour of the AI, which is a real problem in Trio Challenge.
Outside of these areas though, Superstars offers a plethora of options for solo, local and online multiplayer modes. New features include a suspend function so that you can return to a Mario Party game in progress (though only one board can be placed in this save state) and stickers can be purchased and used to convey your emotional state in party mode. While stickers can be turned off in the options mode, they really add an extra layer to the fun. Other new features include a custom player card, a level-up feature and achievement feature. Each time you play any of the modes, you will be awarded coins to unlock stickers, card designs (for player cards), encyclopaedia pages and music. Unfortunately, there are no unlockable boards or additional characters here, which is a real shame for the base game. Hopefully these will be added as future DLC. We need our loveable Shy Guy and Dry Bones to join the party!
When playing Mario Party online, you have the option to play via local wireless or by matching with random worldwide players or friends in standard online mode. Superstars uses the random matchmaking tool to find others that are currently playing online. You can search for boards under specific rule settings too, allowing fans to choose the board, the total number of turns (from 10 to 30, with the default 15) and whether bonus stars should be on, off or in classic mode. Once you’ve selected, you’ll be popped into a lobby until other players join. Here, you can practice one random minigame, which is selected by the game’s AI, while you wait.
Fortunately, we managed to play online with a Nintendo UK representative on the Space Land board before the game’s release. Stickers were a great way for both of us to communicate during the gameplay – and we purposefully joined forces against the two CPUs playing with us. This made for some hilarious interactions when the CPU decided to steal a star from us, and all we could do was shout ‘betrayal!’ to each other through stickers. Gameplay was smooth, we knew which player was in control of the board during crucial decision-making moments, and no glitches were experienced. In addition, if you are looking to play with friends, you can create a room or search for one with a ‘Room ID’ via the ‘Friend House’. Rooms can also be locked with a password too. And, for those wondering, you can play online with up to three friends on the same Switch system.
Mario Party mode aside, the Mt. Minigames mode is great for a quick pick-up-and-play. There are seven options including Free Play, Tag Match, Trio Challenge, Sports & Puzzles, Coin Battle, Daily Challenge and Survival. While any of the modes can be played online, daily challenge and survival are solo online-only modes. Before we touch on those though, Sports & Puzzles deserves an honourable mention. Games like Stick and Spin, Block Star and Mario’s Puzzle Party can be played for hours on end in solo mode and is a great way to pass the time during long journeys.
As its name suggests, the minigames on offer in Daily Challenge mode change every day. With three packs to choose from, such as ‘Grab Everything’ where you have to gather more than any other player, ‘Pushy Pals’ where you need to take the spotlight, and ‘Just Survive’ which focuses on 1-v-3 minigames, there are plenty to keep solo players occupied. In Survival, you must keep your win streak alive by beating others at the rotating minigames. Simple, but effective.
Mario Party Superstars attempts to find common ground with fans of the series. Between the strategic boards, the mountains of minigames on offer and online gameplay, there is more than enough content to keep any Mario Party fan occupied for 20+ hours. Older generations may say, ‘they don’t make them how they used to’ and, for Mario Party, that’s certainly been the case for several years. So, while it’s not a perfect (re)union, Superstars returns to form with the old, the borrowed and the new.
A review copy of Mario Party Superstars was provided to My Nintendo News by Nintendo UK.