Mario Party reinvented
Mario Party has been a staple of Nintendo gaming systems—both home consoles and handhelds—over the last 18 years, and with each iteration you pretty much knew what to expect: new minigames, new game boards, new modes with (generally) small rule tweaks, and familiar, turn-based multiplayer gameplay. The latest game in Nintendo’s venerable board game series, Mario Party Star Rush for Nintendo 3DS, once again delivers new content on the minigame, board, and mode fronts, but shakes up the tried-and-true gameplay with the elimination of turn order, making it always your time to move. This is a faster, more frenetic multiplayer Mario Party experience than we’re used it, and it’s exactly the kind of fresh take this series needed to get us excited again.
Platform(s): Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: November 4, 2016
Developer: Nd Cube
Modes: Single-player, Multiplayer
ESRB Rating: E (Everyone)
Modes, Modes, Modes
Like Kirby: Planet Robobot, Hyrule Warriors, Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympics, and many other recent Nintendo releases, Mario Party Star Rush begins with a humble offering of modes that expands as you play the game, once you reach specific milestones. In this case, Star Rush introduces a “Party Level” system that rewards you with points after each match, with more points given the better your overall results are. After gaining enough points, your Party Level will rise, and so too will the available content you’re able to access in the game.
Initially, only Toad Scramble—by far the meatiest mode of all—is available, but through regular playing you’ll unlock six full new modes, namely Coinathlon, Balloon Bash, Mario Shuffle, Rhythm Recital, Boo’s Block Party, and Challenge Tower. Over time you’ll also unlock playable Mushroom Kingdom characters, like Toadette, Rosalina, and Donkey Kong, who will join your eight starting characters consisting of fan-favourites like Mario, Princess Peach, Yoshi, Toad, and more. For me, it took about three days to unlock everything the game has to offer.
While my early reaction to this leveling up system was disappointment, since I felt I had to a bit of “work” to do before I could enjoy all the game has to offer, after a few matches I realized this regular trickling of new content wasn’t so bad. The reason for this is three-fold: first, introducing you to new modes one by one gives you incentive to play and explore each to their fullest; secondly, knowing I’d get more points the better I performed motivated me to try even harder; and thirdly, the unlocks (which came pretty regularly) gave me a nice sense of accomplishment for my invested time. For a party game you can easily play with your family and friends for months to come, a few days to unlock all the content isn’t too much to ask.
Let’s go through these modes one at a time:
The closest “traditional” Mario Party experience in Star Rush is Toad Scramble, a 4-player mode where everyone rolls a die and moves simultaneously. Your goal is to beat bosses that randomly appear around the game board, which earns you coveted Stars. You can also collect coins scattered across the board, and win minigames to earn additional coins, then at the end of the match every 10 coins earns you 1 extra Star. The player with the most Stars wins.
It’s a simple, easily to grasp concept, so you can immediately start enjoying the game without any learning curve at all. As the mode title implies, every player controls a Toad character (either blue, red, green, or yellow), however soon enough other Mushroom Kingdom inhabitants pop out of pipes, and that’s when the fun kicks up a notch. By landing on a space with another character, they’ll join your team and grant you some excellent perks. First, they’ll add an extra die roll every turn, allowing you to travel farther and collect more coins and power-ups. Secondly, each character has special moves, such as Mario who will stomp on Goombas hiding in tall grass or Princess Peach who makes flowers bloom, which can earn you lots of bonus Coins. Lastly, your teammates will accompany you to boss battles, giving you a huge advantage over players with less buddies than you.
There are 15 different game boards to choose from (a large number by any measure) and I had a blast playing them all, especially in multiplayer sessions with friends (you can also play solo vs. 3 COMs.) Like in past Mario Party games, luck does factor into play, but I also found the strategy to be deeper since everyone moves at exactly the same time, and also you have the freedom to move in any direction you want. Some players might focus on collecting coins, while others try to rally as many buddies as possible, and others still might make a bee line to bosses to snag Stars before their rivals get a chance. Unpredictability is the name of the game in this fun, zany, fast-paced mode.
This is my favourite mode in the whole game. Your goal is to collect as many coins as you can, as fast as you can, through 3 randomly selected minigames out of a possible 12. Every coin will move your character ahead one space on the game board, and usually it’s between 3-5 laps to win. There are really great minigames here, like one where you’re a store clerk and have to deliver the correct power-ups to various Toad customers, or a side-scrolling beat ’em up where you whack bats and Bullet Bills and is basically a modern day version of the Kung Fu Master arcade game.
Several power-ups can also be obtained, some benefiting you, while others hinder your opponents. As examples, you can send a Blooper to ink splat your rivals and temporarily block their screen (same effect as in Mario Kart), cast a Lightning Bolt to slow your opponents’ minigames to a crawl, or use a Double Medal to earn double the coins for a set amount of time. Given how feverishly everyone is collecting coins during minigames, power-ups are extremely potent and disruptive, often with hilarious outcomes.
Balloon Bash is for those who love non-stop multiplayer minigames. This mode is similar to Toad Scramble, only the boards are much more compact and minigames get triggered nearly every turn. There are a few other small changes too, like the ability to play as any unlocked character (not just Toad), and you’ll need pop randomly placed balloons in order to trade coins in for Stars. 35 different minigames are playable in this mode, including many different free for all types, and 2-vs-2 boss battles. I enjoyed the variety of minigames available, which run the gamut from hectic races, to brain teaser puzzles, to games of chance, but compared to past Mario Party titles the selection here is comparatively small. The good news is that most minigames are fun to play, and there aren’t many I’d consider filler.
This amiibo meets Aggravation (the classic board game) mode has you choose three amiibo figures and the goal is get all of them safely to other side of the board before your opponent does the same. Like in Aggravation, if you roll dice and land on the opposing player’s figure, you’ll send them hurling back to their starting position. Moving past a rival character, but not landing directly on them, will knock the character out for a single turn. Mostly, I found, Mario Shuffle is pure luck of the roll, as often you’ll want a specific number (like say roll a 3) but are always at the mercy of the dice. I seemed to win as often as I lost, and the frustrating part was rarely did I ever feel my losses stemmed from bad choices—the majority of time it was simply bad dice rolls. This mode was entertaining for a few repeat plays, perhaps because of its novelty, but I found it wore out its welcome fast since very little skill is involved; the mode practically plays itself.
Borrowing a page from Sega’s Hatsune Miku Project Diva or Nintendo’s own Elite Beat Agents, Rhythm Recital is a music-based mode that has you tap along to popular music from past Mario games. The songs are very nostalgic, ranging from the Overworld Theme from Super Mario World, to Super Mario Galaxy‘s catchy Gusty Garden Galaxy tune, and I enjoyed the subtle remixing to spice up the sounds. Unlike more robust music rhythm games though, this shallow mode has you repeatedly tap the touchscreen with very little variations in rhythm, so I got bored of it really fast. At least you get 10 great tracks to listen to, even if the actual gameplay that goes with it is pretty bland.
Boo’s Block Party
This match-three puzzle game (think Puyo Puyo) is simple, yet fun. Your objective is to spin blocks containing the numbers 1 through 4 and match groups of three blocks (or more). Doing so will make the blocks disappear and can send junk Boo characters onto your opponent’s playing field to disrupt their game. After making a set number of matches, you’ll be given the choice to unleash one of two different powers: send a couple rows of junk Boos to your opponent, or activate a random spin of your own blocks for the chance to score huge combos. This puzzle game may not have depth or last-appealing of classics like Tetris or Bejeweled, but it’s an enjoyable time-waster, particularly when you want a break in between the longer modes like Toad Scramble and Balloon Bash.
Challenge Tower is a vertical climbing game where the goal is to travel up a cylindrical tower, ten floors at time, until you reach the top. The tricky part is highly electric “Amps” are hidden all throughout the tower and touching just one of them will send you character crashing down. The way to avoid Amps is by paying attention to colour of the LED tiles you climb, with blue indicating all adjacent tiles are safe, and yellow, red, and purple tiles meaning 1, 2, or 3 Amps, respectively, are nearby. Through process of elimination you can slowly work your way up towers of varying heights, with the largest tower consisting of a staggering 500 floors. After completing all the available towers, I didn’t really feel the need to revisit and replay them, but this mode did entertain me for couple of hours.
Mario Party Star Rush‘s core mode, Toad Scramble, evolves the series’ gameplay in great new ways. I really enjoyed the quicker pace, ability to move in any direction, and the extra layer of strategy required as you anticipate other players’ moves every turn. For me, Coinathon was the standout mode of the seven included, both for its lightning fast gameplay and addictive set of minigames. Not all modes are as fun to play however, with Rhythm Recital and Mario Shuffle being the low points of the bunch. Overall though, this is a solid offering and certainly the best Mario Party game to come along in years.
+ Breaking free of turn order is a step in the right direction for this series
+ Toad Scramble is fun and offers great replay with 15 courses
+ Coinathon is a total blast
+ Minigames are well-designed and enjoyable
+ Lots of modes
– Rhythm Recital and Mario Shuffle’s appeal wears thin fast
– Little incentive to replay Challenge Towers
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 4/5