Growing up, Nintendo consoles were the kings of multiplayer games. Planning an afternoon at a friend’s house with a Nintendo 64, GameCube or Wii always meant hours upon hours of lung-bursting laughter and multiplayer madness. And just the simple act of making plans for a Friday hangout with friends on a Monday morning was enough to get me buzzing ahead of an entire (potentially) dreary school week.
Among that multiplayer catalogue sat the mighty (and still-popular) Super Smash Bros. and Mario Kart series, as well as an exquisite set of Mario sports games (namely Mario Power Tennis and Super Mario Strikers), and, of course, the ever-present Mario Party games.
However, that star has sadly lost some of its shine in recent years as a slew of successors, including Mario Tennis Aces, Mario Golf: Super Rush, and Super Mario Party, have flattered to deceive. Personally, I liked some of what those games had to offer, but they just didn’t quite make the cut into the upper echelons of Nintendo’s famed multiplayer pantheon. Thankfully, the rising Mario Party Superstars has finally arrived to shake things up.
Rewrite the Stars
Mario Party Superstars is a homage to the very best of the series. Drawing from a neatly curated assortment of five classic boards and paired with a fine selection of superstar-calibre mini-games from Mario Parties 1 through 10, Superstars plays host to a finely balanced and incredibly engaging good time welcoming players of all skill-levels and gaming backgrounds.
It’s not every day I can say this, but the name Mario Party Superstars feels well earned and truly deserved (unlike most of the “Game of the Year Edition”s we see out in the wild). Here you’ll find the classic Mario Party formula – a four-player dice-rolling board game where the objective is simply to move around the board, play mini-games to earn coins, and use that money to buy as many stars as possible before turns run out.
Whichever player collects the most stars by the end of the last turn wins. It’s a simple and familiar formula, and when done right, like in this case – it never fails to get a party started.
A Party For All
Mini-games have always been at the front and center for Mario Party, and Superstars does a fantastic job in providing ones that play to the strengths of a wide variety of players. Some favour players with more experience gaming on controllers, such as the reflex-heavy Rapid River Race and quick-twitch-platforming Leaf Leap. Others favour players who have a good memory (Messy Memory) or are good at holding their nerves (Night Light Fright).
And for players who enjoy coordination and teamwork, many of the 2-vs-2 and 1-vs-3 mini-games like Tackle Takedown, Bobsled Run, and Dungeon Dash give them a chance to shine too.
But the goodness doesn’t end there. Unlike its 2018 predecessor Super Mario Party, Superstars’ fun goes beyond just its mini-games. A fun assortment of boards, items, and twist-and-turn mechanics are also included to round out the package nicely.
All five included boards have their own unique mechanics for traversing the map and laying traps for opponents.
They also are complemented by items that deepen the strategic elements such as Custom Dice Blocks to avoid traps on Peach’s Birthday Cake or Chomp Calls to move Toadette’s star shop away from nearby players in Woody Woods. This delightful balance of luck and strategy makes the overall board game experience feel fair and engaging throughout.
Gameplay Is King
What Superstars understands the most, however, is the importance of raising stakes as a game progresses, and this is reflected in how boards change as the turns roll on. For example, players can lay traps on the scrumptious-looking Peach’s Birthday Cake by buying “Strawberries” (Piranha Plants) along a straight path to steal coins from other bypassing players.
In the early game, the most you’ll nab from someone is probably just a handful of coins. Later in the game, these will be upgraded to steal stars instead. It turns what a way to gain a minor advantage in the early game when moving across the board into a high-stakes perilous path of landmines was.
I thoroughly enjoyed watching my friends sweat as they tried to figure out how to navigate their way through these innocent-looking but cleverly-devised traps; if I do say so myself (and no, I don’t plan to wipe that smug look off my face).
And it’s not just on the boards. Many play mechanics like Bowser Spaces, Chance Time Spaces, and late-game Duels build on the same stakes-raising design. It effectively turns every single dice roll and roulette spin into a sweaty gacha-roll that will keep players on the edge of their seats in anxious anticipation, before either bursting into a leap of joy or painfully crying in destitution.
There’s never a dull moment here, and also, no, destitution is by no means an exaggeration.
On paper, this may appear to be a game about winning (as with most board games), but it’s really about having a good time with friends. Superstars creates this space by driving an emotional rollercoaster for players (and audiences) to hitch a ride on. It doesn’t matter if you “go big” or “go home”. What matters is that you had a hell of a time while you were there.
What I love most about Superstars is that the joy and excitement aren’t just limited to skilful players. The balanced collection of mini-games and mechanics evenly distributes the fun amongst gamers and non-gamers alike. Beyond that, it also makes for a brilliant spectator game for non-players to backseat on a Twitch stream or at a house party.
Part of the fun of being in a party of people is watching a group joust and pep each other up, thus creating a fun and competitive, yet light-hearted and chaotic atmosphere. And Mario Party Superstars is a game that understands this and finds a way to situate itself right at the heart of it all.
Away from the boards, Superstars has been built from the ground up to take advantage of the Switch’s multiplayer-centric design. In my time with the game, I played it in almost every scenario and setting possible, including solo with enemy AI, local multiplayer, online multiplayer, hybrid (some players online, some local). Even on the kickstand at a Five Guys with a friend while holding one Joy-con each.
The game holds up in every single one of these settings. If you’re playing Solo, you can tailor the very competent enemy AI to a difficulty that matches your skills. (Be warned, my friends and I had our asses completely handed to us by Master AI on multiple occasions. It turns out, Daisy is not to be trifled with.) If you’re playing with friends or strangers, online play is not only surprisingly steady and reliable, but was also designed with much care and attention to the player experience.
The game asks you upon booting up if you’re playing online or not and proceeds to direct you into creating and joining lobbies in a seamless launch process. There’s even an on-screen button prompt to launch Voice Chat directly and sends a notification to the Nintendo Switch Online mobile app on your phone, if you so choose to use it.
Of course, in my own experience, my friends and I, like most regular people, opted to use Discord, and I must say that voice chat is crucial to the Mario Party experience. Perhaps the lack of an in-game Voice Chat feature is the only caveat here, but it seems unfair to put that fault on the shoulders of the game when it really belongs to Nintendo’s overall online gaming strategy.
Icing On the Cake
Elsewhere, the game’s attention to the little quality-of-life and experience-enhancing touches accentuates an already exquisite experience.
Firstly, there’s a sticker function with plenty of cute and expressive options for players to react (and spam) throughout your games, which delightfully replicates the IRL trash-talking experience. Secondly, each host player is also given a player card to customise and show off to other players online – giving the online play experience a good dose of personality and expression.
And lastly, the game also features an in-match option to add five turns to the current game, allowing players to call for an encore and extend the chaos and mayhem if that’s what the party is calling for. In my experience, the latter is a tiny touch that makes a massive difference between a good time and a great one.
The Road Ahead
Seeing Mario Party Superstars fire on all cylinders gets me excited for the potential DLC roadmap for this game (although Nintendo has yet to make any official announcements thus far). As the game’s current set of boards are based on their counterparts from Mario Parties 1 through 3, I’m hoping that we’ll see future DLC expansions starring some of the greatest boards in the subsequent games.
I would love to see more zany boards with different star collections or traversal mechanics return like Mario Party 8’s monopoly-esque Koopa’s Tycoon Town and Mario Party 6’s ship-riding Castaway Bay.
Mario Party Superstars is a quintessential Mario Party and board game experience that draws from the very best of the series’ 23-year legacy. Intricately designed to be at the heart of every party and gathering, the game welcomes players of all skill levels and gaming backgrounds with arms wide open. Elevated by the Switch’s multiplayer-centric design, Mario Party Superstars lets players bring stellar multiplayer mayhem and madness along with them anytime, anywhere.
Perhaps its greatest feat, however, is joining behemoths Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate in completing the trinity of multiplayer must-haves in your Nintendo Switch catalogue.