Mario Party Superstars: Why a Return to Form is the Best Thing for the Series by@mm22

Mario Party Superstars: Why a Return to Form is the Best Thing for the Series

Mario Party Superstars returns to the classic gameplay formula of the series, dating back to the first releases on the Nintendo 64. This was the formula for years until the 2010s, when new developers were brought on and "innovations" were attempted. These changes ended up watering down the series formula, restricting the variety that came from each round of the game. Super Mario Party, released only a few years ago, makes a partial return to form while adding its own elements. But the lack of boards to play on and the generally reduced size of those boards still makes it feel lackluster compared to previous titles. Mario Party Superstars isn't trying to make any big gameplay innovations, but it's going back to the series roots; as if to understand why people love Mario Party in the first place. That alone makes this latest title worth looking at.
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Marc Magrini

Huge fan of video games hoping to inform and entertain people

Image via Nintendo's Official Website

Following 11 mainline titles and numerous spinoffs, the latest title in the Mario Party series - Mario Party Superstars - is set to release very soon. It borrows elements from the oldest titles in the franchise, acting somewhat like a “best of” collection of boards and minigames. This might come as a surprise to some, especially when the recent Super Mario Party title ended up as the best-selling game of the series.

The Mario Party series has gone through many changes over the years. After the developers of the first 8 mainline titles were absorbed by Konami, later games attempted to do their own thing in the form of ‘innovating’ the base gameplay. These changes make one thing clear; Mario Party Superstars will likely be the best game in the series since 2007.

Before Mario Party Superstars: Gameplay Changes Throughout the Franchise

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Image via official press release

The Mario Party series started on the Nintendo 64, providing a baseline for the gameplay style used by most of the series. Mario characters move around a board, trying to collect coins and stars to achieve victory. After each character moves once, a minigame is played to signify the end of a turn, allowing players to compete in order to improve their standing.

Each title had its own extra features and gimmicks between the boards you could play on. Some were linear, only allowing players to grab stars at the end, while others featured unique ways of obtaining those stars in the first place. Players could focus on stealing stars from opponents, or simply opt to collect enough coins to achieve bonuses at the end of the game. The base gameplay was simple, yet it allowed for immense creativity.

This changed after the release of Mario Party 8. With the aforementioned absorption of Hudson by Konami, all mainline Mario Party titles were developed by Nd Cube, the minds behind the Wii Party titles. This was the moment the series was changed, for better or for worse...but in my personal opinion, it’s hard to argue for the former.

Minor Disappointments, Major Mishaps

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Image via official press release

The first Mario Party developed by Nd Cube, Mario Party 9, was also the first mainline title to alter the base gameplay completely. 

Boards

Rather than moving around a board on their own to collect stars and coins, all players are forced to move together using a vehicle. Every board is incredibly linear to account for this, and the only way to win is by collecting mini-stars scattered around each board. There are no coins and no regular stars; no matter what strategies you might use, there’s only one way to progress.

Minigames

Even the minigames were altered. The actual variety and fun of these minigames hasn’t diminished, but there’s a lot less charm to them. At the end of each minigame, all characters are simply put in a lineup where they play a happy or a sad animation, depending on whether they won or lost. This is quite different to how previous titles worked; characters would pose in the minigame’s area, sometimes having unique victory or defeat animations. Even with the addition of boss minigames in Mario Party 9, all players face off against an enemy together. Enemies can’t even harm the players; their attacks just cause a loss of points.

The boards and the minigames are the heart of Mario Party. While a deeper change to the formula could have been welcome, the changes brought in by Mario Party 9 erased a lot of the unique ways of play. Less strategies could be used since players all shared the same space, and even minigames felt less competitive to a point. This altered style of gameplay was brought over for Mario Party 10, a title that garnered mixed reviews from both players and critics. Even though that title had numerous gamemodes for players to enjoy, it was hard to deny that the series lost the spark that made it so great in the first place.

Super Mario Party was a New Beginning with Familiar Elements

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Image via official press release

This might’ve been the start of the series’s downfall, but that changed with Super Mario Party. Abandoning the numbering system used up to then, this mainline title was almost a sort of reboot for the franchise, taking elements from many previous games to make something new out of them. The result is a return to form for the series, bringing the classic coins-and-stars gameplay of the series back in full. It showed up in previous titles and even spinoffs, but Super Mario Party was the first time in 10 years that this style returned as the main focus of a game.

New Elements

Super Mario Party included further elements to differentiate itself as a new title. Players can gather partners as they travel through boards, giving them access to alternate dice blocks they can use. Alternate modes make for more team-based gameplay, allowing players to move around boards much more freely. Even the roster is unique, being the first Mario Party title to make Bowser a fully playable character rather than giving him his own gamemode or gimmick.

Lack of Boards

Unfortunately, even its return to form isn’t perfect. Super Mario Party only has four boards available for players, the lowest of any mainline Mario Party. The boards themselves are also much smaller than usual, with some of them struggling to even surpass 30 spaces. These restrictions most likely come from a simple gameplay change - the default dice block rolls 1 through 6, like in Mario Party 9 onwards. Not as much space is moved during a turn as a result, possibly warranting a reduced size for the boards. This size limits the secrets and gimmicks found in boards, and I’ve personally found the overall variety between rounds of Super Mario Party to be very lacking compared to older titles.

Minigames

This game does bring back some of the charm from minigames, where characters will sometimes pose in unique ways in a minigame’s arena. But such a change is superficial compared to the alterations the boards themselves have gone through. Super Mario Party was unable to capture the heart of Mario Party that the older games were known for. And that is where Mario Party Superstars succeeds.

The Best Answer: Mario Party Superstars

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Image via Nintendo's Official Website

While I might sound like I’m simply advocating for the newest game in the Mario Party series, I’m also writing as a confirmation that those older N64 titles really are as good as fans of them remember. Sure, future games had their own gimmicks and changes, but because the series stuck with its formula - up until 9 - it managed to keep a sense of familiar-yet-unique fun. Mario Party Superstars realizes this, and ports over the gameplay of those older titles in full - as well as numerous boards and minigames across the series.

While Superstars doesn’t really do anything unique for the gameplay, it also doesn’t really need to. By returning to the old series formula, the game can focus on that style that made Mario Party so great in the first place. If the developers do decide to further ‘innovate’, their experience in working on this new title should certainly show them why the older games are still so beloved - and how further experiences could be improved.

There’s very little I can say about Superstars that would be considered bad. My greatest complaints would be that the minigame choices are a little skewed, with only two minigames returning from Mario Party 8, and that there’s only five boards. Certainly a number greater than Super Mario Party, but most titles featured six or more. Even so, there is always the possibility of updates or hidden unlockables; there will likely be quite a bit to look forward to as the game nears its launch date.

Not every change or innovation is a good thing, and sometimes it can be wonderful to simply return to your roots. Mario Party Superstars decides to go back on the changes introduced in more recent Mario Party titles, opting to regain the focus of being an intricate, fun, competitive party game. I’m personally very happy to see this happen, and I wonder how the future of Mario Party will play out...and if Nintendo will decide to follow suit with some of their other series.

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