Review – Mario Party Superstars

For over two decades, Nintendo has brought forward the insane notion that their iconic characters would come together in a variety of scenarios that aren’t simply battles of good vs. evil. There’s been kart racing, basketball, tennis, and, most notably, party games. Mario Party was the 1998 spectacle that left everyone wondering: how can I ruin my friendship without actually putting in any effort? It was the launch of a series that, for many people, would go through peaks and valleys, extreme highs (Mario Party 6) and embarrassing lows (Mario Party Advance or The Top 100) but always keep the faith in having fun with the players.

Now, after an arguably rough start with Super Mario Party, the Nintendo Switch has a worthy installment to call its own. But this excellent release is another example of the monkey’s paw that is Nintendo: we get what we want, but at what cost?

Mario Party Superstars is a carefully crafted stew that is created from the bones and meat of the Mario Party titles that are not easily accessible to current gen players. It’s a Frankenstein’s monster of glorious proportions: you have boards from the Nintendo 64 games, mini games from nearly every iteration, and graphics that are distinctly on par with the best of in-house development on the Switch.

Up to four players (local or online!) can join together to navigate a fun and colorful board in order to save coins to buy stars. Whomever has the most number of stars at the end of a set amount of turns wins. It seems simple enough, but remember that Nintendo completely botched that for Mario Party 9 and 10, so don’t roll your eyes at this breakdown. In order to get more coins, you can pick them up from lucky events and stopping on blue spaces, but they mostly come from competitive minigames at the end of each turn, where anyone/everyone can win, depending on the conditions.

Oh yea, it's big mushroom time.

Toad did eight years at Stanford to explain this to you.

For those whose first foray into Mario Party was Super Mario Party, everything about Mario Party Superstars is a massive leap forward. The online matchmaking is tight and secure, with plenty of people waiting to play most of the time. The number of boards is higher, and also the board design is stronger: there’s less of a “random” feeling to things, like what existed so strongly with the King Bob-Omb board. The graphics are still top notch, but now there’s a much wider variety of mini games, primarily because Nintendo is pulling from a massive library of existing activities that were tried and true in the form of fans replaying them, voting for them, and even validating them with the Mario Party: The Top 100 release for the 3DS a while back.

Also, there’s better stop and start options: if you walk away from a game because, you know, you have a life, as long as everyone is on board it’s easy to come back and continue. Obviously, a lot of this is going to be opinionated: I didn’t like Super Mario Party, so to compare something as being “better” is based off of me having played every damn Mario Party game to date. This is an element players should consider when they jump into this foray.

For example, some minigames have aged very well in Mario Party Superstars, with things like Pokey Pummel, Soccer Shootout and the crowd pleasing Bumper Balls still being top notch and looking even better nowadays. However, there are older games that weren’t great before and sincerely aren’t great now. The 1v3 game where players all need to look in different directions. That works great with school kids in the classroom, and significantly less so with players holding controllers. Or pushing the A button at just the right time to pick up a cake on a conveyor belt, then pushing A to put it back down. Once you have the timing down, it’s not much of an engaging activity.

In fact, when you can peel off the veneer of nostalgia and excitement, you realize that a lot of the games, coming straight from the N64 and Gamecube era, are excessively simple and straightforward. Super Mario Party, for all its faults, was able to utilize the Joycon’s unique properties (gyroscope and such) to make some really fun and engaging minigames. You don’t get that as much here, not even an inclusion of some of the old microphone games from the Gamecube era.

It's like picking toppings at Coldstone.

And yet, with all these choices, we’re still just watching reruns of The Office.

Speaking of old to new, I can’t stress enough how pretty Mario Party Superstars looks. It’s not just that the game is polished and shiny, it’s that the team made a point to do a comparison before the start of each board. With a Koopa coming in to talk about the history of each board, you get an accompanying N64 screenshot of how the game looked “long, long ago,” and it throws into stark contrast the level of care and creation that went into the update.

A lot of players were jaded about the Super Mario 3D All-Stars, and that’s understandable: all three titles were just run through in-house emulators, with some bits and bobs added under the hood. This is a ground up rebuilding of all elements, and I can’t overlook or understate how impressive this all is. Nintendo really could have just slapped the word “Collection” on three Gamecube games (not even all of them) and sold them at cost and still made a buck, but this is an earnest amount of effort. The sprites are delightfully colorful. The boards pop and make you pay attention. And every time a damn fish swallowed Toadette on Yoshi’s Island, I laughed. The animations are so comical they really grab you and pull you into the atmosphere of it all.

Mario Party Superstars Graphics

Seriously, they did a fantastic job.

Naturally, Mario Party Superstars added a few more aspects to make it unique, and these ended up being the biggest hit-or-miss elements of them all. Mt. Minigame, a story-less area where you can just play the games and compete in local and online leaderboards, is the strongest aspect, allowing you to get better in the places where you’re a bit lacking or just to flex on people worldwide.

Do Survival and try to get to the top of the list; it’s a great feeling. The store on the main map allows you to unlock a bevy of non-competitive interactions, like listening to the music or reading encyclopedic pages about every character that’s ever crossed a Mario Party board. You get the coins from wins in Party Mode or Mt. Minigame, so get ready to grind if you’re a completionist. If I could stop listing things now, it would be a perfect set, but I have to add in the Stickers.

This is the face I make everytime I run a yellow light.

Go on, Waluigi. Spread chaos.

Holy gods, I hate the stickers. The stickers are meant to be the passive “communication” that exists in each Mario Party: it usually involves your character yelling something when someone else is taking a turn, and this usually results in your friends spamming sounds until you strike them. Now, there’s a small cache of stickers, some generic and some unique to the characters, that you’re supposed to use to commend a strong move or commiserate when you/someone else has a bad turn.

In reality, the stickers are on a hair trigger with the joystick and buttons, and your friends, your children and literally anyone can end up flashing them repeatedly over the screen, thankfully not obscuring gameplay, but still drawing focus. Why does Nintendo insist on always adding stickers to things? I hated trying to find all the stamps in Mario 3D World, and I hate that you can save up coins to buy even MORE stickers. I disabled them locally, but I can’t do much if I do online and some player decides they need to flood my screen with their OH NO shells.

What it all comes down to is the importance of Mario Party Superstars and what it means to Nintendo and Mario Party fans. People lament, constantly, at every decision Nintendo makes. The level of vitriol against the new Nintendo Switch Online Plus service is palpable, but also justified: it’s a lot of money for a lot of nothing. Here, at least, we’re seeing genuine effort to update the old school games to make them more accessible, more visually pleasing, and also to acknowledge that the new titles have taken some bad turns. But it’s also a crushing blow to NDCube, and what it means for the future of the franchise.

If the best Mario Party game in over a decade is just a remix and revamp of all the games that came before, what the hell are we going to do next? I can’t totally count out anyone for having a sudden strike of inspiration, but it’s a sad fact that any good Mario Party after 2008 was predominantly leaning on the house that Hudson built. Like the doom I felt when Hudson announced their departure after Mario Party 8, I feel that this might be the last we see for a while.

Three stereotypes, one princess.

Good job, three dudes in pants. You out-sported someone in a dress.

So go, good people of the Switch. Go enjoy Mario Party Superstars. It’s a brilliant entry point for those who didn’t play the old ones, and it’s a welcome revival to those who remember the classics fondly. Sure, there aren’t as many characters to choose from, but there’s enough, and Waluigi is here, so at least give him that. This isn’t a bold new album from your favorite band, it’s a remastered Greatest Hits CD, and it’s bittersweet. You remember everything you loved, and are told, gently but firmly, that there isn’t going to be anything new or good under the sun. That needs to be okay, because we don’t have a choice otherwise.

Graphics: 10

Sparkling, gorgeous designs with original snapshots to underline how much work went into this version.

Gameplay: 9.0

Controls are tight as a drum and boards are great, but I wish we had more Switch-centric activities.

Sound: 9.5

With light, bubbly and upbeat melodies, you’re bopping along to ruining someone’s day.

Fun Factor: 10

I hate my friends all over again. Thanks, Mario Party Superstars!

Final Verdict: 9.5

Mario Party Superstars is available now on Nintendo Switch.

Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.