Mario Party Superstars is exactly what I want my Mario Party experience to be. It offers simple, well-designed game boards, dozens of fun mini-games, and all that Nintendo sheen that we love. Could this have been something more than it is? Yes. It really should have been. But as a multiplayer (especially local multiplayer) beers-and-giggles thing, the classic Mario Party action that has been collected together here can’t be beat.
I will start with the downer; the fact that the game has just five boards to play on just isn’t good enough. Each of the five boards in Superstars is taken from one of the three N64 titles in the series, and of those three titles, the first had eight boards, and the second and third had six each. That’s right, this Nintendo Switch release has fewer game boards than any of the three releases on the Nintendo 64, and I really do struggle to see how that can be justified, given that it means that some of the best Mario Party boards aren’t in Superstars. The range of minigames is better as there’s 100 pulled from the entire series, and it’s generally the best ones that have been dusted off… but still. Five boards out of twenty. I hope some DLC is on the agenda for the future, because while I might grumble at forking out for more that way, I’d rather have more options for a game night.
Each of those boards has been lovingly restored from the Nintendo 64, though, and they’re presented in a really fun way. At the start of each game, you’ll be given some screenshots from the original game (to remind you of just how primitive they looked), and then treated to the full Switch remade render of the map, which is bursting with colour and energy. There might not be many boards, but from Yoshi’s tropical islands to the haunted forests filled with Boos, the variety is good, and there are boards that will suit every skill level. The two lowest difficulty boards aren’t much more difficult to make your way around than Snakes & Ladders, but the two most “advanced” boards do require some thinking plugged into them.
Mario Party has never been a great single-player experience, and it remains so in Superstars. The AI has the habit of rolling the exact right number on the dice at exactly the right time on the higher difficulty levels, and many of the minigames are either luck-based (again favouring the difficult AI in a very suspect manner), or are extremely simple, such as pushing buttons rapidly or making otherwise simple movements, and it’s not a lot of fun to try and out button-mash a “proficient” AI. Further hurting the game’s appeal as a single-player experience is the lack of goals in the game. There are a lot of superficial unlockables in Mario Party Superstars, but no new boards nor story mode makes that progression system feel arbitrary in the extreme.
But it would be unfair to criticise Superstars as a single-player game, because the joy of Mario Party Superstars is in the multiplayer, especially in local play. Getting a few friends around for some low-pressure gaming and beers is the focus of far too few videogames that get made these days, but Mario Party Superstars reminds us of when those epic sessions would start on a Friday night and go deep into the Saturday (if not Sunday) morning. Across the five boards, if you were to play each of them once, for the longest number of turns available, you’d be looking at around 10 hours in all, and while that doesn’t justify how few boards there are, that does still represent a lot of beer and controllers slapped out of people’s hands.
Nintendo has also taken the best elements of later Mario Party titles, to highlight that the series is still evolving. There’s a nicely strategic item system at play, allowing you to find new and devious ways to attack opponents and zip around the board when you need to. Throwing down a warp power-up to swap places with an opponent that’s just about to nab one of the all-important stars that you’re all hunting for will never stop being funny, but just brace yourself for the inevitable retaliation. Additionally, if you’re all equally good at the minigames (and they really are designed to be simple skill testers for all ages, that anyone can pick up and enjoy), then the half-minute or so that each lasts can be uproariously funny. Mario Party has always found its energy in its multiplayer, and Superstars gets back to basics with all this stuff in a delightful way.
Finally, there are some fun little additions that, with the right group, enhance things further. There are stickers that you can drop into the playfield during play, and those silly faces and sound effects are really amusing (until someone inevitably goes overboard and ruins the fun for everyone by spamming them). The game is also polished to the highest degree, with the kind of attention to detail in the animations and characterisation that remains unique to Nintendo.
There’s no doubt that Mario Party Superstars was a hasty project, pulled together to capitalise on the party season and keep the run-rate ticking over for Nintendo with a new release. It’s hard not to look at a selection of boards that accounts for just a quarter of what was present in the first three Mario Party titles and not think that this is less a “superstars” package but rather a rather cynical sampler. Still, what is there is excellent quality, and if you’ve got Christmas parties and family events on the horizon then you will likely get a lot of value out of this game. Just don’t spill beer on your controller. They don’t make ’em as tough as they were back on the N64.
– Matt S.
Find me on Twitter: @mattsainsb