Mario Party Superstars was revealed earlier this year during Nintendo’s E3 presentation. Considering that Super Mario Party launched late in 2018 – it probably came as a bit of a surprise to some that Nintendo would release a new game of the same genre so soon. I’ve got to admit I wasn’t expecting it. It was announced, however, that rather than being a brand-new entry into the series, Superstars would be a kind of “Best of” compilation album, bringing back five boards from Mario Party 1, 2 and 3 (all of which debuted on the N64) and 100 minigames from across the previous ten Mario Party games. Plus, some of the Switch’s Super Mario Party assets and online play would be included too. So, having now spent some time with the new title, I’m happy to report that the updated visuals look great, and Superstars really does a good job of highlighting and celebrating the original games – so fans of the originals will be very happy. Even if you’re new to the series though, (and most importantly, really) Superstars is a lot of fun to play with friends or family on the couch and the online functionality is promising too. That being said, some lingering balance issues, the decision to not include Joy-Con-specific minigames and a few other omissions left me feeling like the package as a whole seemed a little thin. And so, while I wasn’t disappointed I also wasn’t totally blown away either.
Toggles and tweaking
The game opens up and the first option is to jump straight into the big green pipe and head off to enjoy a traditional Mario Party board game experience and gather up as many Stars as possible. A Koopa Troopa is your tour guide and Game Master, and you’ll have the option to choose your character as well as three companions (from a relatively slimmed-down roster of ten). If you’re playing alone, you’ll even have the option of tweaking how tough each of your opponents will be (easy, normal, hard and master). I found that making these specific changes really did affect the AI intelligence. At easy and normal, characters make incomprehensible decisions. In one playthrough, for example, Peach chose not to use the Golden Pipe item (a guaranteed Star) even though it was the final turn of the match. And on another occasion, Birdo (one step away from purchasing a Star) decided instead to use a Warp ability to teleport to another random block on the board. For younger players, this will mean they have a fun experience. However, for those more experienced you’re probably going to prefer choosing the tougher opponents.
Thera are lots of small tweaks that really allow you to cater to your specific party of players…
However, the tweaking isn’t done there. You then get to choose from the five playable boards (no spoilers here as these have already been revealed by Nintendo): Yoshi’s Tropical Island (Mario Party), Space Land (Mario Party 2), Woody Woods (Mario Party 3), Peach’s Birthday Cake (Mario Party) and finally, Horror Land (Mario Party 2). These are apparently ranked also in an ascending degree of difficulty…although, after trying a few boards, the first game I won was actually on Horror Land (the hardest difficulty) – so make of that what you will. However, what I felt really made a difference and will be great for families with players of a wide range of abilities and experience is the final screen of options: Not only do you get to select the number of turns (10, 15, 20, 25, 30) based on how long you want to play, but you can also choose how/if Bonus Stars are awarded; whether you need the minigame explainer before playing each game; which minigames you want to play and, best of all, whether you want to give certain players some Stars at the start: handicapping the better players so everyone starts off in a fairer position. These are small tweaks but they really allow you to cater to your specific party of players – and will make everyone’s playthrough even more enjoyable.
Back to the Boards
The boards themselves look fantastic. At the start of each game, you actually get a few images of what the original graphics looked like and it’s clear they’ve seen a massive overall. Each board has also seen some updates as to how characters interact, and the animations look fresh and crisp. The music has also seen a modern overhaul and sounds amazing too. Nintendo is usually pretty great with polishing a game to look and sound good, however, what really stood out to me is how they kept highlighting the original games. Playing on a board unlocks the classic music and you can then toggle between the classic and modern takes. Whenever you play a new minigame – you’ll get a little icon indicating which of the ten original games it came from. As you progress through the boards and play the variety of minigames you’ll also gain in-game currency that allows you to unlock pages in an encyclopedia, stickers, music and more. The last board you played will also change the arrival screen too. All these little ‘callbacks’ and the attention to detail really stand out. The layouts have also seemingly remained similar to the classic games – and that’s a good thing, too. I found that in Super Mario Party – the multiple loops, splits and returns could make navigating towards the star a little tough. Here though, the simpler, more traditional layouts make this a bit easier and more enjoyable because, in general, you know which direction you were going and it was not often you were lost.
The oh-so-pretty visuals, music, and other nostalgic comparisons plus a few extra bits and bobs make it clear that this game was made with some love
Gameplay-wise, you probably know what to expect. The addition of stickers means you can now taunt (or encourage) fellow players as they move around the boards – and that is a fun little addition. The character-unique dices from Super Mario Party are gone – and I definitely missed this little change – however, the basic mechanics are the same. Roll the dice, move the required number of squares…And thus, my main gripe with Mario Party remains: if you prefer a bit of strategy in your board game fun, the gameplay balance just feels off. The game still relies too much on randomness and luck. I think the main reason for this is that the goal of the game is to earn stars, however, the board, event and item spaces and even the minigames themselves are all geared towards gathering coins. Sure, coins can be used to purchase Stars – however, particularly in games with fewer turns, actually arriving at Toadette to purchase a Star is a rare occurrence and even when you do – you can usually only purchase a single star. So, what often happens at the end of a game is that you have a single player with 2 or 3 stars and the rest of the players with 0-1 stars – but often anywhere between 80 and 150 coins. Classically, the bonus stars are awarded to those who have the most coins and have won the most minigames and that helped even things out a bit. However, the new Bonus Star system again leans more heavily towards random awards – awarding players for things like who has faced Bowser the most or hit certain coloured spots the most. So, by the end of the game, the winner often feels completely arbitrary. And while some will love that about the game – it can drive me a bit insane. Super Mario party added the Partner Party mode to mitigate this issue, which I really appreciated because it added a strategy/skill element to what could feel like a purely luck-based game, but I missed it in Superstars.
A Multitude of Minigames
In Super Mario Party there were something like 80 minigames. And this time around there are 100. In short, you may have seen these games but, if they are your thing – Mt. Minigames provides a few different modes to enjoy them. And once again, I can confirm that the minigames look, sound and feel great and there really is a great variety to choose from. Sure, you’ll have your favourites and ones that you’ll just not enjoy, however, there really is something here for everyone. The inclusion of more sports and puzzle type mini-games rather than the heavy reliance on twitchy or platforming-based stuff will no doubt be welcome by non-regular-video-game-playing players. Some can be tackled offline, but this time around there are some online-only modes, which I think will be a big hit… if, of course, you can find other players online. This is a gripe I’ve mentioned before, but online games are always a bit of a hit-or-miss affair with Nintendo. And this is, even more, the case with us in South Africa. We did get the opportunity to play some online games for the review, however, this was set up for a specific time and unfortunately (possibly because my connection failed me) I was not able to find a game to join despite repeated attempts. That being said, I did reach out to a local colleague and they had no issues and found players online and the connection to be stable. So, let’s hope their experience is what we can look forward to – because I have to admit that the Daily Challenge (a rotating themed minigame daily event) and Survival (longest streak wins) online modes seem to be me to have a lot of potential.
I wonder if Superstars wouldn’t have been better served as a major DLC pack for Super Mario Party instead…
However, once again… I couldn’t help but feel like something was missing. And that’s again likely because of all that was on offer in Super Mario Party. In that game, we got a reasonably meaty single-player outing based around the minigames. We also got multiple modes that made playing minigames with friends rather unique. And finally, we got several minigames that made special use of the Joy-Con capabilities. And for the most part, these are all missing from Superstars. I know some people are not fans of the gimmicky Joy-Con games but having played with friends and family, it was often these that were the most popular and definitely the ones that had us laughing the most – plus I found their actual design to be ingenious. Of course, it’s cool that we can now play Superstars using the Pro controller or in handheld mode – and don’t get me wrong there are many minigames that are fantastic in this set-up – but I missed the cleverness of the oddball games in Super Mario Party. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, you still get to burn a callus onto your palm in the Tug-Of-War minigame (despite Nintendo’s warning, I found it’s pretty much the only way to win). I also missed the single-player options – perhaps these will be filled by the online stuff – but for now, if you don’t have any friends around and can’t get online, the package does feel a little thin. Or at least, let’s say you’ll get through it relatively quickly.
More than Meh
There is a lot to enjoy about Mario Party Superstars, especially if you have any connection to the older games. And even if you don’t – the oh-so-pretty visuals, included nostalgic comparisons and those extra bits and bobs make it clear that this game was made with some love. Plus, it ticks the most important box when it comes to multiplayer games – it’s a lot of fo fun to play with friends and that’s really my overall thought. However, because of having played the previous title relatively recently and feeling like this one was missing a few features that the other one had, I couldn’t help but wonder if Superstars wouldn’t have better served as a major DLC pack for Super Mario Party instead. That being said, Superstars may shine as an online game – and if that’s the case (and the gameplay is stable online) perhaps this will be just the game to add to your fun-with-friends collection.