The Mario Party franchise has evolved over the years, getting more streamlined and fun with each iteration. Mario Party 10 is no exception, and is fun for folks of all ages. Is it the perfect Wii U game? I wouldn’t go so far as to answer that with an emphatic “yes” – especially if you own more than one other Mario Party game; however, it does a great job in terms of accessibility and fun, and if you have never played a Mario Party game before, it is a worthy addition to your Wii U games collection, thanks to its universal appeal. Sure, there will be others who will utter “been there, done that” under their breath – and while that may be true to some, there are some great new features which shake things up.
For those who have never played a Mario Party title, the premise is that of a board game – only virtual. Basically, you compete against other players to complete a goal (attain most mini-stars; make it to the end of the game without dying). Like a normal board game, you roll dice to move, and there are spaces that affect the players, causing them to move forwards or backwards; there are also tiles that open up mini-games, which place the players in any number of competitive situations. Unlike a normal board game, though, in the two main modes of Mario Party 10 (Mario Party and Bowser Party) all of the players are in the same vehicle, and so they all move together. This mechanic is great for playing with kids or newbies – but it might fray the nerves of old-school Mario Party fans.
Of course, one thing that hasn’t changed is the plethora of mini-games (there are 73), which are a lot of fun; I haven’t come across a “dud” in the bunch – and I have played a good chunk of these things as of the writing of this review. They come in all shapes and sizes, and are usually easy enough for people of practically any age to learn. The mini-games will have you using your good ol’ Wii-Motes in different orientations: tilt-control, standard sideways-oriented console-style control, pointing, shaking – you name it. There is enough variety to keep everyone in the living room happy – which says a lot about the appeal of this game.
Mario Party is the mode in which most people should start, as it is the easiest of the different modes to understand (and the quickest to play through). In this mode you and three other players are placed together in a car and make your way from the start of the board to the finish, collecting mini-stars. A lot of the mini-stars are attained randomly – but others are collected by winning mini-games. Most of the mini-games are free-for-all play, while others will put the players into teams to pit them against each other. There are also boss battles along the way to keep you busy and offer some variety. There is also an interesting use of the GamePad, which has Bowser locked in a cage with six locks – each lock associated with a die result (1 to 6). When a number is rolled in the game, the corresponding lock is unlocked – once all six numbers have come up in the game, the cage is completely unlocked, and Bowser is free to steal your mini-stars. How he does this, though, is beyond me, as Smallest Thumbs and I never managed to roll every single number on the die in the games that we have played.
Bowser Party is like Mario Party, except that there is a fifth player: Bowser. Like Mario Party mode, the other four players are lumped together in a vehicle and have to outrun Bowser. Each of the players in the car will get a chance to roll the dice. Once they have finished their turn, Bowser gets to move. Bowser has his own dice, and true to form, he cheats. In the times that we have played the game, we have never once managed to outrun Bowser – so it always ends up with us battling it out in a mini-game before rolling the dice to try and get away. Each of the players begins with two units of health, with Bowser being able to destroy the units if he defeats players in mini-games. Bowser wins if he destroys all of the players – but if any player manages to get to the end (ie: survive), then the whole team wins. One of the coolest parts of this mode is that a human can play the part of Bowser by using the GamePad. This lucky person will have a natural edge over all of the other players as they will have more information available to them during the mini-games, and will have a lot more control over the environments (including, at times, the board itself).
Smallest Thumbs really enjoys Bowser party. She likes the idea of playing as a team, rather than the cutthroat nature of Mario Party. She also appreciates the head start that is given to the players trying to get away from Bowser, as it allowed her to check out the board. Of course, when Bowser starts to move, she shifts ever-closer to the edge of her seat. Once he inevitably catches up to us, she becomes a far more active player, shifting around in her seat and giggling fearfully like a maniac. While she understands the idea behind the mode, she doesn’t like that Bowser gets so many dice to roll. She has noticed that there are a lot obstacles to overcome, which will naturally stress out the players – but that’s really the point, isn’t it?
The final available mode to play is amiibo Party, in which you use one or more of a subset of the existing amiibo to play an old-school game of Mario Party. Unlike the other two modes, each player has their own piece and are not tied together in a vehicle. The idea, of course, is to get the most mini-stars by the end of the game. These are attained by using coins (which you can win during the course of your board travels) at random spots on the board. Once a mini-star has been purchased, the location of star-trading moves to another spot on the board, adding a bit of a frantic dimension to the whole affair. While the amiibo are used as the game pieces, they can also be used to customize parts of the board. The change is mostly aesthetic – but it makes for a neat way to customize your experience. The down side to this whole thing is that you’ll need to have both the amiibo and GamePad on hand, as you will have to tap your amiibo to the corner of the GamePad to do practically everything during the course of the game. It’s not horrible – but adding an extra “controller element” just makes for a bit of a physically messy experience.
Aside from the the three main modes, there are a ton of other ways to occupy yourself playing the game. First of all, there are some bonus games that you can choose from the main menu. These games are a fun diversion and can be played separately from the main boardgame mecahanic. Toad’s Room, which is also accessible from the main menu, functions as the “shop” for the game, allowing you to trade your hard-earned game-based coins for goodies (like music, vehicles, and other interesting stuff).
As I mentioned at the start of this article, Mario Party 10 is the most streamlined of the bunch so far. The rules for each mode are easy enough to grasp, and a lot of the game is left up to chance (which is more like traditional board games) – including mini-game playing. In fact, it’s theoretically possible for players to go through the game without ever activating a mini-game (though I have yet to achieve this feat). However, for those who really loved the versions of the past that were loaded up with mini-games, and involved more strategy than luck, there may be a little disappointment. I suspect that this was done in the name of efficiency, as playing long-duration board games with kids ends up leading to a lot of frustration on all sides of the board. Smallest Thumbs, who is 7, certainly appreciated the half hour gaming sessions over what used to be far longer ones in previous versions.
The other thing that is a bit lacking is the number of boards available to play on. There are 5 main boards in Mario Party mode, but only three of those are playable in Bowser party. It’s certainly not the end of the world – but it would be great if Nintendo pushed out more boards as free DLC to give people some variety (or perhaps even a “design your own board” mode). Mini-games load times were longer than I expected – but not too bad: short enough to not worry that your Wii U had crashed but long enough to settle in and get comfortable.
I find Mario Party 10 to be a fun romp. Sure, it has a large element of chance associated with it, but so did many of the old board games that we used to play when we were kids. The shorter game duration and Bowser GamePad mechanic add more fun into the mix; and while the only amiibo that work with the game’s amiibo mode are the Mario Party subset, you can still use your other amiibo to “buy” virtual scratch cards that give you in-game spending money to buy goodies from the shop. Negative aspects of Mario Party 10 (which are mostly tied to cynicism possibly built up from playing all of the previous iterations of Mario Party) are easily countered by the more efficient and inclusive model that this latest iteration seems to be based on. Add in some stunning HD graphics, and you have yourself a fun diversion, my friends. It’s obvious that Nintendo is playing to the younger crowd for this one (or crazy friends who are young at heart) – and all the power to them. Smallest Thumbs and I give this title two Toronto Thumbs up (each)!