Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: October 29, 2021
Everyone’s favorite Mario-themed digital board game is back with Mario Party Superstars. The long-running series marks its second entry on the Nintendo Switch with a curated collection of 100 mini games, gathered from more than two decades of the Mario Party franchise.
Mario Party Superstars isn’t so much a new entry as it is a greatest hits compilation. Updated versions of Nintendo 64 and GameCube era game boards play well, and most of the minigames are genuine, chaotic fun. Modern additions like online play create more avenues to connect with other human players
It’s not all Mario Sunshines and Rainbow Roads, however. With this many minigames, there are bound to be some duds. Playing by yourself against CPU bots isn’t very interesting. While the built-in chaos is part of the fun, it also randomizes the results of games quite a bit. It’s difficult to say whether you have much influence over winning or losing.
Still, those are minor gripes, and quickly forgotten when you and your friends are howling with laughter. You might find yourself chased by a Thwomp driving a car, or thinking that Todette is about to give you a star, only to have her switch places with the dastardly Bowser. Mario Party Superstars is simply a great time with friends, which is really all it needs to be. Find out why in our Mario Party Superstars review.
Mario Party Superstars review: Gameplay
After twenty-three years, the Mario Party formula hasn’t changed much. In Mario Party Superstars, four classic Mario characters, controlled by humans or the CPU, play a digital board game. Everyone takes turns rolling a die, then moving that number of spaces. Players accumulate (and lose) coins and stars throughout the game. Whoever has the most stars at the end wins, with coins serving as tie breakers.
The levels consist of five game boards, and each board has unique quirks. Space Land, for example, is a massive board, ideal for longer games, that has you dodging blasts from the massive Bowser Beam. Horror Land shifts between day and night every couple of turns, with different mechanics depending on the time of day. These shifting conditions help keep the experience fresh throughout a night of playing with friends.
The 100 minigames, randomized and played at the end of each turn, offer much more breadth than depth. Most games are a 1v1v1v1 free-for-all, but some games divide players into teams of two, or even pit one against three in asymmetrical competitions. Overall, the minigame lineup is solid, as it's assembled from some of the best games in the long history of the Mario Party franchise.
There are some standout minigames, such as Burnstile, in which characters have to jump over a spinning spiked pole with increasing speed. It’s a fabulous example of simple-yet-stressful gameplay. Sneak ‘n’ Snore is a hilarious, scream-inducing take on Red Light, Green Light. In it, you have to freeze as soon as a chain chomp's snot bubble pops, lest the chomp see you and unceremoniously dump you down a pipe.
Still, there are some groan-inducing games. Take Pokey Pummel, for example, which is effectively just an unimaginative contest to see who can mash one button the fastest. Worse still is the inclusion of Tug o’ War. This is a 1v3 game where everyone must spin a thumbstick as quickly as possible to generate pull. It’s an inexplicable choice, given the notoriously drift-prone Joy-Cons, and the history of blistered palms that led to Nintendo issuing protective gloves for games back in the '90s.
Complete Mario Party Superstars matches run for a fixed number turns, which you determine when you set up the game. Once the final round ends, the game tabulates scores, and awards a number of bonus stars. These bonus stars thread a delicate needle. They keep the results in question down to the very end, so no player is ever truly out of the running, no matter how far behind they seem to be. The tradeoff is that it's not unusual for one player to dominate a game, winning the majority of minigames and making good strategic choices, and not finish in the top spot. You can turn off the bonus stars, or select the even more chaotic “Classic” mode, depending on what kind of experience you want.
Mario Party Superstars review: Multiplayer and game modes
Mario Party Superstars works best when you play with other people. Local play is as easy as connecting a controller for each player. There are no motion controls, and the simple control schemes don’t give any controller type (single Joy-Con, dual Joy-Con, Pro Controller) a particular advantage.
Online play is equally easy. You can create and join lobbies for your friends, or wade into the wide-open world of random online games. Pick the boards you are interested in playing, and you will quickly find other people across the globe to compete against. There is no voice chat, but you can do basic communication with stickers that simple messages, such as “Yeah” or “Let’s do this!” It’s a simple system that keeps communication safe and silly. The online infrastructure is solid, and lag doesn’t seem to rear its ugly head.
There is always the option to play solo against bots. There isn’t much reason to do so, outside of learning the boards and practicing your skills for future human opponents. The unpredictable nature of shared human experience creates much of the joy in Mario Party Superstars, and there really isn’t a way to capture that by yourself.
There are a few options outside of the main board games as well. Mt. Minigame lets you practice playing any of the minigames. There are robust options to set the difficulty of CPU modes, and some shallow online offerings, such as Survival. This mode tracks the length of win streaks, resetting when you lose a minigame against other online players.
Playing games in any mode earns you coins, which you spend at a store to unlock additional stickers, music samples and encyclopedia entries. The stickers bring more fun messages into the main game. The encyclopedia is shallow, with just a line or two of text over a model of the subject. The music isn’t very interesting to collect. The extras seem to be tacked on, and don't add much to the Mario Party Experience.
Mario Party Superstars review: Visuals and sound
Mario Party Superstars is a great-looking game. First-party Nintendo games have a well-earned reputation for taking full advantage of the Switch's limited horsepower, and that is on full display here. The vibrant color palette of the Mushroom Kingdom pops, with smooth action and animations. The visuals are a great fit for the zany action of the game.
The art style and theme of each game board also go hand-in-hand. Peach’s Birthday Cake has a light pink fondant surface, decorated with wafers, berries and shiny toppers in the style of Mario and his friends. Woody Woods, meanwhile, looks like it could be a level straight from Super Mario Odyssey, with leafy greens, rainbow light blooms and a spooky mist rising from a dark corner of the map.
The music is upbeat, but unassuming. It’s nothing spectacular, but works as background filler. Be prepared for the usual assortment of “Waaahhhs” and “Yahhooos" that define Mario games. The cartoonish sounds match the silly minigames, but don't expect to wow your friends with the game's spectacular sound design.
Mario Party Superstars review: Verdict
Mario Party Superstars succeeds where it matters. It’s a robust party game, featuring the best minigames and boards from the venerable franchise's long history. There may not be another party game that combines competition and chaos so well. Few games can generate roaring laughter like Mario Party, and that's still true for Superstars.
Not every minigame is a hit, and the features outside of the main game are shallow. Nintendo could have improved upon or expanded a lot about the game, were the company more ambitious. But these flaws do little to take away from the fact that Mario Party Superstars knows exactly what players are looking for: a fun, not-too-serious social game to play with friends and family. At that, Mario Party Superstars is definitely a success.