You can picture the planning meeting for Mario Party Superstars. After continually trying to shake up the venerable Mario Party formula, of throwing group car mechanics, freeform grid-based movement, and making use of every waggle and touch control possible across Wii, Wii U, 3DS and Switch, the designers at NDcube have given in. “Fine,” you can imagine them venting, “if they want classic Mario Party, we’ll give them classic Mario Party!”
Classic Mario Party; that’s exactly what Mario Party Superstars is. It takes five boards from the now ancient N64 games, a hundred minigames from the first ten games in the series, and completely remakes their flat original artwork in a modern 3D game engine for Nintendo Switch. Yes, it’s bowing to the demands of people on the internet, which is rarely a good thing, and yes, it’s basically just the old Mario Party formula that was trotted out a few too many times on the N64 and GameCube, but right now that’s exactly what this series needs.
The five boards that NDcube has chosen are lifted from the first three Mario Party games, the selection ranging from the nice and simple, to the complex and strategic. The simplicity of Peach’s Birthday Cake – a simple race around a gigantic cake with just one small diversion and player traps to spice things up – is worlds away from the way you can plot your path through Space Land, have to time your moves through the switching routes of Woody Woods, or can scheme your way to riches in a long game on Horror Land.
Because we’re stepping back to those original games, the fundamental gameplay mechanics have also been shorn of many of the gameplay gimmicks of the last decade. There’s no special dice, no shared car, and there’s defined routes around each map. Each player’s turn consists of rolling a ten-sided die to see how many spaces they move, and then travel along the route to see where they land – blue spaces give you coins, red take them away, and there’s various lucky, item, event and Bowser spaces to look out for as well.
After everyone’s had their turn, it’s time for a minigame. There’s a great selection here, bringing back many of the series’ classics and fan favourites from the first 10 home console Mario Party games. Having just watched Squid Game, it was amusing to have a game of Mario Party coincidentally start three minigames that matched the opening to that TV show. A weird coincidence, of course, but long-time fans will be overjoyed by the warning-laden tug-of-war, by Bowser’s malleable face, and dozens of others.
One of the best things from Super Mario Party and the Wii and Wii U games was that you could practice minigames before playing, and that feature returns to help level the playing field. The same cannot be said for the 3v1 games where it’s almost always easier for one side or the other, inexperience the main leveller in these instances.
Where Mario Party Superstars really shines is in how many options the game gives you for play. As you pick your stage, you can then choose a subset of minigames, whether that’s classic N64 or GameCube games or focussing on more family-friendly options. If you’re an expert, you can save time by turning off the minigame tutorials. You can also choose how the post-game stars are handed out, whether they’re defined as in the original games, random stats or not handed out at all.
When you’re playing, you can quit at any time you like, creating a suspended game state that you can come back and resume later – perfect if you need to call an end to party time before you’re done. If you want the competition to keep on going, you can add turns one time per game.
All of that applies to the game when playing online as well. Yes, for the first time, Mario Party has full online multiplayer from launch. You can play the full Mario Party boards with friends and with randos, you can head up to Mt. Minigames for competitive minigame play and daily challenges, or dive into the handful of sports and puzzles game modes. Everything you can do offline, you can also do online. From a few hours play, it feels solid and handled a few WiFi hitches when I relocated from being sat near my router to a room at the other end of the house.
For all the great design decisions and quality of life improvements, Mario Party Superstars does feel a tad stingy and limited. Super Mario Party had the co-op minigame mode River Survival as a fun diversion, but there’s nothing truly comparable to that. Similarly, most Mario Party games have an unlockable final board, but there’s nothing here either and no announced plans to add more boards after release, whether through free updates or paid DLC. Five boards feels like the bare minimum to remake when there’s 20 from the first three games on their own.
As a final note, I’m also saddened that the little tune Super Mario Party would play through each person’s HD Rumble as it shifted to their turn is absent from Mario Party Superstars.