Mario Party is one of those evergreen franchises that Nintendo can trot out when they’re having a slow year; it’s the equivalent of when McDonalds puts Barbies and Hot Wheels in the Happy Meals because there isn’t some huge tie-in promotion happening. The problem is that the halcyon days of the N64 and GameCube are long since passed, so the majority of recent Mario Party games really feel like they’re just going through the motions. Mario Party Star Rush on 3DS does some work to right the ship as it were, but it’s still clear that most of Nintendo’s attentions and resources were on getting the Switch ready, and not giving the 3DS a truly great Mario Party send-off.
First, the good: Nintendo has finally ditched the clumsy car mechanic from the past few Mario Party games and replaced it with two new modes that let players move independently around the board. The first mode is called Toad Scramble, and assigns each of four players to be one of four individual toads: red, yellow, green and blue. The goal is ostensibly to move around the board gathering coins and making it to the boss spaces, where the player who scores the most hits against a boss gets rewarded with a star.
Thankfully there’s more complexity to this mode than just the basics. Naturally you’ll land on minigame spaces and gain powerups, and the confusing emphasis on different flavors of dice is no longer there. All players roll and move independently, so there’s a lot less waiting around and having each player move individually makes so much more sense from a board game perspective. The main difference here is that instead of playing as Mario series “heroes” like Yoshi, Peach or the red-capped plumber himself, these heroes appear randomly on the board and your toad character can recruit them by running over their space.
This adds a whole new dynamic to the classic Mario Party formula because you’ll be keeping an eye out for allies instead of just hoovering up every coin you see; trying to hit as many coins and item spaces in a turn, while trying to snag an ally along the way, adds some decent strategy that was missing from Mario Party 10. Each ally has a unique ability, they will assist you in minigames and they also roll their own dice to add more moves to your roll, so it’s worth it to fill out your party as much as possible. Of course your opponent toads can also steal allies from you if you both land on the same space, which is accomplished through a microgame. In my experience every player tried to snag Waluigi as soon as he appeared.
With such a dynamic new player and ally system it’s a shame that the levels are comparatively flat and bland. They typically consist of a few smallish boards connected by straight paths, and while some of them have obstacles like lava, none of them come close to the crazy boards from previous Mario Party games. The simpler level design does take some of the trial and error out of Toad Scramble—a good player will have to recruit allies, collect coins and do well at the minigames and boss battles to ultimately triumph. It’s just too bad that Nintendo had to severely dumb down the board design to implement this new game mode.
The second new mode, Conathlon, is a lot more direct as it’s just straight minigames. You and your opponents compete in minigame after minigame, collecting as many coins as possible while you automatically move around the board on the bottom screen. How far you move and how quickly you go is entirely dependent on the coins you collect, so this mode is all about using items to mess up your opponent and your skill at the minigames. They’re great minigames too; lots of variety, simple controls, and just generally fun to play, with only one or two duds out of the whole bunch. It’s easily the best collection of minigames in a Mario Party game in years; it’s just unfortunate that because these minigames are spread over multiple game modes, they tend to repeat fairly often.
There are a couple of other modes to round out the selection, but in the end they feel like they should have been minigames instead of separate modes. In Rhythm Recital you and the other players tap out notes to a classic Super Mario tune and the player with the most accurate rhythm wins. Unfortunately the notes you play never match up to the actual song playing, so they end up sounding sour and out of place. I got a few flashbacks to the painfully embarrassing Wii Music demo from way back at E3 2008. In Mario Shuffle players start from opposite ends of a straight line course, trying to land on spaces that will advance them to the opposite team’s base, but again you have to wonder how this got to be its own mode in the first place.
Star Rush also includes the use of Amiibo, but this is the first game where I feel it really skews the gameplay into “pay to win” territory. In Toad Scramble, any player who scans an Amiibo starts the game as that hero character, and that character can’t be stolen like an ally you would normally collect. In Coinathlon an Amiibo will double your starting item slots. Clearly, anyone who buys an Amiibo will have a distinct, unfair advantage over players who don’t. So far Nintendo has been pretty even-handed on how Amiibo affect gameplay, to the point where sometimes the figurines feel almost irrelevant, which is why it’s so surprising to see Amiibo grant such a leg up in Star Rush.
Overall it feels like Nintendo just can’t decide what to do with the Mario Party series, and Star Rush is just the latest example. Each new entry adds a handful of good ideas while either keeping bad ones from previous games or getting rid of something that already worked. As a result every Mario Party game for the last five years or so has been the definition of a mixed bag. Star Rush certainly has above average minigames and it’s probably the most fun Mario Party game for solo play in a while, but too much of it still feels contrived, repetitive or just plain tired.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Sean Colleli has been gaming off and on since he was about two, although there have been considerable gaps in the time since. He cut his gaming teeth on the “one stick, one button” pad of the Atari 800, taking it to the pirates in Star Raiders before space shooter games were cool. Sean’s Doom addiction came around the same time as fourth grade, but scared him too much to become a serious player until at least sixth grade. It was then that GoldenEye 007 and the N64 swept him off his feet, and he’s been hardcore ever since.
Currently Sean enjoys a good shooter, but is far more interested in solid adventure titles like The Legend of Zelda or the beautiful Prince of Persia trilogy, and he holds the Metroid series as a personal favorite. Sean prefers deep, profound characters like Deus Ex’s JC Denton, or ones that break clichés like Samus Aran, over one dimensional heroes such as the vacuous Master Chief. Sean will game on any platform but he has a fondness for Nintendo, Sega and their franchises. He has also become a portable buff in recent years. Sean’s other hobbies include classic science fiction such as Asimov and P.K. Dick, and Sean regularly writes down his own fiction and aimless ramblings. He practices Aikido and has a BA in English from the Ohio State University. He is in his mid twenties. View Profile