I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the Mario Party series over the years. Some of them have been great (I’m looking at you 2, 4, and 6). Some of them have been not so great (see 9 and 10). The last few felt limited and while Nintendo tried to streamline the whole system they just didn’t feel much like a party and more like a forced socialization. They’ve never really been terrible, but some of them just haven’t been much fun. Mario Party Star Rush is hoping that the changes will bring people back to the party, but did it work?
In short the answer is yes. In the games “Main Mode”, which is called Toad Scramble, gone are the straight, Monopoly style follow the path board games and in are more open checkers or chess style board. You can go anywhere you want and Nintendo has tried to get you to explore the boards by putting enticing bonuses randomly around the playing area. The whole point of the game, like always is to collect the most stars. How you go about that now is completely different than the way it’s been in the past. Previously once you reached a star space on a board you pay your alloted number of coins and you get said star. Now everyone gets the chance to compete, but the person who gets there first has some advantage over everyone else.
Stars are now earned through Boss Battles against various Mario themed baddies like Kamek, Dry Bones, Petey Piranha and Bowser himself, though there are plenty of others as well. Once a player lands on the star space the battle is initiated and they can immediately start battling and earning points towards their final score for the fight. Everyone else now has the number of spaces they are away from the battle calculated and they have to mash the A button as fast as possible to get there. The further away you are the more you have to mash, but quick fingers can make up for distance pretty easily. Once your characters icon reaches the battle you can begin fighting as well. The player with the most points in the battle at the end wins the star.
You’re not alone in your fight anymore though. Also scattered around the board are ally characters such as Rosalina, Daisy, DK and Yoshi. If you cross the path of any of these characters they join your team and compete in the mini-games as well. Their points totals are added to yours so collecting these ally characters can be very advantageous if you think you might not do well in the mini-games. They also add to your dice roll by boosting your dice rolls each round by one or two points. The more allies you have the farther on the board you can move.
Once you’ve finished all the alloted boss fights on the board the winner is chosen. This is done by who collects the most stars during the game. As always, though, you have the bonus stars that you can collect at the end. These are given out in two ways. The first is through earning bonus coins based on how you performed during the game. These can be earned by moving the most spaces, spending the least amount of time with allies or collecting the most coins. Those coins are added to your total and then once all the bonus coins have been given out all players trade their coins for stars at a rate of one star for every 10 coins. Once these stars have been bought the player with the most stars is declared the winner.
Toad Scramble is where you’ll spend most of your time in Mario Party Star Rush, but it’s only one of several different modes. You can, as always, just play through any of the mini-games you’ve unlocked through a mini-game mode where you just simply choose the mini-games you want to play. This is a good way to get in some practice without having to worry about your performance when it counts.
Another mode is called Coinathlon. This mode see you competing against other players in a race around a pre-set map. The length of the race can vary between three, five or more laps around the track. The way you progress through the laps are by competing in mini-games. At the start of the race you’ll see the three mini-games you will be playing in that race. You continue cycling through those mini-games until one person has finished the race and been declared the winner. The more coins you earn during these mini-games the faster you move along the track. It’s fast-paced, hectic and actually a lot of fun. You can easily swing the race one way or the other by performing either incredibly well or incredibly poorly in a mini-game. It’s really a mode where being the best at the mini-games means you have a much greater chance at winning.
Balloon Bash is the most traditional Mario Party style mode. In this one you play through a set number of turns in a more straight forward style board where there isn’t much room for exploration. There will be boards shaped like fish or squares inside a bigger square. There is no wandering around. You’re set on a pretty straight and narrow path, but you can choose to go either left or right and not in one particular direction. This has the usual randomly placed balloons that have different affects, just like in Toad Scramble. Some balloons will allow you to “fight” an opponent to steal one of their allies. You can earn bonus items like Mushrooms which increase your die roll or penalize an opponent’s die roll. You can also run through a Coin Balloon. This will not only give you a small coin bonus, usually of five coins, but will also initiate a mini-game where you compete against the other players to earn even more coins. You also have the star balloons where you then buy the stars with the coins you’ve earned. The person with the most stars at the end wins. If you’ve a series veteran this is where your most familiar Mario Party experience will lie. If you liked that set up you’ll like this mode. If you didn’t, you probably won’t enjoy this either.
These are the modes I spent most of my time in and had a lot of fun with. There are other modes that aren’t quite as fun. The Challenge Tower is sort of like Minesweeper. You are trying to reach the top of the tower, but some of the spaces have bombs in them. As you move into a new space it will light up letting you know how many blocks around you have bombs in them. You can mark spaces with flags letting you know which spaces you think have bombs in them. You win if you reach the top safely.
There is also a rhythm game mode that quite frankly wasn’t very much fun at all. I’d only use it if there were a few experience points I needed to unlock a new mode or character as I progressed through the game. In it you play one of four instruments in time to the rhythm of popular Mario universe songs. The rhythms you were playing on the instruments didn’t necessarily match up nicely with the songs being played and it just wasn’t very much fun at all. One day, Nintendo will nail the rhythm game thing and it’ll be a blast. This mode just isn’t it. It’s not quite Wii Music levels of not fun, but it’s close.
Mario Shuffle sees two teams essentially trying to swap sides by moving across a board. It’s really random and based more on luck of the dice than any actual skill. I didn’t play much of it at all.
Now you might be thinking. Mario Party is generally played with multiple people for the most fun and not against computer controlled opponents. Firstly, the difficulty settings can be adjusted to provide a pretty good challenge for people playing by themselves, but Nintendo has made it incredibly easy to get into a multi-player match. Up to four people can connect together using one copy of the game to play. You have two different options for how you want to do this. The first is the regular download play feature of the 3DS where the person with a copy of the game beams it to the other players while they’re playing. It works, but it does have a little bit of lag to it.
The other, much nicer option is a free download in the eShop. There is a guest version of the game that can be downloaded for free from the eShop. Players who’ve downloaded this copy of the game have access to the multi-player portion of the game, but must be playing with someone who owns a copy of the game to actually use it. This downloadable version of the game minimizes lag so much that it’s almost impossible to tell that you’re playing wirelessly with other people. It’s seamless and works incredibly well. If you’ve got plans to play a Mario Party with friends make sure they download this version of the game.
Overall this package is much improved over previous versions of the game. There is still some times where you’ll think luck plays into the results far too much, but overall it’s much more skill based than previous releases in the series. If you’ve got a group of friends who have their own 3DS systems and you want to play a multi-player game with them this is a really good option. The mix of mini-games is nice. There are far more fun games to play than ones you’ll hope never come up as an option. The different game modes mean there are a few different ways to play the game and it’s just generally a really good time to be had with friends. It’s not perfect, but it’s easily the best option to have a Mario Party that we’ve seen in a while.
Review copy of the game provided by Nintendo
Sampled all modes available, unlocked all characters.
Total Play Time: 17 hours and counting