Mario Party has always been a series that has relied just as much on luck as it does skill. While there is a certain element of strategy to the game, you’re constantly at the mercy of a random dice-block, with each roll having the potential to turn the tide of the game, for better or worse. This element of luck is often responsible for just as many game-changing last-minute victories as it is bitter rivalries and ruined friendships. Yet, despite all of the frustrating moments that come from Mario Party, the series still makes for an entertaining and competitive experience, especially when playing with friends.
Perhaps that’s why Mario continues to throw parties 17 years and 10 installments later. As the first entry in the series to release on Wii U, Mario Party 10 attempts to use its GamePad and amiibo support to breathe new life into the aging series, but ultimately encounters the same pitfalls that has plagued the series for years now. There’s fun to be had at Mario’s 10th party, but the game’s lack of variety and emphasis on luck are likely to sour the experience along the way.
Like previous Mario Party games, Mario Party 10 is essentially a minigame collection presented in a board game style wrapper. Players roll the dice and attempt to land their character on spaces that will earn them stars or coins, while avoiding hazardous spaces that can take those treasures away. Along the way, players will battle it out in minigames that will reward them with further collectables. At the end of the game, the player with the most stars is the winner.
Mario Party 10 offers three game types: Mario Party, Bowser Party, and amiibo Party. All three types have the same emphasis on board game-style gameplay, albeit with a few variations in game objectives. Each game mode has their own strengths, but unfortunately each one also has some heavy weaknesses that holds this entry back from the fun that previous Mario Parties have provided.
The Mario Party acts as the game’s centerpiece where four players compete to collect stars. However, unlike the majority of previous Mario Party games, MP10 uses the same updated gameplay style introduced in Mario Party 9. In this game type, all four players ride along the board in a single vehicle and follow a linear path. Rewards and collectables are still the focus of the game, but are earned by the player that happens to be fortunate enough to have their turn occur at the time that collectables are passed.
This creates a gameplay experience that is wildly different than the Mario Party formula that most players are used to. Rather than having each player use their own best strategy to earn stars (not to mention screw over other players), gameplay in this variation is even more luck-based than previous installments. Players are now entirely at the mercy of the dice block and the only element of strategy comes from using items that can raise your chances of landing on a space that is beneficial to you or harmful to others. The gameplay element of forging your own path in an effort to steal items or stars from leading players is not present here at all, and the experience feels far less competitive because of it. This new formula is altogether quicker and certainly newcomer-friendly, but the experience feels robbed of its usually fierce competition.
Bowser Party is a new mode where four players join forces as Team Mario in an effort to simply make it to the end of the linear game board. A fifth player, who uses the Wii U GamePad to control Bowser, rolls his or her own set of four dice blocks in an effort to chase down Team Mario. Each player on Team Mario has their own number of hearts, which, when depleted, means game over for that particular player. Every time Bowser catches up to Team Mario, an asynchronous minigame plays out where the player controlling Bowser tries to deal as much damage to the other players as possible. The victor is decided by whether or not the King of Koopas is able to take out Team Mario before the end of the stage.
If there’s one strong component of this game type, it’s the encouragement of teamwork. For the first time in the Mario Party series, you’re actually trying to keep the rest of your team alive. With each teammate that falls victim to Bowser’s attacks, the team has one less dice block to roll, making evading Bowser increasingly difficult. The moment that any player employs an every-man-for-themselves approach is usually the moment that the entire team quickly falls apart. The teamwork is a refreshing change of pace for the normally cutthroat behavior of Mario Party games.
Unfortunately, some balancing and luck issues still plague Bowser Party. Even more so than the other modes in this game, the amount of enjoyment or frustration that stems from Bowser Party is entirely based on luck. Whereas the Mario Party mode’s goal of collectables causes players to aim for certain spaces on the board, Bowser Party’s strategy is just to progress as far as possible with each dice roll in order to stay ahead of Bowser. Yes, certain spaces can launch you forward or provide a few life-saving hearts to keep you going, but all players will really be doing in this mode is moving as quickly as possible through the board. The experience can be tense at times, but ultimately feels flat and boring, with the fun-factor dependent mostly on how fortunate your dice rolls are.
Bowser Party also feels exceptionally one-sided at times. This game mode is built around trying to make it as easy as possible for Bowser to catch up to Team Mario, but the game constantly feels as though it is strongly in Bowser’s favor. Even when Team Mario is crippled by having lost certain players, they are still forced to suffer from frequent stage hazards and roadblocks. Meanwhile, Bowser is always able to roll four dice blocks at a time, and can occasionally even reroll the dice if the first roll gave a low sum. It just always seems like Bowser is far more capable here than Mario and friends. I understand the reasoning – after all, the minigames are really the heart of Mario Party and Nintendo tries to get them to occur as frequently as possible – but Bowser Party really feels like being kicked while you’re already down sometimes. Of course, this means that playing as Bowser is loads more fun, but ultimately the balancing in this mode feels off.
amiibo Party, while still having its own set of flaws, is thankfully the most entertaining mode of them all. This mode feels the most like the traditional Mario Party experience, while also requiring that each player use their own amiibo figurine as game pieces in ways that resemble a real board game. Players move across a small square-shaped game board where they acquire coins and hope to beat other players to an area of the board where they can buy stars. It’s a quicker and simplified version of the classic Mario Party experience. It’s still shorter and less intensive than previous Mario Parties, but at least there is some semblance of that game mode here, even if it is locked out for players who don’t own any of Nintendo’s amiibo figures.
If there is one complaint I have about this mode, though, it is how frequently amiibos need to be used. Aside from the minigames between turns, every action is essentially controlled using amiibo. Want to use an item at the start of your turn? Tap your amiibo to the GamePad. Need to roll the dice? Press your amiibo down and then quickly lift it up. Did you acquire a new item on this turn? Pick it up by tapping your amiibo. It’s clear that Nintendo aimed to simulate a real board game piece by letting players use amiibo, but in a 4-player game where each player needs to continuously take their amiibo on and off the shared Wii U GamePad, the experience gets olds pretty fast. There’s definitely some instances where a button press could have sufficed.
Of course, even a great Mario Party game is only as good as its minigames. Sadly, this is an area where Mario Party 10 falls short once again. This installment features some of the most bland and repetitive minigames that have ever been seen in the series. Each game is controlled using a Wii remote and many games feel overly simplistic because of it. Nearly every minigame is a slightly different variation of dodging, jumping, or both, and it was exceptionally rare to encounter a minigame that required more than a single button press. Even the Bowser Party minigames, which give the Bowser player control over the GamePad, were little more than simple touch-based games. Oh and the games that use motion control? These few minigames are nearly unplayable messes where you’ll struggle more with controls than you will with trying to achieve your objective. As far as minigames go, Mario Party 10’s felt truly lacking.
One of the things that I did truly enjoy about Mario Party 10, though, was how it uses challenges to encourage better performance and reward players. These challenges acts as an in-game achievement system and can range from anything such as sampling a game mode to earning a high score in a particular minigame. Each completed challenge awards players with points that can then be spent in the game’s store to buy things such as music tracks and hidden characters. There’s plenty of challenges too, so while some areas of the game are bland, at least there’s encouragement to revisit them.
One other area where I need to applaud the game is in its AI. Mario Party games of the past have often had computer controlled opponents doing seemingly random actions, such as buying and using items that are of no use to them, but MP10’s opponents seem much smarter. There were several occasions where I would see an AI opponent strategically use an item at a time that would benefit them and harm others. The smarter opponents are certainly refreshing compared to the random times that Luigi would buy a useless Skeleton Key in games past.
As much as I complain about Mario Party 10, it does still offer some fun. Even at its worst, Mario Party has the potential to be a blast and I will still be booting up the game the next time that I have friends over for a game night. More often than not, though, that potential is squandered by bad luck, and even the best of players are punished for it. Some of the new game modes seek to switch up the formula slightly, but those modes mostly fall flat, and after 10 installments, Mario Party has never felt so stale. There is certainly fun to be had in Mario Party 10, but the way that luck usually overpowers skill ruins the potential that the game has.