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With Mario Party 9, the iconic couch PvP series ditched the ruthless winner-takes-all gameplay in favor of making everyone feel like a loser in a crappy wagon mode that nobody asked for. I’m pleased to report that Super Mario Party is a return to form with proper boards, classic rules, and plenty of 4 player shenanigans.

Time to Shine

In Mario Party, players take turns rolling dice to move around on the board, collecting coins and items before squaring off in minigames at the end of each turn for glory more coins. Your ultimate goal is to buy as many stars as you can before the game ends, which change location each time a player gets one. It’s unfair. It’s bullshit. It’s Mario Party.

A new feature is the custom dice block. Each character has their own variation that they can use instead of the classic dice. Shy Guy’s dice for example will roll a mildly overpowered 0/4/4/4/4/4, and having the ability to influence your roll adds a thin layer of strategy to a part of the game that used to be mostly up to luck.

Another addition are the allies. Any character that isn’t controlled by a player during the game can be recruited on the board, and they will add a 1 or 2 to your dice roll for the rest of the game as well as granting you access to their dice block. While it helps to collect them early to get more extra movement, it turns the custom dice block for most characters useless as you can no longer do specific rolls, defeating their purpose.

The 80 or so included board minigames are neat. If you’re a fan of the series, you’ll of course see many rehashed ideas, but the control scheme of a single Joy-Con coupled with the extensive use of the rumble feature makes many entries feel fresh. A really intuitive addition is the practice mode, which is now embedded in the minigame card reducing the amount of time it takes for everyone to get ready.

The previously mentioned allies also appear to support you in certain minigames as CPUs, drastically increasing your chances of winning. Balance in general seems occasionally questionable, with the most egregious example being Don’t Wake Wiggler, where the first person to start is guaranteed to win. It’s Mario Party, so a far cry from the end of the world, but I can’t recall another entry in the series with multiple broken minigames.

The CPU has some issues as well. Even on Master, the highest difficulty setting, the AI is easily beatable in minigames and poses no challenge on the board. The CPU is extremely predictable and consistently fails to take advantage of major power moves, and pathing issues on certain maps prevent the AI from even attempting to reach the path to the star.

Sort of Fun

The game has undergone some major streamlining, which is mostly welcome. Animations are short, the UI is clean, and the gameplay transitions are really smooth. I’m however less positive about the changes to gameplay.

In order to minimize the amount of time players have nothing to do, 1 player bonus and bowser minigames as well as 2 player duels have been removed. You’ll instead be duking it out in short 4 player VS micro games which make extensive use of the rumble feature. The problem here is that it removes avenues for players to lose coins and stars to each other without replacing it with something else.

As a result, the game becomes really easy. Do a high five after a minigame to get extra coins. You get some coins even if you lose. The price of stars has been halved, and the maps are so small that you’ll always get one. Stealing stars is a calculated expense every other turn. In case you still need coins, play this coin minigame which will pay for the next three stars.

This Mario Party feels safe. Winning hard and losing hard is replaced by winning a little bit here and losing a little bit there. Gone are crazy power swings or crushing RNG shenanigans that will utterly screw someone over. Maybe it makes the game more palatable, but it also lost some of its charm.

Most importantly though, it muddies the focus of the game. For better or worse, Mario Party has always been heavily luck based, and the game was designed around that. Bullshit RNG and ridiculous comebacks had you cursing at your friends.

The new mechanics attempt to introduce more strategy, but the game lacks the depth players need to do anything meaningful. This results in a sterilized experience which is less frustrating, less satisfying and just less… fun. If the series is committed towards providing players with more agency, it will have to rethink some of the rules from the ground up instead of adding some surface level control dials.

Miner Setbacks

Apart from the standard board game which unfortunately only has 4 boards, you can also play a special 2 vs 2 mode where you have free movement. This feels a lot more like a strategy game where you’ll try to race towards the star while your partner goes for the different goodies on the map. I wouldn’t play this over the classic mode, but I was pleasantly suprised by how fleshed out it was and I see a lot of potential in it for future installments.

River Survival has you row down rivers with branching paths featuring different obstacles. Encountering and completing the minigame quickly gives you additional time to reach the finish line. It’s a fun distraction, but the AI is terrible at rowing and the limited amount of minigames available means that you won’t be revisiting this anytime soon.

Challenge Road is a single player mode where you have to beat every existing minigame with additional requirements, such as getting a certain amount of points or finishing within a time limit. There are some really, really dumb ones in here, such as having to win Pull it Together (a button masher) against a Master CPU with 3 allies. At the end of the day, it’s about as fun as it sounds and reeks of padding.

Sound Stage consists of rhythm games where you have to pump your fist or make gestures to a beat. It’s surprisingly fun, but the supported list of minigames is severely limited. An even smaller amount of minigames can be played by combining the screens of two Switches in Toad’s Rec Room – it’s a fun gimmick, but a realistic use case it is not.

You get a shard for clearing a mode, which usually unlocks a new setting for that mode. If you manage to clear them all, you get a story cutscene which you should see around the 8 hour mark. You also get points for playing which you can spend on lame stickers you can put on lame backgrounds. I’m a big sucker for collectibles, but this was too lame even for me.

That leaves us with Free Play where you can play random minigames off a list. But as we saw with Mario Party Top 100, playing minigames without the context of a game board is not fun. Speaking of which, you can’t play classic mode online, instead you’re left with a crappy minigame mode with an extremely limited rotation. Don’t bother.

So despite the decent variety in modes, none of them really have enough content to make them worth replaying. Instead of splitting the few minigames into different modes, they should have been used to flesh out the the main board mode if that was supposed to be the main attraction.

It’s a bit of a shame, really. Considering that most fans just wanted the old format back, Super Mario Party pulling a Smash Bros Ultimate wouldn’t have been bad – expand the character roster, get the most popular boards and mini games together, do some minor tweaks. Who knows, maybe we’ll see some DLC.