Skill, fun, strategy, luck, and betrayal. There’s an invisible balance between these that define a good Mario Party game (and a lot of other games), and it’s a delicate line that even slight changes can ruin. A few recent Mario Party’s have messed with the formula just a little too much. Driving around in a car ruins the strategy. Too many motion-controlled minigames ruin the skill. And just buying golden pipes and warping to stars can easily ruin the fun.
It’s no surprise then that people still remember older Mario party games fondly, wishing for a modern spin on the series that retains the magic of old. Well, Nintendo listened, and Mario Party fans are in luck. Because Mario Party Superstars takes liberally from the older titles, lifting boards and minigames wholesale, and adding a smattering of HD polish.
However, you also get all the latest modern offerings as you relive the glory days with pals online, as well as unlock achievements, raise your player level, and unlock extra stickers and customisation to show off. In short, there’s a very good chance Mario Party Superstars is everything you have wished for.
Out of the gate, it’s worth mentioning that Mario Party Superstars looks gorgeous. A marked step up from Super Mario Party (which I will try not to mention too much in this review, but essentially, I’m not the biggest fan), Mario Party Superstars brings these characters and games to life with a joyful amount of clarity and colour, looking nearer to an animated movie than ever before.
Boards such as Peach’s Birthday Cake are a vibrant delight that exemplifies smart design. The toyetic look and clever use of depth of field and texture effects mean everything looks good enough to eat. Horror Land looks great with glowing eyes peering out of walls, a fog falling over the board as it turns to night, and the haunted house looking straight out of Luigi’s Mansion 3.
All of the minigames retain this fun visual style that rewards the simplistic character designs with great animation and wonderful effects to bring everything to life. Donkey Kong claps his hands with glee at every turn, and Waluigi’s determined “Wahhh” made me laugh every single time. While it’s not dazzling 4K, everything looks exactly as good as it needs to, and is made more impressive by the fantastic art style and funny animation.
Of course, the meat of the game is in the minigames, and I’m happy to report it’s good news. Picking a selection of games from previous Mario Party titles, the curation here is incredible and a fantastic balance of skill and luck. Classics like Balloon Burst, Monty’s Revenge, and Shy Guy Says, all do a fantastic job of rewarding good players, but also never alienating anybody else. Anyone can understand these games quickly, and can play them with a few simple button presses. Mario Party works best when it’s an open playing field, and you feel like you’ve truly earned that victory over your gran.
Meanwhile, other titles like Bowser’s Big Blast, which gives players a series of levers to push with one igniting a big Bowser-shaped bomb, feel tactical enough to still be thrilling. It’s all luck at the end of the day, but you still made your choice, so it never feels unfair. My biggest gripe with Super Mario Party was how many of the motion-based minigames felt completely devoid of any meaning, because the controls felt so loose or inaccurate. Here, every decision is yours, every movement is easily conveyed, and you win or lose by your own hand.
It’s not all gravy though, as every batch has its duds. There are a couple of minigames that still feel very one-sided, especially when it comes to the 1 vs 3 games. I never played a game of Piranha’s Pursuit, a game where three people encourage a Piranha Plant, chasing a player on a skateboard, where the lone player didn’t win. It’s also worth mentioning that there are some games that retain the button bashing or analog stick mashing controls of old. Tug o’ War still demands you spin the analog stick at the highest velocity possible, which isn’t something I was happy to do on the already flimsy Joy-Con.
Considering how welcome the move from motion-based minigames to entirely button-controlled games was, I think a couple of further accessibility options would be a blessing. Not everyone can bash buttons as quickly as others, and poor gran can’t spin an analog stick as much as she can do a backflip. Playing with just ardent Mario Party players you’ll never notice, but this is also a family game, and a couple of smart options could have levelled the playing field further. Not just for inexperienced players, but I can imagine less able players might have some difficulty as well.
One area that has been completely nailed is the boards. With five available from the very beginning, and a good mixture of strategies between them, these are a great selection. Yoshi’s Tropical Island may not be the most demanding, but there’s still room for thought, and the possibility of a star snatched at the last second. Space Land soars on aesthetic alone, but also offers a great few ways to annoy your opponents. You can force everyone to move with Bowser’s giant laser blast, and use the Sniff-Its to chase players around the map. It keeps things lively while never feeling unfair.
The only map that didn’t get picked in our regular rotation was Woody Woods, as after playing a couple of times it felt lacking in fairness and charm. Monty Mole changes the direction of each path every turn, and even getting to the stars was a chore. You can use golden pipes and the Chain Chomp whistle to get around this, but it still feels almost impossible to actually get anywhere on this map.
However, Woody Woods aside, the other maps are a great selection of classics brought to life in stunning detail, and offer the best sort of Mario Party experience. The star never feels out of reach, and there are still plenty of ways to mess with other players, so even when you’re a few stars short after a couple of games, victory could still be in your grasp with a few smart choices.
You can also customise games in great detail, as you can choose to play just ten turns or a marathon of 30 turns. You can even add turns as you play, if you’re particularly enjoying a match with friends. Another great change is the ability to toggle bonus stars. You can either have them awarded at random (most steps walked, most items used, and other random parameters), or you can set them to classic, which rewards the players who won the most mini-games and who collected the most coins. This feels like a much more rewarding way to play, and further incentivised mini-games when you know a star is on the line. You can also just turn them off, so the choice is yours.
The actual mechanics have been tweaked as well, with stars now costing 20 coins, and golden pipes not being available until much later in the game. Items like warp pipes return, and allow you to swap places with opponents, and the Chain Chomp whistle moves the location of the star. It all works to make things feel much more balanced, and like anyone can snag victory at the last moment. Yet you can also get around most boards with a few perfect dice throws, so simply collecting items isn’t always the best strategy.
There are still plenty of ways to cause an upset of course, including things like Bowser spaces that have a host of awful options that nobody wants to receive. Bowser Revolution takes away everyone’s coins and gives them back equally, which is a great way to change the game. There’s also plenty of ways to swap coins/stars or snatch them away, so you can betray anyone if you dare. In our preview I accidentally swapped all of my coins and stars with a Nintendo rep, something I worry I will never live down. I did win though, so it was worth it.
Outside of the main game, there’s still plenty to enjoy if you just fancy a few minigames without spending an hour on a board. Heading over to Mt. Minigames gives you access to loads of modes. Daily challenge lets you tackle set games online, with rewards for winning. Coin battle lets you tackle coin collecting minigames with friends or online. And tag match and trio challenge let you explore either 2v2 or 1v3 minigames respectively. There’s even a survival mode, where you play against online opponents in a battle to survive the longest. Considering what a great batch of mini-games are available here, it’s lovely to see so many different ways to enjoy them as well.
We also got a chance to test online play before launch, and can report that it ran solidly in our tests. We played a four-player game for over an hour, and at no point suffered from framerate issues, lag, or any crashes. In fact, it was very impressive how even the most technical of minigames performed. There are even options to pause and resume online play, which is a fantastic addition. These games can take forever, so the option to pause a game with pals and pick up another night is very, very welcome.
a real treasure trove of nostalgia, paying respect to the many classic entries over the years
There are still no options for voice chat unless you want to fire up Discord, but if you want to antagonise your pals then Mario Party Superstars makes use of a sticker system not dissimilar to the one used in Triforce Heroes. Choose from a selection that’s individual for each character, though many more can be unlocked with coins outside of games. They’re all very safe, but it’s still fun to post a Boo sniggering with maniacal glee at an opponent’s bad luck, or to bash “MISS” before a friend rolls a dice. They can also be turned off, so if you don’t want to suffer the indignity of people posting “nice try” when you fail, you don’t have to.
Speaking of unlockables, Mario Party Superstars features a ‘Mario Party Level’ which you increase over multiple games, as well as coins used for unlocking customisation features. Your level unlocks more items in the shop, and the shop features not only stickers, but different backgrounds for your player card (visible to friends online), and also encyclopedia entries for the characters, games, and minigames. These entries are a real treasure trove of nostalgia, paying respect to the many classic entries over the years. However, outside of stickers, there isn’t a lot of meaningful stuff to actually unlock.
It would be nice to be able to unlock either the last couple of boards, or some characters, as this entry has paired the options back to a simple eight. Even Bowser isn’t playable, as he takes on an important role in most boards. But going from the many optional and unlockable characters of Super Mario Party, as well as the different dice they held, to a simple roster of classic characters here, feels like a shame. Waluigi and Birdo are about as weird as it gets, so even fairly safe entries like Dry Bones, Diddy Kong, Monty Mole, or King Boo would have been neat to see return.
Still, there’s a very solid base here, and while the support for Super Mario Party doesn’t fill me with hope, I truly am crossing my fingers that Mario Party Superstars adds to its fairly generous package with updates or DLC down the line. With competent online features available from the beginning, as well as a fantastic selection of games and boards, this game deserves to have some legs. It’s up to Nintendo to keep people playing though, but considering this is a celebration of past entries, they have a huge wealth of proven fan favourites of characters, boards, and minigames they could add over time.
Mario Party Superstars is a delightful concoction of nostalgia and modern flourish that perfectly encapsulates the spirit of the series. Careful curation has brought some of the best elements of the series into the present, while robust online features make it a joy to share with friends. While certain elements feel a little bare-bones at launch, the core gameplay is an absolute blast to share with friends and family, and smart tweaks alongside the fantastic foundations mean Mario Party has never been better.