When Super Mario Party was announced for its 2018 release, there was excitement in the air. After fading into somewhat obscurity by drastically changing its formula as the franchise went on, a return to the roots was an exciting prospect. Yes, the basic formula of being a simple board game with a variety of mini-games was enticing, but Super Mario Party fell flat on its face.
A disappointing four boards total, a lack of variety and challenge in mini-games, and absolutely zero post-launch support lead to the game being a massive disappointment in every way. There was potential hidden in there, but you had to dig through miles of dirt to get there.
Enter Mario Party Superstars, the newest entry in the franchise and one that literally brings the franchise back to its roots. Instead of creating new boards and mini-games, Nintendo ran back the greatest hits in the franchise: a collection of boards from the Nintendo 64 games and mini-games through the GameCube era that people look back on and remember fondly.
The result is an enjoyable experience that is not only infinitely more replayable than its predecessor, but also a deeper game than its recent sports or variety Mario titles. The latter isn’t saying much, though, and that is the biggest issue for Mario Party Superstars: depth.
For whatever reason, whether it’s Covid, lack of resources, laziness, or the fact that Nintendo knows people will buy their games like clock-work (looking at you, Mario Kart 8, still one of the best selling games across all platforms), there’s been a severe issue with depth and content with the off-shoot Mario titles. Tennis and Golf were enjoyable at their core, but lacking beyond that, though post-launch content for Mario Golf: Speed Rush has helped with that.
Given the track record of Super Mario Party, it’s going to be a major concern moving forward for how often me and my wife will be booting up Mario Party Superstars. That’s saying something given how many hours (well over 250) we spent in Super Mario Party. Most of that was spent in frustration, though, at the idea of counting Toads on a train. Said frustration doesn’t exist here; you’re playing the best of the best when it comes to boards and games and you’re going to enjoy playing them.
Party like it’s 1999
Mini-Games have always been the backbone of Mario Party and Superstars knows this. The collection of “greatest hits” from the entire franchise means you don’t have any duds or misses. There’s no more motion controls, no more gimmicks, no more repeat games for the third or fourth time across a 20-turn board.
Even more, players have the ability to select what type of mini-games they want to enjoy: maybe it’s a collection from a certain console or family-friendly action. It’s a simple feature that goes a long way to help ensure everyone’s having a good time.
Furthermore, some of the games are hard. Either that or maybe I just suck at them, but I can’t recall ever having a time I would consistently lose to the CPU in Super Mario Party. I am in Superstars, though, especially Rockin’ Raceway. Again, maybe this just means I suck, but it also means I’m not cake-walking my way through each mini-game.
Like the mini-game selection, the boards are also a hit, even if there are only five of them. It’s here where Mario Party Superstar’s flaws start to arise.
When we’re looking at multiple console generations to select mini-games, why are we limiting ourselves to N64 titles for the boards? On top of that, why are there only five of them? This starts to open up more questions concerning the game’s depth and content, but we have to talk about the boards at least first before I start complaining.
In short, they’re great. There’s something about the level of competition when it comes to the franchise’s classic boards. The environments aren’t always your friend, Bowser is never your friend, and there’s a certain amount of strategy that can go into planning your movement. This is a strategy that didn’t always exist back in Super Mario Party. Half of the time it was luck, whether we’re talking about Toadette moving Star locations or the character-specific dice (good riddance!) costing you the game.
Each of the boards involved in Superstars (Yoshi’s Tropical Island and Peach’s Birthday Cake from Mario Party 1, Space Land and Horror Land from Mario Party 2, and Woody Woods from Mario Party 3) know that it’s better to win or lose a game due to the board’s nature and mechanics instead of random chance to a risk/reward system.
They were great boards when I played them when I was a kid and they’re still great boards when I’m playing them in the airport after my honeymoon with my wife. You could even call them timeless if you’re so inclined.
What’s also timeless, especially when it comes to the Nintendo Switch, is Nintendo not fully supporting their games with depth and post-launch content, and that is going to be the biggest concern moving forward with Mario Party Superstars.
As I mentioned earlier, Mario Golf: Speed Rush has seen a fair share of free DLC, which is great, and Animal Crossing: New Horizons just saw a long-overdue content release with updates and Happy Home Designer. What does this have to do with the game at hand? Well let me remind you again that Super Mario Party had zero post-launch support or DLC and struggled with poor online options played on an even worse netcode. The game was somehow more shallow than the franchise’s original release in 1999. I’m not joking about this either; Mario Party 1 had twice as many boards, not to mention infinitely more blisters on your hands from playing mini-games.
Missed potential definitely stings
It may seem a little odd that I keep bringing up other franchises from Nintendo in a review about Mario Party Superstars, but we have to face facts here: Nintendo has been releasing shallow games for the better part of a couple of years.
In a franchise like Mario Party, depth is everything. I can understand why we’re not given an absolute gluttony of mini-games and, ironically, I actually praise their restraint there. When it comes to the boards, however, that’s where I scratch my head, too. Even the playable character count; it’s nice to have a somewhat rounded roster, especially featuring Birdo, and I know why Bowser is unplayable (he’s busy wreaking havoc on the board), but Super Mario Party had a total of twenty playable characters. That was a game that was infamously shallow, and yet Mario Party Superstars has half of the characters available than its predecessor. This is the frustrating part: Superstars has a rock-solid foundation of a great game, one that taps into the franchise’s history by not relying on nostalgia but instead knowing and understanding what once made it enjoyable and popular.
Given Nintendo’s recent track record of supporting games post-launch, we’re not sure what the future is going to hold for the game. They could easily release new characters, bring back more boards, and add in a handful of mini-games to the rotation, and that will undoubtedly be nothing but good news, but I still have a hard time comprehending why this wasn’t done before launch.
Sure, visuals were enhanced and look solid on our Switch in either handheld or docked mode, but was it really that much work to add in two or three more boards and other characters like Dry Bones and Diddy to the playable roster? Was Shy Guy too busy in his mini-game role to roll some dice, even though, you know, there’s an infinite number of them?
I’m ranting now, but my point remains: Mario Party Superstars is an excellent return to form for the franchise after the misstep of Super Mario Party.
The boards are all great, the mini-games are a blast; it’s fun to be playing Mario Party again without having to dig out the Nintendo 64 and blow the dust out of our cartridges. Yet, the game could have been so much more, which speaks to how enjoyable the game’s core really is.
I look forward to dropping another couple hundred hours with my wife, one that will undoubtedly include fights over stealing stars from each other, but I’ll also hold on to hope that we get some post-launch DLC support.