Top positive review
5 October 2018
It's no secret that the Mario Party journey lost its way over the previous two instalments. Such was the fallout from these titles that Nintendo clearly felt compelled to take action - something that's no longer surprising given the Switch era has seen a number of franchises return to earlier (more successful) formulas.
But Mario Party is also the one franchise that could fully take advantage of Switch, with an emphasis on improved motion controls, deft rumble, portability and always having two controllers available.
Thankfully, it doesn't disappoint. Or at least too much.
Nintendo has gone back to basics with the original game board style of gameplay, as well as a host of new and returning features. The overall benefits of this are strategy (or at least an effort to make so) and rivalry. At the right moments you have the gift of giving or taking; the ability to ruin a friend's plan, or sneakily help them out. And this is all done with a host of improvements over the old games, such as actually practicing Minigames before playing them in realtime, a clearer map overview, items that have great impact, character-based dice blocks that encourage you to gamble rather than play safe, and no reward for just hoarding coins.
In my opinion, the most interesting change is the addition of 'allies'. From landing on the correct space, you can choose an additional character to enter the game and assist you on your journey. They not only provide an additional dice but can also be present in certain Minigames. Yet to balance this effect, they can also be a hindrance as the extra dice(s) makes specific moves problematic. Either way, the feature mixes things up nicely and gives you to opportunity to create fun partnerships.
There are 80 Minigames that you gradually unlock, and almost all are inspired by previous entries. The control schemes make full use of the Joy-Cons, from feeling the differences between the rumbles of different characters, to requiring you to make very silly gestures that look ridiculous. Nintendo know their audience; families have always been important, but as with 1-2-Switch, the younger adults who grew up playing the N64 will assume an altogether different perspective of furiously pumping a Joy-Con up and down.
Yes, the game feels like a love letter to those who were there from the beginning. It is incredibly accessible right from the off, with the option to simply dive into whatever game you like from a simple menu, or to actually run around the 3D world with your pals before choosing a mode. Features like this, as well as a sticker mode, NPC characters who reminisce, and even some miningames clearly designed with screen-capturing and social media in mind, it's clear Nintendo wants players to recapture the spirit of earlier games and to share such.
But while the best intentions are there, the content is sometimes a little lacking. At least for now.
In the title's main mode, only four game boards are present, which I feel is very underwhelming. Their uniqueness doesn't quite hide the fact that previous entries have always prided themselves on both originality and quantity - so I can only presume that Nintendo is planning a gradual roll-out of 'boards in a similar vein to content from other titles.
And then there's the online functionality. It could have been the golden jewel of this title, yet the online 'Mariothon' (a mode that lets you play Minigames with others across the world) can often be let down by an overly simple set-up and some connection problems. What makes this all the more frustrating is precise inputs and timing are critical; low frame rates and people quitting don't help.
Other game modes pad out the software in different ways. 'River Survival' is essentially a reincarnation of the 'car' system from the previous two Mario Party entries, only this one works because, ironically, it emphasises right from the off that you are a playing as a team, rather than dressing up a team game as something else. 'Toads Rec Room' allows two Switch systems to communicate with one-another to compete for a small number of unique Minigames in tabletop mode.
'Rhythm Party' is very self-explanatory - a series of Wii-esque motion-controlled games that are... well, actually incredibly fun (provided you disengage your brain and not worry about how ridiculous you'll look). It's a brief affair, but I suspect the draw is that, unlike Wii games of the past, you won't be rewarded for minimal input. Plus, who doesn't want to see Luigi breakdancing after he wins?
As for the title's presentation, I have zero complaints. It was always going to be the best looking Mario Party to date, but I really can't get enough of just thoughtful the animation is now. When navigating the interface, the characters will look around at the options, or physically hold a map as you scan the map, and take on traits that just further expand their personalities. It's worth including Waluigi in every game just to see his (surely intentional) hilarious stride, which feels learned from the Ministry of Silly Walks.
But that stride sums up the overall feeling of this title, which is that it is incredibly self aware. It is primarily targeting an audience that wants flexibility and control over the main game, a broad range of Minigame styles that are catalogued in surprising detail, and a range of characters who reflect the many personalities that we label ourselves. It may lack a little depth as far as boards and online functionality go, but these are correctable. The most important feature is that the basics are spot on, and Mario Party is now back.