Do you like digital board games that bring something new to the genre? Hate waiting for your turn to roll the dice? Miss the old Mario Party formula? Good news! The new Mario Party Star Rush has all of this and more. While it feels Nintendo should have been in this place years ago, the game does enough that I can happily say the game is enjoyable. Not “enjoyable for a board game,” or “enjoyable for a Nintendo game,” but genuinely enjoyable.
Partying with Mario Again
Before we get too deep into this review, I have to be open about something big: I never got to play MPSR with another living player. As I’ve recently returned from Japan where Nintendo felt highly relevant and gave me access to game cafes to find gaming partners, I’ve learned that a lot of Nintendo fans in my life just didn’t have the time (or, sadly, console) to enjoy a few rounds with me. While I purchased my version of the game, Nintendo did offer me a second copy for my Mario Party Star Rush review but I sadly couldn’t accept it.
That being said, the game AI can be quite realistic on the higher settings, making mistakes and plays I’d expect from real players. The mechanics between players and AI aren’t sped up or skipped just because they’re not real, though, so the game should play out similarly among friends except you can, you know, joke and punch your non-AI friends. Yes Blue Toad, if you were real, I’d punch you.
Although it’s limited to local player multiplayer on the Nintendo 3DS, Mario Party Star Rush feels like a multiplayer board game Nintendo should have done ages ago. While Nintendo has done simultaneous turns as a cute side-game in Super Smash Bros for Wii U, the option wasn’t reused in Mario Party 10 or Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival. In fact, I had specifically mentioned how waiting for your turn is boring in amiibo Fest, and that the game didn’t feel that different from a physical board game, which feels like a sin against the potential creativity available on digital platforms.
Finally, though, Nintendo’s really upped their innovation game and made something that feels like it’s better than a required sequel. Rather than sitting idly by and watching other people play while you sit on your hands, all players roll the dice at the same time. Even against AI, you only have so much time to make decisions. Once everyone has chosen things like items they use (gone are the cars that force everyone to move together, and traps have returned to the board), plays are made in real time. If you tried to take a coin 6 spaces away while someone tried to take it from 2 spaces away, you’ll lose it. You get a lot of the results you probably would have had taking turns anyway, but now the overall action is faster, tighter, and because it happens at the same time, far more interesting. You have a little less time to plot or go make nachos, but it feels like a solid trade off.
While at my age and in my location it’s difficult to find three other people with a 3DS, those of you who can get to experience something we’ve never had in previous Mario Parties: Your own screen. While this may seem like a minor bonus, it allows for new gameplay modes similar to ones on the Wii U, but multiplied. Mazes are a big new addition to the pool of mini-games and are a lot of fun. Being able to hide your screen’s information while competing against your friends is something we’ve seen on the Wii U before, and it’s not uncommon in online games (which this game, very sadly, isn’t), but for local multiplayer beyond two people, it’s rare for Nintendo to do this. I’m hoping this is just the beginning, though.
However, one thing lost from MP10 (aside from my beloved Bowser Party mode) is the on-screen tutorials used to explain mini-games. The previous video previews and simplistic explanations were enough that I actually could let my Japanese students play the game in English without having to worry too much about them not understanding. It was certainly one of the easier games for them to play and enjoy, though admittedly (again) waiting for turns wasn’t exactly fun. For them, it did give them a chance to read some English and learn things, but most game players aren’t doing this. Unless you’re playing with a young reader, the lack of the old tutorials isn’t a huge loss, but I did feel like I needed to hit the “practice” button more to understand the new mini-games, as the rapid text explanations during the actual mini-games were of little help.
To be clear, so far, I’m mostly been speaking about the game’s first option, Toad Scramble. There’re several modes this time around, but Toad Scramble is essentially the default one. While it still seems like Mario Party, in some ways, this mode feels like a board game RPG. You start as a Toad (+1 other character if you have the right Nintendo amiibo). While you have the typical dice rolling going on, you have to choose if you’re going directly for the star (the series’ general win currency), coins that can turn into stars, bonuses (such as activating mini-games or breaking character-specific items), or collecting “party members” which can help increase your dice rolls and participate in some of the mini-games.
This brings back a lot of strategy to Mario Party that’s been missing from the series. For example, if you go straight for the stars (which require a boss battle), you get some extra coins. On top of that, you get the start the battle as normal. Everyone else, however, needs to jam the A button to “walk” from wherever they were on the board towards the boss battle location (they’ll be returned to their spot afterwards). If you choose to go to the edge of the board to get Daisy to join your party, you may lose precious time during the battle and will need to hope the additional work she performs will help make up for it.
Board sizes, traps, and overall themes vary, from a nice little rectangle to a sprawling, multi-level, lava filling death trap that may leave you stranded on an island far from your goal. Character specific dice make the party members interesting, but the items they interact with on the board, like ore that only Wario or Waluigi can break, feel odd. You have to choose a character before you roll the dice and also land near the item. All the rewards are a mere 5 coins. If you use Waluigi to roll the dice and, with his special dice, lose 2 coins trying to get 5, or keep rolling 1s in an attempt to get to Rosalina to grant 5 coins from a glowing rock, the reward isn’t worth it. Generally, it’s best to mostly consider party members, items, and star locations.
As you play the game’s various modes, your “party” level increases. There are some characters to unlock and advanced AI, but mostly it’s game modes.
The first unlocked mode you’ll get is Coinathalon. The game gives you three mini-games. As you collect coins in the mini-games, your character is running around a game board doing laps. As you repeat mini-games, they get progressively harder, but also pay out more coins. You can also get power-ups ranging from extra coins to locking your opponent’s character in place, forcing them to tap their bottom screen to break their digital chains. It’s a small touch that shows Nintendo hasn’t forgotten how to utilize the second screen or the fact that multiple people can have them. It’s a pretty fast and frantic mode that’s a great addition to the series (assuming it’ll be carried forward).
Our next unlocked mode is Balloon Bash, a traditional Mario Party rule set but with Star Rush’s unique simultaneous turn mechanic on boards with no lanes. Rather than leaving stars on specific spaces, the stars are balloons. The first person to touch the space with the balloon bursts it, so they are the only one able to grab the stars. It’s a small design change, but one that feels logical. There are no party members, no converting coins into stars, and no boss battles, just mini-games, traps, the usual stars granted at the end of play.
Rhythm Recital, the next unlocked mode, is a basic music game, but one that doesn’t feel deep enough to be its own thing. There are ten songs and you can choose from four different instruments, but I can’t figure out why it wasn’t just rolled into the other mini-game selections. There is an option to just play mini-games, and Rhythm Recital would fit right in with that if the songs were cut down ever so slightly. Being typical Mario music, they tracks aren’t that long anyway and repeat themselves quite a bit. I’m sure the next mode, Mario Shuffle, may seem that way to some people, but I understand why it’s stand alone.
Mario Shuffle is almost like the game Sorry! in some ways, with maybe just a tad of checkers. It’s a two player game with three lanes. Each person has one character per lane trying to get to the other side and naturally may butt-heads with the other player’s characters. Landing on an enemy sends them back to start while jumping over them forces them to miss a turn. It sounds simple, but there’s enough strategy that draws the games out to last longer than most mini-games.
However, Boo’s Block Party, the next unlockable mode, is another one that feels more like a mini-game. It’s a simple block matching game for two people. It’s not unfun, but the matches are so short and strategy so basic that, again, it feels like it and Rhythm Recital should be a standard mini-game. In fact, the block game and rhythm game aren’t available when using “guest pass” versions of the game (a free downloadable app that allows people who haven’t bought the game to still play it with someone who has MPSR)
I’m noting this because the above examples are all mutliplayer. Some make sense as their own modes, some should be mini-games, but the last mode, Challenge Tower, is sadly only single player. You’re climbing a tower that’s very similar to Minesweeper, except the color-coded tiles only tell you the location of 4 nearby tiles as you can only move in 4 directions. The “bombs”/amps also can’t be next to each other. It’s a simple concept, but the execution can be rather addictive (at least, if you enjoy Mario and Minesweeper). The combination of the need to move up while avoiding tramps and roadblocks makes it feel very maze like. My only issue is that given it’s maze like nature, Challenge Tower feels especially ripe for a multiplayer mode. It feels like a missed opportunity, but one I’m willing to forgive, this time.
A Note on Amiibo
The game also allows for amiibo support. Matching amiibo can unlock some bonuses, especially if you have saved data from Mario Party 10, but it’s not required. For example, I have a Rosalina amiibo that allowed me to unlock her from the start of the game instead of party level 4, plus she grants better dice in several game modes. However, certain bonuses are kind of strong. A basic Gold Mario Amiibo unlocks golden dice in several modes, allowing you to roll between 3-9 instead of 1-6. Playing by myself, this isn’t a huge issue, but I can imagine some people might not want to play with amiibo because of this. It’s a tough situation, like amiibo in general, but as someone who’s invested in the toys, it brings them some much needed additional value.
The board game modes are the best Nintendo has done in awhile. Most of the mini-games are standard affair, and it’s hard to compete with MP10’s Bowser mode, but the addition of mazes is so good. It’s just more difficult to find four local people with a 3DS to play, even if Nintendo has given us a way to play much of the game off of a single game cartridge.
This is a tough one, as Nintendo has done simultaneous turns before, and I feel other games have as well. Mazes on an individual device is a small innovation that’s also been done before. Mixing these with four player multiplayer makes it feel more important, though, especially combined with the ability to play on four consoles from one full game copy. And really, Coinathalon, Mario Shuffle, and Challenge Tower are great reminders of how Nintendo can mix old concepts to come up with something both new and familiar at the same time.
Learning Curve: 8
Again, a lot of the mini-game tutorials aren’t as intuitive as before, and their instructions aren’t always the best. That being said, they shouldn’t present a huge challenge, though I do worry how very young fans may react when playing against friends or family. Those who have played past Mario Party games will have a small advantage though.
It’s always difficult to judge this, as I prioritize mechanics and innovation so much higher than graphics and sound. It takes a lot to impress me, and as MPSR’s graphics and sound are pretty average for Nintendo while lacking any particular panache the company sometimes employs, it feels just slightly above average.
Value for Money: 10
This is a tough call, as the game’s value really scales. As a single player experience, knowing full well I can play similar games for free, the game is a bit on the expensive side. However, I’d probably drop a few bucks for several of the game modes due to polish, innovation, and the Nintendo name. Add in the small bonuses I get from using amiibo in Mario Party 10, at $40, I don’t feel cheated on my purchase.
However, if you have friends who can play with you, the value drastically increases. The game is superior in many ways to Mario Party 10 and that released at $50. If they don’t have the game, a single copy unlocking it for everyone is very valuable. If they buy it too, that’s fine as well, as it allows you to at least enjoy Mario Shuffle together.
If you’re looking for some quick, simply, local multiplayer fun, prefer the old Mario Party mechanics, or want a board game that isn’t boring, Mario Party Star Rush won’t let you down.
+Board game with simultaneous turns helps players avoid boredom
+Innovative additions to familiar formulas, physical and digital alike
+A noticeable improvement in the Mario Party
-Requires multiple 3DS systems for multiplayer
-Local multiplayer only
-Challenge Tower really should be multiplayer