In the original “Mario Party,” certain minigames required players to quickly rotate the control stick. Players soon discovered that the optimal strategy was to rotate the stick with their palms. The problem is that this led to players developing blisters on their palms and, eventually, lawsuits that forced Nintendo to settle a complaint brought forth by the New York Attorney General’s office and provide protective gloves to prevent blisters and palm injuries.
Despite that history, those same minigames are back in “Mario Party Superstars,” unchanged, with Nintendo merely offering a warning message urging players not to rotate with their palms. This is an absolutely horrible decision, not just for the potential damage to players’ palms, but because it can also accelerate how quickly Joy-Con drift occurs.
Aside from this baffling decision, “Mario Party Superstars” does enough right to convince me that the franchise — which has introduced mechanics and concepts reviled by fans in recent versions of Mario Party games — is once again headed in the right direction.
“Mario Party Superstars” oozes with nostalgic charm, featuring remixes of the old music from each map, minigame victory screens and more. The main hub is a carbon copy of the first “Mario Party’s” world. You’re sure to get tingles when first entering the central pipe to start up a game.
The main mode, Party Mode, borrows mostly from “Mario Party 3′s” mechanics. Four players take turns traveling across maps spanning the first three games of the franchise by rolling a 10-sided die. There is a star that appears on a random space on the board; the first player to get there has the opportunity to buy that star. The player who has the most stars (or, if players are tied, coins) at the end of the game wins.
You can purchase stars if you have 20 coins, which can be obtained by landing on special spaces on the board or winning minigames that occur at the end of every round. To help them win, players can grab up to three items, which offer various benefits — for example, increasing the number of dice you roll or taking you directly to the star.
The best, most understated feature of “Mario Party Superstars” is the overall accelerated speed of the game. Characters move across boards faster, and board events can be sped up with the press of a button. CPU-only events, like when they land on an item space, skip directly to the results. Finally, the excessive and slow animations of the franchise’s most recent game, “Super Mario Party,” have been abandoned. These animations, from the victory celebrations to the cut-in reactions characters would have at board events, served no functional purpose other than to slow down the game. By cutting them, “Mario Party Superstars” is faster, and returns the series to the “20-turn, one-hour session” format popularized by earlier entries.
One drawback in Party Mode is the selection of available customizations. There aren’t exactly a lack of options: At the start of the game you’re given certain choices, like how many turns you want to play (up to 30 turns, with an option to add additional rounds from the pause menu in-game if desired), which types of minigames you want and which bonus stars will be handed out at the end. But these choices are rigid when they could’ve been more flexible. It would’ve been nice to be able to toggle specific minigames on and off, for example. I’d immediately turn off all rotating-control-stick minigames.
Another drawback is the lack of content in all the other modes. Mt. Minigames, a mode where you only play the minigames, is very lacking, offering little more than uninspired rulesets. (Play coin minigames! Collect the most coins to win! … Yippee?) It would’ve been nice to see something more robust return, like the original “Mario Party′s” minigame adventure mode, which forced you to conquer several challenges within the minigames themselves.
“Mario Party Superstars” offers a shop where players can purchase unlockable content using coins earned by completing Party Mode games. At the moment, the shop’s content provides only cosmetic changes. However, if past Mario spin-off games on the Switch — such as “Mario Kart 8 Deluxe,” “Mario Golf: Super Rush” or “Mario Tennis Aces” — are any indication, it’s likely that future DLC content will expand the shop’s options.
“Mario Party Superstars” also features online player-versus-player modes. Fortunately, this extends to Party Mode, which is going to be what you’ll want to play most online anyway.
“Mario Party Superstars” is the return to form the franchise sorely needed. It refocuses on what fans loved about the series in the first place and nails its most important mode, Party Mode. If you can look past the baffling decision to include rotating-control-stick minigames, and if developer NDcube, a subsidiary of Nintendo, can offer new content and refine the game over time, you’re likely to enjoy this party for years to come.