How Nintendo Can Save Mario Party
A few days ago, a very interesting Mario Party game was announced during a Nintendo Direct. This title (called Mario Party the Top 100) is a collection of the best mini games from the series, along with a board map mode seemingly styled after the original games.
It’s a great idea, and despite a poor choice of platform, one I suspect will do.
But it also makes me wonder something. Namely, where could Mario Party go from here?
Cause let’s face it, Mario Party has been in a real mire this last decade or so. It’s being accused of rehashing itself over and over, it’s been seen as increasingly generic and New Super Mario Bros styled in its ideas and well, let’s not even get into what fans think of the car idea. Put simply, it was at death’s door prior to the top 100 game being announced.
And unless Nintendo thinks of something new… well it could still end up in the same situation. So, let’s think about the series’ future a moment, shall we?
Let’s think about where Mario Party could go to become a great video game franchise again!
Returning to what Worked
Starting with the most obvious thing in the world:
The car system needs to go. Now.
Really, it doesn’t work. The whole idea is just horrible in a board game, and completely kills much of the strategy involved in such. For example, could you imagine a world where say, Monopoly has four players travelling around the board together in a car?
How about any other really old-fashioned board game like Snakes and Ladders?
It just wouldn’t work. Players moving on their own is what makes things interesting in a game like this.
So, let’s boot out the car idea. It was an interesting way to liven things up after eight games, but it outstayed its welcome almost immediately after its debut.
And I think we should also get back to the non-linear board set up too.
Yes, I know it’ll make the game slower. But at the same, it’ll also make the game much more strategic too.
Again, think about it for a minute. What was the appeal of the board game aspect of the Mario Party series?
It was trying to outwit your opponents and use your dice rolls to your advantage. You weren’t just seeing who could roll the highest number every turn while avoiding landing on trap spaces. That’s Candyland or Snakes and Ladders. You know, the games most people get bored of playing after the age of five or so.
Mario Party (as luck based as it is) was different. You had to decide how you went for the star, weighing up the spaces in front of you, the number of coins you had/were likely to get and any traps people had laid down. You could interfere with other players, by using items/orbs/capsules to booby trap spaces that people might need to traverse. And with things with board events, random changes (like extra Bowser spaces being added/blue spaces changed to red ones) and systems like the day and night ones, there was a certain level of strategy you could take advantage of here. Mario Party wasn’t purely mindless luck, it was a mix of mindless luck and tactics.
Mario Party 9 onwards (minus Star Rush) has no tactics. It’s literally Snakes and Ladders, Mario edition. Or perhaps, Snakes and Ladders, Mario edition complete with an awkward car mechanic shoehorned in to take even more control away from individual players. Whereas old Mario Party is luck with some tactics, new Mario Party is pretty much 100% luck without anything else.
So, for Mario Party to get back to being good, it needs to scrap the cars and linearity.
But that’s not the only change it needs to make…
Bring Back the Mini Games
It also needs to bring back the mini games at the end of every turn. Why?
Cause let’s face it, mini games are one of the best aspects of the whole franchise. They’re the most enjoyable part of it for at least 80% of the series’ audience.
Which is why it’s so baffling that Mario Party 9 suddenly decided they’d be less common. I mean, why would you make that change?
Why would you take the one thing everyone likes about a franchise and completely marginalise its presence?
Above: Oh, never mind
Seriously though, the mini games need to become more common again. They’re the only thing everyone enjoys (to the point pro board game designers/fanatics wish they were the only part of the series in general) and they’re the most skill based aspects of every game they’re in.
Still, enough with the old for a minute. A traditional Mario Party game would certainly be better than 10, but it probably wouldn’t become a critical and commercial hit like in the N64 days. No, it also needs to…
A Step Up on the Aesthetics
Improve the presentation side too. Because let’s face it, the world has moved on since the days of the N64.
With one of the most noticeable changes being how good Mario spinoffs look now. Really, go and compare Mario Kart 8:
To the likes of Mario Kart 64 or Super Circuit:
They’re all good games, but the former is not only more modern, but more ambitious than its predecessors. Mario Kart’s gone from a series where the minimum level of effort was put into the presentation to one that arguably looked better on the Wii U than 3D World did.
And that’s also true of almost every other spinoff too. Mario & Sonic games aren’t amazing, but they sound incredible, with a soundtrack consisting of amazing remixes from past titles:
The Mario RPGs? They look and sound incredible now too. Same goes with the other sports games like Mario Golf and Tennis.
Poor old Mario Party on the other hand… looks and sounds like it’s stuck in a time warp. Now don’t get me wrong here. It’s not awful, and there’s certainly worse looking and sounding games on its respective platforms.
But at the end of the day, it’s just not moved on like the rest of the spinoffs have. It’s stuck to a ‘good enough’ low budget aesthetic that ends up looking more and more outdated as the console generations come and go.
So, a new Mario Party game should really ‘up its game’ here. In fact, I think it should take influence from a certain other Mario spinoff in recent years too:
Yep, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle. Honestly, I think Kingdom Battle pulls off the ideal ‘look’ for a Mario Party game. It’s bright and colourful, yet each stage is filled with charming details than you’ll only notice on a second or third playthrough. It’s got fitting music, but it’s catchy and original music, complete with stand outs like a sung opera track and a remix of a Donkey Kong 64 theme.
It just strikes the right balance between being cartoony and vibrant, and seems to nail just the right feel for a Mario Party game.
Yet I think there are still ways Mario Party could differentiate itself from Kingdom Battle there. Like for example, theming the game quite heavily around locations from all over the Mario universe.
That’s because to me, Mario spinoffs are about doing ‘interesting stuff’ in areas you’ve seen in other Mario games. They’re about racing through Luigi’s Mansion, or playing tennis in Delfino Plaza, or perhaps even having a golf match in the Beanbean Kingdom or Rogueport.
But most Mario spinoffs never seemed to get this. They seemed to either end up in ‘generic ripoff’ territory or reuse assets from New Super Mario Bros depending on the era. It was disappointing, and a real waste of the Mario license.
So, Mario Party could solve this. It could take inspiration from everything from Super Mario Odyssey to the Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi series and turn them into boards for the main board game mode. Have a board based on Luigi’s Mansion Dark Moon where hitting a ? space breaks the Dark Moon and causes the ghosts to become hostile for a few turns. Have one based on New Donk City where you steal stars by possessing a Boo with Cappy. Perhaps even a Donkey Kong Country themed one where barrel cannons get you to different parts of the board and you’re collecting Gold Bananas instead of stars.
Make it truly stand out, in a way that doesn’t feel like a generic cash in.
Bringing back the Alternate Modes
Additionally, don’t just leave the game limited to one or two basic modes either. That’s because one of the things that made Mario Party stand out was how it felt like an actual party. You had different events and options to mess around with, some of which added quite a bit more depth to the game.
Like say, Mini-Game Island in Mario Party 1. That was a great little single player mode, where you had to beat all the mini games to travel across an overworld map and eventually unlock a Bumper Ball Maze game by defeating Toad in Slot Car Derby.
Or how about Duel Mode? It was pretty enjoyable to buy ‘partners’ and fight your opponents with them on special maps in Mario Party 3.
Same goes with the extra room stuff in 4 (oh hey, Bowser’s playable here!) or the Super Duel Mode in Mario Party 5. I’m sure a lot of people spent hours on the car building thing:
Heck, even later games like Island Tour did something decent with the Bowser’s Tower mode.
So, let’s include something similar in a new Mario Party game too. You can have a mini game collection story with a boss battle at the end (like Minigame Island mixed with Bowser’s Tower), a few optional extras like the extra room in 4 and maybe the odd extra mode with more depth like one of the Duel Modes mentioned above.
That way, those who want a bit more variety than just ‘play board games’ and ‘play whatever mini game you want’ get it. Everyone wins!
Using the Switch to its Advantage
As for a platform, well the Nintendo Switch seems like the best choice for a new Mario Party title here.
Well, because the Switch is basically the perfect system for a Mario Party game. It’s a hybrid system, so you can start up a party anywhere you like by taking it out and about with you. It’s got the Joy-Con controllers, so everyone gets a nice convenient controller for a game like this without you buying four more from a shop somewhere.
And hey, the fact it’s a HD home console with a decent online system just makes it feel right for a game like this.
Either way, let’s move onto the last thing a new Mario Party game can get to liven things up.
Finally Going Online
Yep, good old online multiplayer.
It sounds crazy, doesn’t it? I mean, isn’t Mario Party one of the slowest paced games in existence?
How can that possibly work as an online game?
Quite well to be honest with you. Because for one thing, there are people out there who like playing longer games online. They’re the ones playing strategy games with people over the internet. They’re the ones on online chess sites having matches with people on the other side of the world.
Heck, even board game fans play games online nowadays. So, the idea of an hour+ experience with people on the other side of the world isn’t a new one, and it’s one a decent sized audience is already involved in. Just ask the folks on the Mario Party forums or Discord if you need proof of that!
But to make it fun for everyone, I feel the online mode could have the following options:
- Random Board Game – You get matched with up to three players, decide on a board to play and go through 10-50 turns of classic Mario Party gameplay with them. Maybe it could even have an option to ‘pause’ the game in case everyone’s getting tired and wants to resume tomorrow.
- Board Game with Friends – You set up a private community, and invite up to four friends to play however many boards you want with custom settings. Want one long game with 200 turns on Eternal Star? Eh, knock yourself out.
- Random Mini Games – Aka you go online and search for other players to play random mini games with. You’d get matched up with up to three other random players in every game, with the mini games that appear depending on the category (with options being all, 4 player, 1 vs 3, 2 vs 2, duel, battle and Bowser respectively). Each category would have its own scoreboard, along with a general matchmaking system which put players together based on their skill in that category.
- Mini Games with Friends – You and up to three friends play as many random mini games as you want, with options to choose the difficulty, category/type and source for the games.
- Tournament – Exactly what it says on the tin. Use board games or mini games in tournament play, with the losers being eliminated in each round.
- And whatever other options are included. Is there an extra room? Then the volleyball mini game would have an online play option. Same with Super Duel Mode if it returns from Mario Party 5.
If Nintendo includes this sort of online play, as well as the other suggestions on the list, Mario Party will return to its former glory. They just need to be willing to put in the effort.