To paraphrase a well known 90’s group now seen regularly at Butlin’s music weekends, there ain’t no party like a Mario Party. Since 1998, Mario and his friends (and frenemies, to coin a phrase used by the age range of people who go to Butlin’s music weekends) have been finding out who is the real superstar by doing what all established friendships test each other with… board games. In Mario’s case, giant life-sized board games with Takeshi’s Castle style mini-games to boot. So does the 20th-anniversary release of this established franchise bring a new spin to proceedings, or does it leave you board stiff? God that’s a terrible pun…
The storyline is simple, while it’s common for the “good guys” of the Mario universe to pit it out and discover who is the “wiiiner”, this time the bad guys are just as keen to see how they favour. A truce is made with both Toad and Kamek running proceedings to keep games fair for both good and bad guys. Meaning that for the first time in the Mario Party series, the boards aren’t run by Bowser and his minions. Instead, generic characters from Mario games past and present come to run the show. Cue quite affectionate cameo appearances from lesser-known characters such as Monty the Mole, Pom Pom, and of course Birdo (my Mario Kart arch-nemesis) to run shops, cause events or simply make amusing remarks as you explore the game. The Super part of the franchise is used to its full potential here, and it brings a smile to your face when you see people (and plants) pop up from time to time.
The game has stripped back to its original bare-bones boards, with everyone thankfully fending for themselves again instead of sharing a car around the board. The original spaces for shops, events and of course star buying are all here. But this time the twist comes in the form of the die you throw. Each character has both a standard die, as well as a special die. You can switch between the two depending on how much of a risk you want to take and you can also occasionally ask help from “allies” and get them to throw their die too for you. This adds an element of strategy to the game, especially when trying to cheat the system and get to a space before someone else.
Between each round of turns, the mini-games are completely new. Eighty games have been included, varying from 3 on 1 trials, to all-out spats. After playing at least half the mini-games on offer, I can say that I’m yet to play one that I didn’t enjoy. My favourite being where you have to push your opponents out the way to ensure the paparazzi get a picture of you before anyone else. Winning mini-games wins you coins, which in turn you buy items and stars with on the game board.
The game uses Joycons individually in their NES style formation, which means you have two-player straight out the box and a potential four players with further Joy-Con (a special edition of the game including two Joycon controllers will be released closer to Christmas). Whilst it is frustrating how your Pro Controllers will not be allowed to play this game, the way in which minigames use motion and control is a reasonable enough answer as to why this is the case. Hopefully, you have friends or family who have additional controllers, as sixty-five quid on top of the game to get four players up and running would be an extortionate request to make.
An average game in the board game mode lasts between one and two hours and you don’t feel it gets tedious at any point. Whether it’s the varied boards, the fun mini-games, or even the changes in dialogue used depending on what character lands on someone’s space (Kamek begging for Bowser’s forgiveness after stealing coins for someone made me genuinely laugh). And that’s just taking the game’s main board mode into consideration.
Partner Party is a two-player take on the game, where despite moving in different places on the board, your coins and stars combine to take on a computer pairing. River Survival is a series of mini-games linked together by a river you tackle in a boat and depending on whether you win or lose at the minigames changes your outcome in the river. Sound Stage is Mario Party’s take on Rhythm Paradise, with a series of music/timing-based minigames on a stage. Last but not least you have the Mariothon, a WarioWare-esque take on the title’s minigames, firing them at you one after the other. If you would like a challenge with the Mariothon, you can even play online (Online subscription permitting) to compete with scores and times across the web. And by the looks of the map layout that combines the modes discussed, there are several other modes and features hidden downpipes currently locked off. Basically, there’s a lot to do here!
For many iterations of Mario Party now, the format has lost its way. With rehashed minigames and changes to the overall formula that made it not the game we know and love. But for this it gets thrown back to where it all began, Nintendo has remembered what made Mario Party a runaway success in the first place. With the inevitable updates and unlockable secrets yet to be found (if Bowser doesn’t have his own unlockable board I’ll eat my dice), this game has a lot of replayability whether you’re playing solo or in a group. So get your friends around, combine your Joycons and you’d better get the party started as Pink would say. I doubt she’ll be at Butlins any time soon.