When Super Mario Party shindigged its way onto Switch in 2018, I figured it was the start of a new chapter in the series’ legacy. While familiar, it was fairly distinct in its approach to boards and minigames, and managed to be a whole lot of fun with changes it was putting into place – something its predecessors struggled with. It seemed Nd Cube wanted to fully escape the ghost of parties past, at least until someone at Nintendo no doubt had the genius thought, “what if old Mario Party, but new?”
So here we are, with Mario Party Superstars – a recreation of familiar (and dare I say beloved) gameplay akin to what was found on the Nintendo 64 in particular. Having rolled my share of Dice Blocks growing up alongside those games, I was extra eager to take another lap around these boards. At the expense of growing the franchise in any meaningful way, Superstars manages to recapture what made the earliest entries so fantastic in the first place, while keeping some of the smarter streamlining of its current state.
When you first start up Mario Party Superstars, you’re greeted by Koopa Troopa inviting you back to Mushroom Village, the pleasant little hub from the original Mario Party. This was but the first wave of nostalgia I’d be battered by, pulling me down the Warp Pipe to pick from one of five N64 era boards. Compared to the roam around hub of Super Mario Party, it’s nice to have a more traditional menu back if only to streamline the party planning process.
Once you’re getting things together, you’ll find that Superstars sticks to the expected Mario Party staples. Picking turn count and Bonus Stars is joined by narrowing the 100 minigame pool to specific types, including the option to limit things specifically to the N64 and GameCube eras. The cast of partygoers is serviceable, but still has a few notable omissions. Presumably Toad, Toadette, and Boo are sitting things out due to their roles on the board but the lack of Shy Guy and Dry Bones is unfortunate.
With only five boards to choose from, things can sound shallow on paper – even I felt that way at first. After giving them a go, and looking back at the boards on offer from the first three games, it’s a serviceable amount that lends itself well to no one board being “left behind”. In the past there were definitely boards that didn’t get nearly as many plays as the others, so a few solid offerings makes sense. Still, for the sake of keeping the game fresh in the long-term, I hope Nintendo considers adding more boards in the future, perhaps from some of the GameCube titles even.
Since we haven’t seen these since the 90’s, where they were all looking a lot flatter, the glow-up here is remarkable. Yoshi’s Tropical Island is now a vibrant paradise overflowing with fruit and fun, and the changing time of Horror Land has a greater impact overall. Traversing them is made more enjoyable by some charming choices, like having characters shove each other as they get passed and the presence of dozens of stickers. I’m also a fan of including the boards’ original music as unlockables. The new mixes are fine, even great, but being able to dial things back to that classic soundfont is its own kind of treat.
Having classic board gameplay back is splendid, even if it isn’t a 1-to-1 recreation. Items have been adjusted, both in terms of what’s available and where you can get them. Some of the random and more punishing elements are also absent, making this a defanged experience but one that keeps the core spirit intact. Where things are really faithful and lively are the minigames. Some all-timers are present and accounted for, making for an impressive assortment. These extend through nearly the entire history of Mario Party, which is welcome when it means Pushy Penguins and Booksquirm get to join in.
You can jump into these in their own dedicated Mt. Minigame, a sectioned off area for both free and structured play of the games. This is handy, but doesn’t feature any of the minigame campaigns from the older games, like Mini-Game Island or Mini-Game Land. In that way it comes off as a portion of the package that’s less thought out. The minigames carry the same modern polish as the boards, but aren’t at the same level of superstardom themselves when on their own. It’s also worth mentioning that Mario Party 3’s Duel Mode didn’t get an invite for what’s otherwise a thorough tribute.
It comes as no surprise that Mario Party Superstars is at its best when you’re playing with others. Especially with the above-mentioned lack of a solid minigame campaign, partying solo is possible but not ideal. The game takes its truest form when you’re able to get together four like-minded friends to laugh and shout your way through turns with pizza and drinks in arm’s reach. That said, one of my favorite times was spent showing the game to my mom, who introduced me to the series way back when and was always willing to join in for a game or two. For the record, Superstars got her seal of approval too.
Between all the nostalgia, the modern conveniences (online play!), and the overflowing charm; Mario Party Superstars is a successful return to form for the series. Ideally the game can coexist with the more experimental and forward-thinking work that went into Super Mario Party, as there are still plenty of boards and ideas from the older games that could make a return.
While it does a solid job recapturing the magic, that does come with some of the same shortcomings that have lingered within the series for decades. Within this context, though, I’m more willing to accept them. After all, this retro reunion stated pretty clearly what its goal was, and it absolutely hits that mark. No rolling the dice on this one, Mario Party Superstars is a sure thing.
System: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: October 29, 2021
Developer: Nd Cube