It's hard to believe that the Mario Party series is almost 25 years old. It's undergone a lot of changes over that period. Some of those changes have been for the better, others have been flash-in-the-pan experiments that never really caught on. With that being said, the Mario Party games have never actively gone backward... until now. Mario Party Superstars is a total nostalgia trip that captures what this board game-inspired franchise used to be.
Mario Party Superstars is a fairly straightforward experience in a lot of ways. Its purpose is to spotlight the old days and it does that to a tee. There are five boards available, each cherry-picked from the first three games. Just that in itself sounds like a turnoff because Mario Party has put forward a lot of fun and unique boards over the years. Peach's Birthday Cake from the original game, for example, is a fun romp that uses a Monopoly-style gimmick, where players can plant Piranha Plants that steal Coins or Stars. Horror Land, from Mario Party 2, uses a day/night mechanic that changes up the board depending on the time of day. The five available boards are indeed strong choices, but having such a limited selection means things are bound to get repetitive. It would have been great to see a higher board count, just because there's so much good stuff from those first three games that unfortunately has been left on the cutting room floor.
On the plus side, Nintendo doesn't bog itself down on the minigame front. There are more than 100 minigames, all taken from the first ten Mario Party games. In a nice touch, the rules screen will spotlight which title the minigame originated in. For the most part, Superstars features the very best of the series' minigames, with only a few exceptions. As has been discussed on places like Reddit, the Tug o' War and Cast Aways games both make unwelcome returns, made all the worse by their original controls, which require rotating the analog stick. In fact, there's an actual warning placed on Tug o' War, instructing players not to use their palm so as not to ruin their analog sticks, which begs the question of why this is even back at all.
Those are two big misses, but the rest of the field feels pretty strong. Fun games like the Super Mario 64-inspired Face Lift, the explosive Bowser's Big Blast, and the reflex-intensive Night Light Fright are all back, just to name a few examples. There's a good reason why the rest of the field feels like such winners. That's because Superstars exclusively focuses on minigames without gimmicks. There are no motion controls or any other irritating mechanics at work here. Everything can be played with a standard controller and the experience feels better for that, whether it's playing through these games on a standard Mario Party board or through the Mt. Minigames mode.
Whether it's the board or the minigames, Superstars can hang its hat on being a visual upgrade in almost every way. The character models, artwork, and textures have all been updated for the Switch hardware and the result is something that looks better than anything the series has put out to this point, barring maybe Super Mario Party from a few years ago. The music has also been updated, but if you're a fan of the classic tunes, you can switch each board to its original track after playing it once. (Sadly, and this is about as nitpicky as this review will get, if you want classic voice lines, you won't find that here, so Wario will not be saying "D'oh, I missed!" Sorry.)
At its core, the Mario Party experience is about playing with friends. Sure, it's possible to play these games alone. You can even play Mario Party Superstars by yourself. What's the fun in that, though? It's all about grabbing some friends, socializing, maybe having a few drinks, and possibly seeing friendships ruined after landing on a Chance Time space and turning the whole game upside down on the final turn. We'll touch on that last point shortly, but I was happy to see that Mario Party Superstars offers a lot of ways to play with friends, including online.
Before reaching the title screen, players are prompted to play locally, with multiple Switch systems, or connect online. Anyone who connects online can jump right into a game with either friends or with random people. In my experience, online games with random players default to 15 turn sessions, which run about one hour. Given that Nintendo's had some spotty history with online gaming, I was happy to see that I had no issue playing a full session with online strangers. There's no voice chat in place, which is probably for the best because this "family game" can lead to a lot of expletives. (Again, I'll get to that.) Instead, players can communicate with stickers, which can be pretty fun, depending on the situation. I also appreciated that at the end of each online game, players are prompted to mash the "A" button to applaud each other in a show of sportsmanship, with each clap awarding a Coin.
Unfortunately, that's as good a segue as any to the Mario Party Superstars unlockables, which feel uninspired. Players can unlock stickers, encyclopedia entries, and music tracks, but that's about it. There's nothing particularly substantial, like new boards, new characters, or new options, so the exercise of saving up your Coin total in-between games feels like a waste.
The last thing to comment on is, of course, the Mario Party experience itself. Superstars captures the nostalgia of old school Mario Party, warts and all. That means if you're leading in the final two turns, there's a good chance that something wild is going to happen that will either knock you off the top pedestal or just chuck you straight into last place. There are several moments in Superstars where this will happen, whether it's the last place player getting a special item from Toad in the final five turns that's designed to turn the game on its head or the dreaded Chance Time space. Most frequently, these moments will involve the Gold Pipe, which instantly warps players to the Star, regardless of where it is and skips over any obstacles along the way. I personally would have left this item out entirely or at least offered a way to disable select items, like this wretched thing.
Some might read this and say, "Well, that's just Mario Party." That's fair. It totally is. That's what classic Mario Party is and always has been. Mario Party is those moments that will make somebody want to punch a wall or leave the room in a huff. It's the exact experience that Superstars has re-created to a tee. And, to this title's credit, there are pre-game options that can reduce the randomness factor, such as an option to change the end-of-game Bonus Stars to the original classic format or disable them entirely. But, it is entirely possible to play a perfect game, which includes winning every minigame, hitting every blue space, getting every favorable dice roll, and still finish in 3rd or 4th place, because that's just what Mario Party is. If you don't want to deal with that level of frustration, I will flat-out say that Mario Party Superstars is not for you.
As much as the Mario Party series can be lauded for evolving over the past two decades, Mario Party Superstars fully embraces that the series never really needed that much "fixing" in the first place. The N64 days are remembered as classics for a reason and the only thing that holds Superstars back from being the best of the series is its limited board selection. Even with only five boards, it's still a top-tier Mario Party game and one of the better multiplayer offerings for the Nintendo Switch, period.
But, as is the case with almost every Mario Party game, be aware of what you're getting into with Superstars. If you're not careful, friendships will take a hit, just because of the random nature of this beast. That's just Mario Party.
This review is based on a Nintendo Switch digital code provided by the publisher. Mario Party Superstars is available now on the Nintendo eShop for $59.99. The game is rated E.
Mario Party Superstars
- Classic Mario Party formula holds up mostly
- Updated visuals and music are a treat
- Mostly strong selection of minigames
- Custom Bonus Stars option is appreciated
- Online play works wonderfully
- Limited board selection
- Tug o' War and Cast Aways are bad minigame choices
- Weak unlockables
- Randomness of the game can be frustrating
Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, Mario Party Superstars review: Throwback party
Haven't tried online yet but glad to hear they mostly got it right.
Should be heavily discounted to anyone who purchased the garbage other one that came out on switch :(