Mario Party as a series has struggled in recent years to retain its once-captive party audience. Can Mario Party Star Rush regain some of that lost ground?
Developer: Nd Cube
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: November 4th, 2016
I’m old enough to remember the first Mario Party and how many good-natured fights between my friends and I it caused. I also remember going home with marks on my palm from stick-rotating, and the groans induced when we discovered we had to play the flaming jump rope minigame.
I’ve dabbled in the series here and there since, and while I’ve kept an open mind about new mechanics, nothing has quite captured my attention in the same way the first few Mario Party games did. Recent titles have failed at bringing my friends and I back together on the couch to rage at one another over challenging, delightfully frustrating minigames. The recent disappointments of Mario Parties 9, 10, and Island Tour had my hopes up that lessons were learned and things would finally take a turn for the better in Mario Party Star Rush.
Sadly, they didn’t.
To begin with, Mario Party Star Rush isn’t particularly recognizable as the successor of its board game-based brethren anymore. There’s no straight-up board game party mode. Taking its place as the main party mode is Toad Scramble, where you play as a Toad against three others on an open map in which you can move freely based on dice rolls. The goal is to collect stars by earning coins to trade in at the end of the game or doing the most legwork in one of the mode’s boss battles.
Some mechanics of Toad Scramble are familiar enough: you can collect coins by passing through them and items by landing on them, engage switches and other board traps as you pass or touch them, and buy items from shops to aid yourself or mess with opponents. Ally characters can be picked up around the map to help you manipulate the dice in your favor. Boss battles can be initiated by getting an exact roll onto a boss space, starting a minigame where all four players participate in taking down a boss. The mode is over when all bosses are defeated.
While simultaneous dice rolls and an open board make for interesting strategy at times, Toad Scramble isn’t worth getting too excited over. Most of the boss battles involve grabbing an item and using it on a boss until its dead, and once you’ve seen all the battles, they tend to get repetitive since the same bosses reappear again and again over the course of several games. Furthermore, enough of the board mechanics are based so heavily on luck as to trivialize minigame skill more often than not. When all the coins are taken before you get there due to bad rolls, or your allies get taken from you by an RNG card flip, it isn’t fun. You just feel cheated.
Coinathlon is a bit better. It’s a race between up to four characters to run a set number of laps around a board, where earning one coin equates to moving forward one space. Coins are earned via minigames, of which three single-player coin-earning games are in a rotation. You’ll play progressively more difficult versions of these games on the top screen while your character moves on the bottom screen as you earn coins.
Coinathlon is surprisingly difficult in later stages; those NPCs are brutal. But for that difficulty, it was a lot of fun, presenting one of the game’s few real challenges and allowing skill-based gameplay to rule. Though some of the minigames do get repetitive once you’ve played the game mode a few times, they’re more varied than the Toad Scramble games and make better use of the 3DS’s multiple buttons and features like the microphone without being too gimmicky.
Even with pals in the room to laugh and suffer with, we quickly tired of Mario Party Star Rush.
Other unlockable modes include Balloon Bash, which is similar to Toad Scramble but replacing Boss Battle minigames with 2v2 and 4-player minigames to earn more coins, which can be traded in for Stars by passing through certain spaces on the board. There’s Rhythm Recital, which is just a 4-player rhythm game with limited songs from various Mario games, a match-3 game called Boo’s Block Party, and Mario Shuffle, which is mainly about luck-based dice rolls.
All of these except for Balloon Bash felt more like glorified minigames than proper game modes, and Balloon Bash was like Toad Scramble with an extra spoonful of luck-based gameplay thrown in. Counting all of these game modes, Mario Party Star Rush boasts 53 minigames–a woeful number, considering so many of those are given over to repetitive mechanics.
I’ll note here that there seem to be some significant benefits to scanning amiibo in modes like Toad Scramble and Mario Shuffle for additional gameplay items, but as I didn’t own any compatible amiibo, I was unable to test them for this review.
While most of Mario Party Star Rush was fairly ho-hum, it turned out to be very easy to share with my friends locally. Rather than requiring DS Download Play or four copies of Mario Party Star Rush for a multiplayer experience, your pals merely have to pick up a free download from the Nintendo 3DS eShop called the “Party Guest” version to play any of the game’s modes, as long as one player in the room has the full game. While the local options are darn good, a lack of online capabilities of any kind for a multiplayer-focused game is straight bogus in 2016.
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Throwing actual human players into the mix improved the experience somewhat, as a healthy dose of humor helped alleviate some of the RNG exasperation I was feeling solo. Yet, even with pals in the room to laugh and suffer with, we quickly tired of Mario Party Star Rush. It’s just…not particularly fun by most metrics for a casual party game. There are few challenges, the minigames grow repetitive very quickly, and the multiple game modes represent less of a variety of playstyles and more of two weird Mario Party spin-offs packaged alongside some minigames.
I’m not against Nintendo getting creative with its Mario Party series, but Star Rush is an example of trying new things just for the sake of it. The result isn’t a game people will show up to my house on Saturday night to play with me. It’s not some great, innovative new thing; but it’s not really Mario Party, either.
A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.