It's commonly accepted that partying too hard can be a bad thing. However, that doesn't appear to be a concern for Mario and friends, who since 1998 have appeared in 10 home console Mario Party games and even a few portable outings, too. While Mario's virtual board game gatherings are now a far less common occurrence than they were during his raving GameCube days — perhaps the portly plumber's age is finally catching up with him — they're nevertheless still an ever-present after nearly 16 years.
Yet as with almost anything over time, doing the same thing over and over can get a little boring. The Mario Party series, while obviously still popular enough to warrant a new release, has in the past been guilty of relying too much on the same formula and not delivering much in the way of new and exciting features. In fact, it wasn't until Mario Party 9 that the series really underwent any significant change.
Mario Party 10 has the good fortune of being developed for Wii U, meaning that it can (and does) take advantage of two previously unavailable features: the Wii U GamePad and Nintendo's interactive amiibo figurines. However, they're not used as effectively as they could have been. Mario Party 10 is undoubtedly an entertaining multiplayer game: it's well-paced and does things differently from its predecessors, and that's the most important thing to take away here. Nevertheless, there are missed opportunities in terms of how the GamePad is used, while the amiibo functionality doesn't really add anything worthwhile to the experience.
The game is divided into three core modes: Mario Party, Bowser Party and amiibo Party. Each one is pretty distinct, although some elements such as the mini-games and game boards are shared across modes. This is a party game and as such should only really be played with friends or family; playing alone with AI opponents is an option, but it feels far less competitive and rewarding.
The Mario Party mode retains the gameplay changes introduced in Mario Party 9, where up to four players travel together around in a shared vehicle to a defined endpoint on the board. Players still take it in turns to roll the dice, during which time they captain the vehicle and reap the rewards or suffer the consequences that the board throws their way. The goal is to collect the most Mini Stars: collectible items which you acquire at set points on the board and through mini-games.
Keeping this setup was a wise choice on Nintendo's part for many reasons. For one, the game advances at a much better pace than the traditional predetermined number of turns system. More significantly, it adds a lot more tactical depth to the board portion of the game, because you can more directly affect other players. You collect special dice blocks as you travel the board, which give you more control over how far you'll travel in a single turn. Through these, you may be able to guarantee that you land on a certain spot or prevent yourself — and potentially force another player on it in your stead — from landing on a space that will negatively affect your fortunes.
Throughout your journey across the board you'll regularly take part in mini-games, some of which take place within the confines of the board itself. The mini-game offering is wide-ranging and entertaining enough, and competitive but cooperative boss battles make a welcome return, although many ideas are borrowed from previous entries — something that's arguably unavoidable after so many games.
The GamePad isn't used in any of these, and is pretty much reserved for the much-touted Bowser Party mode. This makes sense in the standard Mario Party mode given that the free-for-all and 2-vs-2 mini-games are designed to be evenly balanced, but it's perhaps a tad baffling that the controller wasn't incorporated into the 1-vs-3 encounters. In fact, the GamePad is only used in a very limited way when travelling the board; it portrays Bowser behind bars which gradually disappear each time a different number on the dice is rolled. Once 1 through 6 have been rolled, Bowser will appear and bestow a rather unfortunate fate on to whoever unlocked the last bar. It's not something that really requires the GamePad to work and, as a result, feels a bit tacked on.
This latest instalment can't help but feel familiar to Mario Party 9 given the similarities they share. Nevertheless, one way in which Mario Party 10 improves quite considerably on its predecessor is in its interface. Everything is much more streamlined: there's a lot less fluff in terms of tutorials and mini-game explanations. Short videos are used to show you how to play a game, which for the most part succeed at summing things up in a clear and concise manner. In the few instances where they don't, it's only really a problem the first time you come across that mini-game, because you will obviously know what to do once you've actually played it — the mini-games are deliberately simple and don't require any complex input or a high level of skill from the player. This is outweighed by the major benefit that you don't have to trawl through bundles of information every other time you play, which enhances the pace of the game dramatically.
New to this entry is Bowser Party, a novel take on the series' traditional board game mode that takes advantage of the Wii U GamePad. It involves an asymmetrical setup, in which up to four players team up against the GamePad user who plays as Bowser. As per the normal Mario Party mode, the standard players move together around the board in a vehicle. Their shared objective is to reach the end goal while doing their best to keep as much distance as possible between them and a pursuing Bowser. In the event that he catches up to the other players, everyone is forced to play a 1 vs 4 mini-game.
The mini-games are the Bowser player's chance to knock the other players out and win overall. Each standard player is given a set number of hearts as the start of the game and needs at least one of these to remain in the running. Team mates are not in competition with each other in any way and, therefore, they need to play cooperatively if they want to win.
The one-sided nature of the mini-games only serves to reinforce this point. Bowser has the advantage in pretty much every way, and the only thing the team can draw on other than skill and luck is its superior numbers. That's not to say that the mini-games in this mode are really in-depth and tactical; rather, working together and coordinating what you do will give you a better chance of survival in most instances.
The GamePad is put to good use here, and Nintendo has managed to incorporate some novel ideas. For example, in one mini-game the Bowser player must aim using gyro controls and blow into the microphone to shoot fireballs at the other players. Aside from possibly inducing light headedness, it's another far too uncommon example of the unique and entertaining gameplay experiences the Wii U can provide when games are developed with its bespoke features in mind.
The GamePad also gets a bit more usage when traversing a particular board. The Bowser player can set up traps in one particular instance, using the GamePad to make these decisions anonymously. However, more focus is placed on ensuring the Bowser player can actually keep up with the other players. Bowser will roll the same amount of dice as the other team, but because he's the King of the Koopas he doesn't have to play fair all the time. If he gets a duff roll, for example, Bowser Jr. will pop up saying to roll again. It keeps the game exciting, as no matter how far the team gets from Bowser, there's always a chance he'll catch up for a sinister mini-game.
As fun as this mode is though, there's one noticeable drawback: there simply isn't enough to it. Whereas Mario Party mode has dozens of mini-games, Bowser Party only has 10, and all too often you find yourself playing the same mini-game multiple times on a single board (which we had never experienced to date in Mario Party mode). Moreover, you can only play on three boards in this mode. It's a real shame because it's this mode that really makes Mario Party 10 stand out from every other entry in the series to date.
Another new feature is the amiibo party mode. It's designed to emulate the look and feel of an actual board game, and your amiibo act as the pieces you would move around — each player also moves independently around the board in this mode. There's only a single board layout but various themes can be chosen for it using amiibo; the board is divided into four interchangeable segments, allowing you to create a mix-and-match setup. Segments can and often do change over the course of play due to players collecting tokens that appear on the board, and if you save tokens to your amiibo you can create varied boards before you start. Different segments bring different features, adding a dynamic element to the board.
However, the whole mode is undone by the fact that there's just too much emphasis on using amiibo, and in not a particularly intuitive or interesting way for that matter. Taking your turn involves placing the amiibo down on the GamePad and removing it. It's not an exciting action in its own right, not to mention that it can just be performed by pressing A button on the GamePad, mimicking every other mode in the process.
You also, however, use amiibo to collect and save game-altering tokens to use in future sessions. Doing this requires you to save to the amiibo and subsequently overwrite any other data you may already have, such as Super Smash Bros. figure players. This seems to go against the whole ethos of playing a board game, in which luck is the biggest deciding factor. As a result of the bland amiibo integration, it feels unremarkable and pales in comparison to the other modes.
Otherwise, there are a few mini-games and sub-modes that are separate from the core offering. Most of these are entertaining ways to follow up with after playing one of the other modes, but they're not substantial enough in their own right to warrant powering up your Wii U. The only thing that stands out is a basic puzzle mini-game called Jewel Drop, which is seemingly inspired the likes of by Puyo Puyo. It features a two-player head-to-head mode that's a nice little time waster, but again won't hold your attention for long.
Mario Party 10 is a fun multiplayer game that's polished and undeniably entertaining; it's been designed with pace in mind: the streamlined menus and tutorials allow you to get to the fun quickly and easily. The new Bowser Party mode, in particular, is a great example of how the Wii U's bespoke features can be used to create a compelling asymmetrical multiplayer experience that extends beyond just the mini-games. While Nintendo could definitely have done more in terms of the new features it's implemented and the level of unique content, the overall package is good, honest fun, and the standard Mario Party mode still has a lot to offer. It's a great starting place if you've never played a game in the series before - if you want a light-hearted game to enjoy with a group of friends, regardless of their skill level, you could do a lot worse than this.