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Nifty ideas, questionable results

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    Super Mario Party

    Rating: 3.0 – Fair

    Nifty ideas, questionable results

    Mario Party has been one of the many video game subseries that has held many memories and a special place in the heart for me, with its uniquely-designed life-filled board games to a plethora of mini games to win to get ahead of the pack. It started off pretty nicely on the Nintendo 64, providing hundreds of hours of entertainment with friends and families, though the proceeding games gradually added to the formula that would virtually become standard (with most spinoffs and post-Mario Party 8 titles put aside); Mario Party 2 added Items for players to hold and use strategically, Mario Party 3 increased the amount of items each player can hold from one to three, Mario Party 4 introduced the "Mini-Mega" system with its Mini Mushrooms and Mega Mushrooms (somewhat similar to what they’re seen as today since New Super Mario Bros on DS, albeit differently), etc. Since 1998, Mario Party has become one of Nintendo’s household names in the hearts of friends and families.

    The series’ latest on Nintendo Switch, Super Mario Party, is no exception as Mario and friends (including Bowser) get together for some fun for the whole family and friends. Board games, mini games, side games, you name it. All of the amenities of what puts together a package for a console Mario Party game are all here. Modes like Mario Party, Partner Party, River Survival, Sound Stage, Challenge Road, Toad’s Red Room, and Sticker Room feature in this newest entry on Switch. While the game itself had its fun moments here and there, many of the elements in this game felt flawed in that for better or worse, they can make or break the experience. Whereas most of the previous entries had enough gameplay and content to fill in the hole for each of their entries, this one left me wanting a lot more in many cases…and for varied reasons.

    To kick things off, Super Mario Party’s graphics are nothing short of excellence and seeing the characters wandering around in each part of the game lends to its charm. The fluent animations, the whimsical environments, the action-like effects…though this was no surprise to see on Nintendo’s newest system, I was impressed nonetheless on how good-looking it was. In the sound department, though charming and fitting to the characters and such the music wasn’t much to lend an ear at for me since it didn’t feel "Mario Party" enough. Sure, it does have a few tunes such as the Hub World and the Ending Credits, but beyond those I wasn’t as impressed with the soundtrack as I was for the graphics. As a side note, the player can collect stickers throughout the game to use in the Sticker Room to decorate backgrounds with the collected stickers and while it does bear a strong resemblance to the one featured in the 2008 Wii game Super Smash Bros Brawl, you are given more options to choose from with backgrounds and you aren’t entirely limited to the stickers you have on hand (in other words, you can apply as much of the same sticker as desired).

    And now, here are the modes and such…

    —————–Mario Party—————– "A super luck-based classic formula"

    This mode takes the series back to the roots of the days before Mario Party 9, where all players move individually whilst collecting coins and buying stars with them to stay ahead of the pack until a set amount of turns has passed. No longer do all players have to ride in a vehicle or follow a straight linear line to the end as instead, Mario Party mode returns to a state that made the series special in the first place, making it follow closer to your average board game. Pass-through Shops also return, where coins can be spent to give the user the upper hand over the pack, alongside Bad Luck Spaces that serve as replacements to Bowser Spaces in the previous entries to strip players of their coins and stars. This all would’ve been nice had the mode itself been fun to play. Actually fun to play.

    Returning from Mario Party: Star Rush are the Allies, in which the player can bring up to four of them to his/her own crowd to utilize their Character Dices with differing numbers for strategic rolls, as well as being used to grant the player a few additional spaces to move further forward. As great it is to see this feature returning, the major problem with the allies in Super Mario Party is the fact that as opposed to simply passing them by to bring to your side in Star Rush, unlocking allies to use now requires the player to land directly on the Ally Space to do so, unless if by some chance you’re lucky enough to have an Ally Phone item to use. It may sound like an optional feature that can grant bonuses, but having allies further boosts the player’s chances in winning a board game in an unfair state while other players are left in the dust the majority of the time. Therefore, you can count on players with the most allies the winners of each board game as they can get to the stars or shops faster. There’s also the matter of the allies barely having much opportunities in the mini games as 10 Ally Mini Games is far too few, with those having more allies getting the bigger advantage while lonelier ones are most likely to go down first. In Star Rush, recruiting allies was very well-integrated to the gameplay as not only did they serve the same purpose, since they each had special abilities to get you through and seeing them help in the Boss Mini Games was all kinds of fun. There’s barely anything like that in Super Mario Party and for the most part, they’re tacked-on and non-integral to the gameplay. It may not sound like a huge problem, but given how much of an advantage a player can get out of one single ally it renders an already-unbalanced board game even more unbalanced.

    There’s also a selection of four boards to choose from, each differently themed with unique gimmicks on each of those boards. Unfortunately, in addition to there being too few of a selection to choose from, the majority of these boards each have flaws that put a damper on the usual enjoyment, if not ruin it. Whomp’s Domino Ruins and King Bob-omb’s Powderkeg Mine each have paths that often feel too linear to allow interesting branches in between while Megafruit Paradise forces you to land on the Event Spaces to get to and fro between islands, often at times harkening back to the frustrating experiences with the Mystery Land board from Mario Party 2, therefore occasionally forcing you to use a Golden Pipe to warp close to the Star to win. The only board that is all-in-all fun to play on is Kamek’s Tantalizing Tower for its well-designed mechanics in comparison, but that requires the other three boards to be played once to unlock it and even then it isn’t as good if one were to compare it to many other boards in the previous entries in the series.

    Topping it all off is the fact that the luck-based factor can punish you very badly if you have even one tiny bit of bad luck. I lost track of the amount of times luck has played against me as while I was mostly left alone without a single ally and kept rolling low numbers, the other opponents I was up against always seemed to roll a number that would either land them close enough to the star or straight onto the Ally Space, among other things. No matter how hard and strategically I played and the amount of mini games I won, the CPU always seemed to get the upper hand in the end, and I didn’t like that.

    —————–Partner Party—————– "Tag Team Toad Scramble!"

    A 2-vs-2 version of the Toad Scramble mode from Star Rush, Partner Party splits the player into teams of two to compete against each other on grid-based freeroam-style boards, once again for a set amount of turns. Co-operative-based mechanics such as exclusive items in this mode exist as teams will be able to use them to get the upper-hand on the opposing team. Allies are now recruited by simply passing through them as opposed to hoping to land on their spaces or getting an Ally Phone in Mario Party mode. Though there are noticeable improvements in Partner Party over Mario Party, this mode also comes with its own set of flaws that damper the experience as well.

    Because Partner Party’s boards are grid-based and earning stars no longer requires the player to pass it by, landing on a star space to buy a star is now made harder due to having to hit an exact number on the die to ensure that at least one teammate can reap in the benefits. It’s made exceptionally frustrating for the fact that getting stars in this mode require an annoying amount of luck and things like this ruin an already lucked-based game. This wasn’t a problem in Star Rush since those getting stars always resulted in a Boss Mini Game to win and while those behind would have to mash the button to get a fighting chance, those who landed on it got a bit of a head start from the rest and therefore, competing for stars was always fun and balanced by many accounts. There’s nothing like it in Super Mario Party’s Partner Party and even if one were to use a Golden Pipe to warp close to it, the player would still have to land on it with the correct number on the die.

    If that wasn’t bad enough Bad Luck Spaces in Partner Party are invisible, raising the luck-based factor of an already luck-based mode to a whole new level. It’s especially annoying when trying to get to one area on the map, only to find that you land on a Bad Luck Space beyond knowledge that will drag your team down. It would have been nice for ND Cube to implement some form of clue (at least, through "!" signs above the characters’ heads) as to let us know when we’re near a bad luck space to help us strategize for the better without pushing our luck for one bit and fall down a hole that we had no clue of being there.

    Like Mario Party mode, Partner Party has four (exact same) boards to choose from outside of the last one that is unlocked through the same method and suffers through similar flaws: The first two boards have path issues, the third one is too isolated, and the fourth is well-designed. And once again, the luck-based factor plays a huge role in that it makes or breaks a game for me, though luckily for Partner Party it didn’t seem as problematic on my end as I was at least able to recruit allies easily unlike Mario Party mode.

    —————–Sound Stage—————– "Great performance cut short"

    A rhythmic-based mode where you move to the beat with your Joy-Con, Sound Stage encompasses on players showing off in a handful of the 10 mini games, with the player accumulating the most points declared the winner. For what it was, it is a fair bit of fun that tests your reflexes and rhythmic skills, not to mention that you have three different modes to choose from in this mode. Unfortunately, the entirety of this mode can be blown through on a lazy afternoon, even if one were to play through all three of its modes: Normal, Remix, and Hard. It has its qualities for being a fun side mode to play in, but once I played through the whole thing, I never found myself returning to it since.

    —————–River Survival—————– "The frantic wash of speed"

    Inarguably the best mode Super Mario Party has on the table, River Survival puts four players in a raft and must cooperate with each other using Joy Cons as oars in attempts to get to the end of the river through any obstacle-filled path within the time limit, which can be increased especially through popping balloons and completing some of the 10 Co-op Mini Games that forces players to try for higher ranks to earn more time for the mode. Though this mode is the most fun yet in this game the shortage of Co-op Mini Games is a bit of a disappointment, therefore playing through the same mini game more than once in each River Survival run can feel repetitive somewhat. Regardless of its flaws, it didn’t stop me from going through the entire mode with enjoyment and unlock all five of its ending branches.

    —————–Toad’s Rec Room—————– "A science experiment"

    Being one of the more intriguing modes for its usage of the Nintendo Switch system, Toad’s Rec Room comprises four mini games, each which are compatible for up to two Switch systems that can be linked together for intriguing results, namely the tank-based Shell Shocked Deluxe from Mario Party 2, Mini Baseball League, picture-connecting Banana Split, and puzzle-matching Puzzle Hustle. Though each of them are fun on their own merits, simply having only four of these types of mini games waters down the replay value by a noticeable amount. Indeed, it does get better when friends and families match two Switch systems together as this mode advertises, but that’s pretty much all it had going for it for me.

    —————–Challenge Road—————– "Partyship of the Ring"

    A single player mode that is available after unlocking all mini games, Challenge Road is a linear stage-based progression mode that encompasses on the player completing challenges for each and every mini game faced. It’s somewhat similar to the Mini Game Island modes in Mario Party, Mario Party 2, and Mario Party: The Top 100, only with unlimited chances to retry mini games and being 100% linear. There isn’t much else to say for this mode since it’s basically all that it is, though going through this mode became tedious and repetitive for me and after clearing this mode, I never looked back on it since.

    —————–Mini Games—————– "80 Plain Toasts"

    One of the meat and potatoes of Mario Party, Mini Games encompass in 80 short bite-sized competitive little games that pit players in free for all, 2-vs-2, 1-vs-3, Ally-based Team, Co-op, and Rhythm mini games. Sadly, compared to many of the previous Mario Party entries, the majority of these mini games in Super Mario Party are compromised by various flaws that makes them rather forgettable, if not bad by any means. Mini Games such as Pie Hard and Candy Shakedown come off as uninspiring due to their objectives being predictably boring while others such as Soak or Croak and Follow the Money felt like downgraded versions of those deathmatch and platforming mini games from the past Mario Party entries in the series. Because of this, Super Mario Party’s mini games felt too soft and divisive for me and at times, I felt like I was playing a party game with Mario characters in it than a Mario Party game. In fact, even Mario Party 9 and Mario Party 10 had the better mini games as those games’ mini games kept the Mario Party-like charm and fun factor, both which are unfortunately absent in Super Mario Party.

    The only time Super Mario Party’s mini games are even fun for one bit is the Mario-thon mode, in which players will compete in a set of five mini games for the most points based on their performances beyond simply winning them. There’s also the Square Off mode in which the objective is to cover the most spaces from winning mini games, but its appeal didn’t last long for me and it felt like a watered down version of the Garden Battle mode from Mario Party 9.

    —————–Online Mario-thon—————– "A Mario-thon best played offline"

    Being the first instance of Mario Party going online, Online Mario-thon is an online version of the Mario-thon mode found under the Mini Games mode and likewise, the main objective is performing the best to come out on top. On one hand, this mode incentivizes players into repeatedly competing to get stickers to use in the Sticker Room, but the entirety of this mode is brought down by connection problems that results in choppiness in frame rate to some players disconnecting, resulting in the mini game to be restarted from scratch. For a Mario Party game that embraces online at last, this mode didn’t last my appeal for long and I didn’t return to it since.

    –Final Words–

    Super Mario Party does good in bringing back the classic formula the crowd loved in a more noticeable state, alongside additional modes for us to do on the side when breaks are needed from the usual focus of the series. Unfortunately, most of the modes and mini games are plagued by varying flaws ranging between limited and bland content to the annoying luck-based factor and board design issues with Mario Party and Partner Party modes, thus the only saving grace for this game is through a plethora of free updates in the vein of Super Bomberman R, Splatoon, ARMS, Kirby Star Allies, and Mario Tennis Aces. The only things Super Mario Party has going for it right now are River Survival, Hub and Credits Theme, and graphics, but even those aren’t enough to light the candle for me.

    Is Super Mario Party a bad game? Absolutely not. It still offers the amenities of what made the pre-Mario Party 9 games special and contains the biggest roster of playable characters yet, making for a gigantic party to have within the game, especially with friends and families. However, those who are expecting anything more beyond all that may have to wait for ND Cube to repeatedly patch this game or improve in the next Mario Party entry in this style with more content and polish, among other things. There may be redeeming qualities in bringing back the crowd who were spoiled with the vehicular style board gameplay in Mario Party 9 and 10, but Super Mario Party is in no way an automatic recommendation in its current state.

    +Largest character roster in the series!

    +Fun River Survival Mode!

    -Flaws in Mario Party and Partner Party…

    -Limited content in many modes…

    -"Meh" mini games…

    Let us hope the upcoming Super Smash Bros Ultimate doesn’t suffer similar issues…

    Score: 6 out of 10

    Rating:   3.0 – Fair

    Product Release: Super Mario Party (US, 10/05/18)

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