REVIEW: Celebrate two decades of hootenannies with MARIO PARTY SUPERSTARS

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Mario Party Superstars
Mario Party Superstars

Mario Party Superstars offers the chance to look back (and play through) more than twenty years of Mario Party history. If you aren’t a fan of the core series concept, this entry is unlikely to do much to change your mind. However, if you’re looking for the most polished version of the game possible, then Mario Party Superstars deserves a place in your game library.

A Long History

Mario Party Superstars is hyper-aware of the history of the series, and it will make sure that you’re aware, too: the game opens on the warp pipe that started it all back in the first Mario Party game accompanied by dialogue that emphasizes the fact that you may recall the location from the distant past.

The man in the Mario hat went down the green pipe, and the Waluigi followed.

From there, it’s on to one of five game boards, each of which originated in one of the earliest games. Again, there’s no chance that you won’t realize that these boards came from previous generations of Mario Party: the game includes dialogue that is supplemented with “old photos” of the original games, with the blocky original visuals intact.

Nintendo 64 sprites just hit different.

If you’ve played any game in the Mario Party series before, the gameplay will be familiar, as well. After rolling to determine turn order, each of the four players takes turns rolling the dice and traveling around the game board, attempting to gather stars and coins as they do so. If you have fewer than four human players, CPUs will be used to make up the difference.

It’s probably not going to be hugely surprising to you that the mini-games are culled from previous generations of Mario Party, as well. There’s not too much of a problem with this: for one thing, while you may remember having played Bumper Balls in the distant past, with fast-paced mini-games like this, there’s still some degree of novelty (even when you’ve played the particular game before). Plus, each set of mini-games instructions includes the logo for the original Mario Party in which the game appeared, allowing you to easily identify the point of origin for each element included in Superstars.

The true identity of Jack the Ripper finally revealed???

Furthermore, an option at the beginning of the main game mode allows you to select which “variety” of mini-games you’re interested in playing. These include options like “Nintendo 64” and “GameCube,” if you want a game fueled purely by nostalgia, as well as a “Family” option that is meant to facilitate an accessible round, suitable for players of any age or experience level (and conversely, there’s also a “Skill” option, for all you hard-core Mario Partiers).

NINTENDO SIXTY-FOURRRRRR!!!

While the mini-games may be culled from past Mario Party titles, the graphics for each of them have been updated to match the current style for Nintendo’s flagship titles: cartoony characters with hyper-realistic textures and (in some instances) settings. If you’re a fan of this aesthetic, as I am, then this game is a visual delight… and in case you’re wondering, the aesthetic carries through to the menus, as well, which are designed to resemble a village replete with an Option House and a Data House.

Nothing like a good “Nintendo Menu Village,” eh?

And although the Mario Party Superstars mini-games do include some weird entries (like the two-versus-two mini-game that sees each team tasked with crawling around and eating a giant photo-realistic pizza pie), they never veer into the outright bizarre nature of the micro-mini-games that characterize the WarioWare games. 

And one final note: Mario Party Superstars does include some of the infamous “control-stick spinning” mini-games from the first Mario Party. Back in 1999, these games garnered negative press because kids figured out you could generally win if you were willing to press your hand against the control stick and apply excessive force – but predictably, this led to injuries. 

Silly looking characters. Realistic looking desert vista.

Once upon a time, to assuage angry parents, Nintendo even sent out a “special glove” by request, which you could wear while playing Mario Party in order to avoid Nintendo 64 stigmata. Now, we just get a warning telling you not to hold your controller that way. But let me just take this opportunity to advise any players who are too young to remember the gory days of the first Mario Party that victory on the virtual game board is not worth it!

Online Play

Like Super Mario Party, released for Nintendo Switch in 2018, Mario Party Superstars includes an online mode that allows you to party with distant friends (and actually, they don’t even have to be your friends, provided you have the code that accesses a particular game room). 

Although I suspect that there will never be a way to top having four friends in a single room playing a round of Mario Party, in this brave new world (that has such COVID in it), online play offers a safe way to get down and dirty on the game board without risking your health.

Bells & Whistles

While the basic mechanics of Mario Party gameplay remain intact, there are a few nice features that bear mentioning.

One is the ability to resume a game that is interrupted mid-round, even if one of the human players has dropped out. I discovered this feature by mistake, after my spouse and I began a match but were unable to complete it. When I booted the game up again the next day, I had expected to simply restart and begin a single-player match by myself, I discovered that the game automatically replaced my spouse’s character with a CPU and I was able to continue the game from the point at which I had left off.

Stickermania in Mario Party Superstars!

There is a nice addition to the gameplay in terms of what you can do when it isn’t your turn, too: rather than the more generic taunts that were present in earlier versions of the game, Mario Party Superstars introduces stickers that you can use during other players’ turns. As you can expect from Nintendo, these stickers are all well designed, and the avialable selection will vary to match which character you’ve chosen to play as.

The previous titles in the series are summarized in the encyclopedia.

Another feature I appreciated was the Data House and Toad’s Shop, which work together to provide a certain type of player with motivation to continue returning to this game: there’s a selection of stickers, music, and encyclopedia entries that you can purchase at Toad’s Shop using coins you’ve earned in gameplay, and then view over at the Data House once they’ve been purchased.

Guess which character I most often play as…

The encyclopedia pages are particularly well done, and include an easy visual guide that lays out just which Mario Party titles a given character has appeared in. If you’re the kind of player who is interested in fully unlocking this kind of thing, then the Data House will keep you returning to Mario Party Superstars time and again. 

You can customize your card’s backgrounds, title, and more.

Better still, your “Mario Party Level” keeps track of how much you’ve unlocked, and pushes you to unlock more by informing you of how many points and levels you have to work through before you unlock the next round of content at Toad’s Shop. There is also an achievement page, if you’re the sort who prefers to have targeting goals as you work through the game.

In addition to the encyclopedia entries, you can also unlock the “classic” versions of the songs, if you prefer the sweet-sounding digital melodies of the Nintendo 64 to the more advanced synthetic harmonies of the Nintendo Switch. And speaking of the music, it’s a highlight here, as it is in any Nintendo game. There is catchy tune after catchy tune on this soundtrack, with the music that leads in to the end-of-turn mini-game being particularly irresistible.

Mario Party Superstars
Girls trip!! A boatload of fun can be had at Mt. Minigames.

And like most Mario Party titles, this also has a mode that allows you to take part in mini-game after mini-game without rolling virtual dice between rounds: Mt. Minigames. There are several options on how to play at Mt. Minigames, including a Daily Challenge and Free Play.

Mario Party Superstars

I have only two hang-ups about Mario Party Superstars. The first is more of a nitpick: I was disappointed that there was no Amiibo support for this game. While it definitely wasn’t a feature that would have been included back when the series first arrived (Amiibo didn’t debut until 2014), it still would have been nice to unlock some special features (like, say, additional stickers) using the figures.

And my second hang-up isn’t really a complaint at all. However, while playing both Super Smash Bros.: Ultimate and Mario Party Superstars, I did occasionally have cause to wonder: just where do these titles go from here?

Mario Party Superstars
The interactive (unlockable) staff credits feature a scrapbook that highlights Mario Party’s history and foregrounds the mini-game aesthetic updates.

Fortunately, as a critic, what’s going into the next game is not my problem: I just have to play the damn thing. And if the next round of Mario Party as much fun as this one and the previous ones have been, well, that’s a burden I’ll gladly bear.


Mario Party Superstars is available now on Nintendo Switch. 

Review code provided to The Beat by Nintendo.

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