Super Mario Party Could Break The Series' Mediocre Streak
Responses to Nintendo’s E3 Direct were mixed at best. Some were excited about all the attention Super Smash Bros. Ultimate received, and Nintendo did seem bent on catering more to its hardcore and competitive audiences with step-by-step demonstrations of new abilities and costumes for the brawler.
Other fans were disappointed with the lack of new first-party IPs and the absence of highly-desired titles like Animal Crossing. For some of us, the Direct was a mixed bag of ho-hum.
However, buried within the Direct was a trailer for a game that probably didn’t register on many people’s radars: Super Mario Party.
There's little doubt the Mario Party series has had a rough six years. Sure, the first entries are likely some of the most beloved games of the series and for many fans, they are the touchpoint for some truly fond memories. And the series had been on a roll since Mario Party 2 for the N64 really put it on the map.
But then, something happened. After the Wii and DS released, Mario Party games sold well out of the gate; Mario Party 8 and Mario Party DS sold 8.85 and 9.31 million copies respectively.
Thing is, though, they just didn’t have the same luster as the earlier entries in the franchise -- and that luster continued to fade with each subsequent release. Here's just how "bad" it's been in sales since 2013: three of the last four Mario Party games have combined sales of roughly 3.9 million units, a number that pales in comparison to the franchise's previous high with Mario Party 8 and Mario Party DS.*
The games still followed the same concept, and each iteration introduced lots of new minigames, but they just weren’t as interesting or fun. They didn't receive bad reviews, per se, but they weren’t stellar, either. Mobile Mario Party games, in particular, have struggled: Mario Party: Island Tour has a 57% on Metacritic, and its follow-up Mario Party: Star Rush has a 68%. The Mario Party series desperately needed something to bring back the fun.
Enter Super Mario Party.
The changes start at the name: this is the first console Mario Party game that is not a numbered entry, implying that this game will be a break from what we’ve come to expect from the series.
The game’s Direct trailer starts by showing a group of friends gathering in a coffee shop to play. This skit demonstrates two Switch screens that have been put together to play, meaning that players could have an incentive to play locally with others, which fits perfect with the Switch's multiplayer ethos.
It was also revealed during a later stream of the game that this is part of the Toad Rec Room mode, which allows players to connect up to three Switches and create a map together. It’s as yet unclear whether this will just be a gimmick like the Gamecube microphone, but it has the chance to facilitate the kind of console/handheld hybrid that Nintendo is really pushing with the Switch -- and it's something that can push this version of Mario Party above those that came before it.
This also has the chance to amend the aforementioned issues with mobile Mario Party games: imagine that instead of having the pared-down experience of a party game on a handheld, you could have the full console experience while still being able to take your Switch to a friend’s house or a party. This specific quirk matters because let's face it, no one wants to play "half" a Mario Party on the go.
The Switch's Joy-Cons will also facilitate this increased multiplayer fidelity, as it seems as though each player only needs one Joy-Con to participate in a minigame. In other words, if you only have the equipment that came with your Switch, you already have enough for two players. That's a boon for Mario Party players because it means that you can whip up multiplayer sessions right out of the box. And if you group up with another Switch owner, you have enough for the full four-player experience.
This cuts down on the need for extra controllers or consoles, which has hampered the multiplayer aspect of previous Mario Party games.
The potential for this hardware is much higher, as well. Remember how fun the Wiimote was when you were swinging away in Wii Sports? The Joy-Cons provide the same potential with 100% less chance of a remote going through your TV screen. Motion control may always be remembered as a gimmick, but the Wii proved that it’s still a blast with the right people.
Lastly, online multiplayer is something that Mario Party console games have seriously lacked, and a quick search for "Mario Party 10 online" brings up a lot of frustrated players asking why they can't play online with their friends. SMP aims to rectify that by allowing you to play all 80 of the game's minigames online with others. Some may complain that this isn't the same as having the full board mode available to play online, but with the amount of time that Mario Party games take (50-turn games can frequently take hours), the choice makes sense to me.
Making minigames available for network play is the logical next baby step for a company that is frequently very conservative about its online ventures.
Amidst these changes, it seems as though Super Mario Party will keep enough series staples that the game won’t feel completely different, but instead add important, fan-requested wrinkles to the formula. The end of the trailer above shows familiar aspects like gathering stars, moving through board game-like worlds, and competing with your friends in lots of minigames. It will be interesting to see if the game includes any nods to past Mario Party games, such as including worlds from previous games, a la' Mario Kart.
With the game slated to release on October 5, we won’t have to wait too long to see how everything turns out. Some may be disappointed at the prospect of yet another Mario Party, but as for me and a lot of other Nintendo fans out there, I’m excited at the potential for something more.
*Editor's note: Sales figures for the franchise's latest releases, Mario Party: The Top 100 for 3DS were not available as of this writing.