The Mario Party series rivals most of Nintendo’s stalwart franchises for longevity and number of entries. It started on the N64 way back in 1998, and then exploded onto the GameCube. Mario Party slowed down on the Wii with only two new entries during the console’s lifetime, but since the late 90s Mario Party has racked up ten main games and three portable versions, one each on the GBA, DS and 3DS. It might not be Nintendo’s most innovative spinoff but it’s definitely one of their most profitable.
And I’ve never owned a one of them. Naturally I’ve played quite a bit of the various Mario Parties with friends but unlike the iterations of Mario Kart and Smash Bros I never felt I really needed to own any of the Mario Party games. Reviewing the latest entry was a little weird for me then, as I’ve seen the series evolve over the years but not in the same detail that I’ve been able to observe the Metroid or Zelda series, for example.
Mario Party 10 is the first main series game on Wii U, and it makes several attempts to leverage the console’s unique features into new modes and ideas for the Mario Party franchise. It certainly accomplishes that, but some of the baggage from the previous couple of games hangs around, weighing down what could have been the epitome of the series and making it just competent.
The main mode, aptly named “Mario Party” keeps the same general format from Mario Party 9. Instead of moving around the board individually, all players are piled into a single vehicle that traverses the board in a fairly linear fashion. Each player takes turns rolling their dice and moving the resultant spaces along the board. When the car lands on a space, whatever action is printed on that space happens to the player whose turn it currently is. This can be anything from gaining special items and dice with unique powers, to challenging every player in the car to a minigame. It’s kind of like The Game of Life, but instead of you and your tiny plastic spouse and kids in the car it’s Mario, Peach, Luigi, Yoshi, Rosalina and a host of other Mario characters. I’ve seen far more dysfunctional family vacations.
The goal for each player is to collect the most mini stars, which are tallied up at the end of the game and determine the winner. Mini stars are obtained by passing through various gates during your turn, or coming out on top in the many minigames scattered across the board. The minigames are actually a lot of fun—easily the best Nintendo has offered in some time—and are easily much better than the anemic fare I saw in Wii Party U. Mario and friends will compete in anything from bomb-throwing competitions to teeing off, pumping up balloons without bursting them, and vying for space on a stage to strike a pose for the camera.
There are even boss battles with various signature Mario enemies, and whoever does the most damage or lands the final blow gets the most mini stars. Bowser Jr. occasionally throws a tantrum and flies down to the board, and if you land on the wrong number of spaces too many times, you risk letting Bowser himself out of his cage. The variety on offer in the main Mario Party mode is the best the series has seen in years, but the way it’s organized is the real problem.
The linear, random nature of the board means that it’s easy to miss the minigame spaces altogether. You could play a fun-filled game packed with minigames, and then the next time you’ll play a comparatively brief, boring and linear hop to the finish without hitting any minigame spaces—all because of the random roll of the dice. Granted there are enough opportunities on the board for crazy fun that something enjoyable is likely to happen, but Mario Party 10 just isn’t the barely controlled ordered chaos I remember from the N64 days. Without a healthy stream of minigames it’s also hard to win the game based on skill. I was racking up the mini stars like a pro until the end, when my friend won the game purely through a random bonus; he used up all his special dice items, which apparently entitled him to 15 more mini stars at the end.
This makes the game bright, colorful fun for children but adults are likely to tune out early on, playing out a board for their kids’ sake rather than their own enjoyment. There’s always an element of chance to any board game, but leveraging skill at the things you can change in your favor against the random odds is how the best players succeed. Mario Party 10 seems too concerned with the idea that “everyone is a winner” to create a meaningful experience where players can practice and get good at the game, which is really too bad.
The main Mario Party mode is a bit disappointing and doesn’t have the replay value of the older games, but a new mode, Amiibo Party, at least partially makes up for it. Obviously this mode makes use of Nintendo’s wildly popular toys-to-life figurines, but you don’t necessarily need one to play…it’s just a lot more fun with an Amiibo. At the beginning of the game each player registers their Amiibo as their gamepiece on the board, and players without Amiibo (or computer players) are represented by small stand-up cardboard tokens. It’s like settling for Mario-themed Candyland pieces as opposed to Mario-themed Monopoly pieces.
The basic rectangular game boards in Amiibo Party are comparatively simple next to the winding-but-linear path in the main mode; again, think Monopoly vs. The Game of Life. This turns out to be a blessing in disguise though, as there’s a lot less empty space so players are usually landing on a fun minigame or activity, or collecting a colorful item or powerup. The pieces also move individually along the board instead of being packed into the same car, making Amiibo Party much closer to the older Mario Party entries on the N64, GameCube and DS.
The goal in Amiibo Party is to collect coins by landing on coin spaces and winning minigames, and then exchanging those coins for power stars when you land on a star. There are ten rounds—enough time to play strategically but not so long that the somewhat simple boards get tedious. You do almost everything in this mode—rolling dice, nabbing items, interacting with the board—by tapping your Amiibo on the Wii U GamePad. This relatively simple action makes the game a lot more tactile, and makes it feel more like you’re playing an actual board game with real tokens. Overall I just liked Amiibo Party more than the standard mode; the action comes more quickly and consistently, skill matters a lot more, and you can even do crazy things like swap out sections of the board.
The final main mode in Mario Party 10 is called Bowser Party. This is a 4 vs. 1 mode, where four humans playing with Wii remotes take on a single, powerful player who plays as Bowser with the GamePad. This is a highly cooperative mode where you aren’t trying to collect anything but just trying to survive against Bowser. The GamePad player is massively overpowered and his/her goal is to sap the heart points of the four players on the board, eliminating them one by one. The Bowser player does this by manipulating the board to trigger traps, or catching up to the cooperative players and putting them through dangerous minigames.
The four team-Mario players really have to work together to defeat Bowser as he can pulverize anyone playing as a loner, and generally just mess with the other players’ heads by drawing on the board and freaking them out. Sometimes a heroic sacrifice is even called for; Bowser loses if just one of the opposing team makes it to the end of the board, so taking a bullet (as it were) for a stronger team member is sometimes the key to victory. Bowser Party is definitely the most creative new idea the Mario Party series has seen in years, it’s just a shame that it’s not the main event.
Mario Party 10 might be a mixed bag in terms of gameplay but Nintendo really outdid themselves when it came to production values. The game has the same clean, colorful and highly expressive art style that Nintendo EAD Tokyo established in Mario 3D World and it still looks brilliant. It might have taken Nintendo years to come around to HD but every game they’re making now just looks fantastic. Mario Party 10 is no exception.
That said, I’m not sure if this is a game I’d want to play long-term. Even compared to some of its older predecessors, Mario Party 10 just doesn’t have a lot of staying power. Amiibo Party and Bowser Party are great new modes that grow the series but they should have been the real focus; Nintendo needs to ditch the “single car” mechanic from Mario Party 9 because at this point it’s just dragging the central gameplay down. Mario Party 10 has a lot to like but most of it feels experimental and half-implemented. Hopefully going forward the developers will learn what worked best in Mario Party 10 and jettison what most players have been complaining about for years now. If they do, the inevitable Mario Party 11 could be something very special.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Sean Colleli has been gaming off and on since he was about two, although there have been considerable gaps in the time since. He cut his gaming teeth on the “one stick, one button” pad of the Atari 800, taking it to the pirates in Star Raiders before space shooter games were cool. Sean’s Doom addiction came around the same time as fourth grade, but scared him too much to become a serious player until at least sixth grade. It was then that GoldenEye 007 and the N64 swept him off his feet, and he’s been hardcore ever since.
Currently Sean enjoys a good shooter, but is far more interested in solid adventure titles like The Legend of Zelda or the beautiful Prince of Persia trilogy, and he holds the Metroid series as a personal favorite. Sean prefers deep, profound characters like Deus Ex’s JC Denton, or ones that break clichés like Samus Aran, over one dimensional heroes such as the vacuous Master Chief. Sean will game on any platform but he has a fondness for Nintendo, Sega and their franchises. He has also become a portable buff in recent years. Sean’s other hobbies include classic science fiction such as Asimov and P.K. Dick, and Sean regularly writes down his own fiction and aimless ramblings. He practices Aikido and has a BA in English from the Ohio State University. He is in his mid twenties. View Profile