At PAX West this week we were given the opportunity to play the latest entry in the Mario Party series, Super Mario Party. We played a handful of minigames and spent some time in the newly-announced river survival mode, but what was most striking about this new Mario Party is how much it drew us in. Based on what we’ve seen, this may be the best Mario Party game since the series’ Nintendo 64 glory days.
If you’ve played a Mario Party title in the past, Super is going to feel immediately familiar. While we didn’t have a chance to play a more traditional mode, we did get to play a flavour of the game in which up to four players compete in a succession of five back-to-back minigames. Each game awards you a score based on your performance, with the highest scoring player winning at the end of all five games.
If the minigames we played in this mode are any indication of what Super Mario Party has in store for us, colour us thrilled. All of the games we played required a single Joy-Con, which seems to be the case for the entire game. In one we had to pedal a tricycle the rapidly rotating our Joy-Con, while another had us using the controller as though it were the handle of a frying pan to cook a cube of meat on all sides. The control scheme for that particular minigame had us performing moves that felt eerily reminiscent of a pre-launch trailer Nintendo used to show off the capabilities of the Wii remote, all the way back in 2005 at the Tokyo Game Show.
Behind closed doors, Nintendo also allowed us to play river survival mode, which puts four players in a raft and requires them to make their down a rather circuitous river. If you’ve ever played OutRun, the layout of the river may seem a bit familiar, in that it branches out in two directions following each successful pass through a path. To navigate the river, each player must use their Joy-Con to row by performing - what else? - a rowing motion. Navigating the river is important as you start out with a mere 60 seconds to make your way through, which is clearly not enough.
To gain more time, you’ll need to work with your teammates to steer your raft into a balloon. When you pop a balloon a cooperative minigame will start; in one, all four players had to work together to capture Cheep Cheeps by simultaneously raising Joy-Con, which in turn made the characters pull up a net, flinging the iconic fish into a pool. In another, Mario and crew had to herd penguins. After finishing a game, you’re given a rank for your teamwork, with the highest rank, an S-Rank, giving you an additional 40 seconds. Each time you complete a mission, you can also optionally shake your Joy-Con to high-five your teammates, which will gain you an extra three seconds, regardless of your performance.
After playing Super Mario Party, it’s clear to us that Nintendo has listened to player feedback. When a minigame is introduced, you can now practice directly from that screen without having to load into the game, then back out; it’s a small change that makes a huge difference. While Nintendo didn't want to confirm full details on control schemes, it seems as though the entirety of the game will be controlled using a single Joy-Con by each player; the recently announced Joy-Con bundle makes perfect sense, as you’ll need to have four Joy-Con to get the most out of the game.
Though we didn’t get to spend much time with Super Mario Party, the games and modes we had the opportunity to check out have us excited for the game’s release this October. If this week’s short demo is representative of the finished product, Super Mario Party could be a glorious return to form for a series which has been past its best for a while now.