Party crashers

Mario Party is no longer the friendship-threatening, free-for-all party game it once was, and I think I miss those days. Mario Party 10 offers several new ideas that attempt to push the franchise forward, but now there’s a more peaceful coexistence among players on the living-room couch. Unfortunately, some of the new concepts don’t deserve a spot on the winners’ podium, and when combined with a clear lack of on-disc content, Mario Party 10 seems to kick off an awful trend for the series.

On the surface, Mario Party 10 should offer more than any Mario Party game to date, since it includes three primary options: the traditional Mario Party mode, a new 4-vs.-1 Bowser Party, and a new Amiibo Party. But once I played through each, I quickly realized that the game splits up and repeats an already limited amount of content among three different styles of play.

The Mario Party mode is the same as in Mario Party 9, with only minor tweaks. Instead of a Monopoly-style board, as in the first eight entries, (where players could go around as many times as they wanted), the boards are more like Chutes and Ladders, with a definitive beginning and end. This style does lends itself to faster games, usually concluding in 30 to 45 minutes. Though I miss the competition encouraged by older Mario Party games, I definitely do not miss the 90-minute marathons that sometimes broke out, and I find these shorter games much more digestible.

The only real difference from Mario Party 9 is that now in Mario Party mode, the Wii U GamePad allows players to keep track of Bowser, who serves as a looming threat on every board. Bowser does a lot more in his own personal mode, but here he shows up and steals stars from whoever unlocks him, which is done when the group, as a whole, lands on every face of the 1-6 die at least once. Whoever rolls the final side needed to unleash him suffers the unfortunate consequences.

While this omni-Bowser does make for an interesting new hazard, it’s really just another way to force every player to come together, like a persistent minigame. No one wants to unleash Bowser, because he can hurt the entire group depending upon how he acts.

It honestly feels like a waste of the GamePad, though. The main Mario Party mode plays out using just Wiimotes (the Pro Controller doesn’t work because of the lack of a gyroscope), and the GamePad is really nothing more than a second screen.

While the main mode doesn’t do a lot to differentiate itself from the previous game in the series, a lack of change in how Mario Party plays isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since I still found myself enjoying each board. My biggest complaint comes from the aforementioned lack of content.

Mario Party 10 offers two fewer boards than Mario Party 9—and nearly 20 fewer minigames. It’s hard to tear the minigames apart because, as always, some will resonate more with a particular player than others. I loved some and absolutely hated others, but the fact that the game offers so few compared to the last game is insulting.

If the main mode encourages players to work together, Bowser Party downright demands it. In this new mode, a fifth player joins the action by grabbing the GamePad and playing as Bowser, already out of his cage and trying to chase down the four-player caravan in a race to the finish. It’s just the latest example in the 4-versus-1 gaming craze, and if Mario Party mode was a light snack, then Bowser mode is just starving itself. Three of Mario Party mode’s five boards repeat here, mildly repurposed to allow for Bowser, who can roll four dice every turn to catch up to the other four players. And while Mario Party mode offers 60-plus minigames in Mario Party mode, Bowser Party offers a whopping seven.

That’s not a typo, folks. You want repetitive, unbalanced gameplay? Jump into Bowser Party, where you have to play the same seven minigames specifically tailored to Bowser’s abilities again and again. What’s more, each board’s minor tweaks are set so that the four normal players are always at a disadvantage. It’s called “Bowser Party” for a reason—he’s usually the only one having any fun.

At the very least, though, the limited content in the Mario Party and Bowser Party modes comes packaged in the game. The same can’t be said of Amiibo Party. Nine amiibo figurines are compatible with Mario Party 9: Mario, Luigi, Bowser, Donkey Kong, Rosalina, Peach, Yoshi, Wario, and Toad. Now, if you already have amiibo from Super Smash Bros., you can just reuse them here for Mario Party. Eight of the nine figures listed have Smash Bros. equivalents.

If you refuse to get any amiibo, however, this mode is locked away. You see, each figurine contains a Mario Party 1-8–style board themed around that character. The more compatible amiibo you have, the more you can mix and match corners of each board to create all kinds of game setups. You could have one with Toad, Mario, Luigi, and Peach corners or just a fully formed Yoshi board.

But, of course, to do this, you’d need to drop the cash to get each amiibo. Nintendo may not do a lot with DLC, but this might actually be worse, since getting all nine amiibo will cost you more than $100. The boards are cute, and longtime fans might appreciate the throwback nature of them, but that’s a lot of money for some extra game boards in a party game that’s so desperately lacking.

I mean, even if you count the minor Bowser Party variations, the game only includes eight non-amiibo boards, and nine potential amiibo boards can be unlocked by buying the figures. Also, since Bowser isn’t a normal character on the roster, if someone uses the Bowser amiibo, you can only play the seven minigames from Bowser Party—and you’re locked out of the other 60-plus in the game.

Mario Party 10 is a decent game at its core, but it sabotages itself to the point where it’s barely worth playing. Mario Party mode is still fun, even if it’s mostly the same as Mario Party 9, and it’s easily the best balanced of the game modes. Bowser Party is an interesting idea, but it needs a lot more work to make the win/loss ratio fair. But I just can’t get behind a game that has half its content locked behind the amiibo figures, not to mention fewer minigames and game boards than the previous entry in the series.

Mario Party 10 is a disappointing debut for the series on the Wii U, and I can’t help but wonder if Nintendo tried to do too much and ended up doing nothing worthwhile instead. The bottom line, though, is that all Mario Party 10 made me do was wish for the days when I got into fights with my friends after every round of mini games.

Developer: Nd Cube • Publisher: Nintendo • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 03.20.15
A lack of content and a failure to properly execute on some of the new ideas had me longing for the days when Mario Party games would result in brawls in my living room.
The Good The new game boards are fun and certainly keep players on their toes the first few times around.
The Bad Relying on amiibo to boost the game’s diversity; poor balance to the new Bowser mode; lack of overall content.
The Ugly What would happen if the next Mario Party tried a different style of board game—like Settlers of Catan?
Mario Party 10 is a Wii U exclusive. A retail copy and several Amiibo were provided by Nintendo for the benefit of this review.