The Inconsistency of the Smash Roster

I ramble about Super Smash Bros. a lot, and I plan to write my full review of Ultimate really soon, so I’ll try to keep this quick. But the other day, I saw a tweet that made a good point, claiming that Ultimate, more so than Brawl or Smash Bros. for Wii U/3DS, has a list of Assist Trophies who should be playable characters, and playable characters who should be Assist Trophies.

Now, this person did leave out the first four announced newcomers in Inkling, Ridley, Simon Belmont and King K. Rool in their argument. Some people argued that that skewed the original poster’s point, but they emphasized that they left those characters out because they thought they were deserving newcomers. Hard to argue that, seeing as Ridley and K. Rool have been two of the three most wanted characters for over a decade, Inkling represents a contemporary Nintendo franchise, and Castlevania’s history with Nintendo goes without saying. But they pointed out that the remaining newcomers – including echo fighters – when compared to a number of characters who were relegated to Assist Trophies, leave a lot to be desired. And I kind of agreed.

Yes, I am aware that the echo fighters “don’t take up much programming space” yada yada yada. I get that. But let’s face it, they’re still difficult characters to get too excited over. Especially when we get reminded of the characters we could have had. And if the remaining newcomers are a little on the… ‘iffy’ side, well then those echo fighters are going to mean even less.

But let’s get back to the remaining newcomers. Isabelle is a choice that makes sense given Animal Crossing’s immense popularity. And you know what, I like that she’s in the game and think she’s very fun to play. However, whenever I remember that Shovel Knight and Bomberman are simply Assist Trophies, Isabelle’s placement as a playable character loses some of its appeal. Yeah, she’s a good addition, but if I – and many, many others – had a choice between Isabelle and Shovel Knight or Bomberman, well, I think we could all agree that’s a runaway victory for Shovel Knight and Bomberman.

“Even Incineroar is embarrassed he made it in before Geno.”

Then of course, we have Incineroar. Now, again, I completely understand the popularity of Pokemon, and have stated in the past that it’s one of the few series where it could potentially have as many characters as it wants. But, also again, when we look at characters who didn’t make the cut who fans have been begging for for years (Isaac from Golden Sun, anyone?), it boggles the mind that a Pokemon as random as Incineroar would be chosen instead. I mean, at least someone like Decidueye would be unique with his grass/ghost typing and emphasis on archery. But Incineroar kind of just seems to cover ground that’s already been covered in Smash being a brute character with fire moves. Again, I don’t hate Incineroar, but why are so many characters fans have wanted relegated to Assist Trophies in favor of random selections like Incineroar.

“Kill it with fire!”

Oh, but then we have the soon-to-be-released Piranha Plant. Now this is where I feel the selection was just a massive letdown. I mean, no one asked for a generic enemy (and if they had to add one, why not Goomba? At least Goombas are kind of the most iconic generic enemy in games, so they have that going for them). Some people claim Sakurai wanted to do something unexpected to surprise fans, but does a surprise really matter if it ends up disappointing? I mean, if someone ding-dong-ditched me and left a flaming bag of dog poop on my porch, I’d be surprised, but certainly not happy about it.

Sure, Piranha Plant could end up being a fun character to play. But its inclusion still seems like a slap in the face to all the fans who have been dying to see their favorite characters make the cut. I repeat, people really, really wanted Isaac, Bomberman, Shovel Knight, and many others. No one wanted Piranha Plant. And for a series as grounded in fanservice as Super Smash Bros., it just seems like a counterproductive move to so blatantly go the opposite direction of what fans want.

Yeah yeah, I’m going to bring up Geno again. Of course I am. But I don’t continuously bring up Super Mario RPG’s possessed puppet without reason. Fans have begged for the character’s inclusion for perhaps longer and more adamantly than any other character (wit the possible exceptions of K. Rool and Ridley), and yet, time and again, Super Smash Bros. fails to deliver on him. Granted, there’s still hope for Geno to make it as DLC, seeing as he doesn’t appear as an Assist Trophy. But there’s no guarantee to that. Some people think the fact that he shows up as a spirit deconfirms him, but that just sounds like a weak argument, since the spirits are just stock images that boost stats and don’t actually appear physically in matches.

But as I’ve stated ad nauseam, Geno’s continuous absence seems to personify the wonkiness of Smash’s character selections and omissions. I mean, if the most requested characters by fans can’t make it in, but Piranha Plant can, it seems to go against the very nature of the series.

Some people defend these selections by claiming that “it’s Sakurai’s game” and while that’s true, his is a game series built on fan service. It’s not like he’s telling a deep, personal story with the series. It’s Nintendo (and other) characters beating the crap out of each other.

What’s really annoying is when Sakurai apologists lash out against disappointed fans, as though they don’t have a right to be disappointed. We all love Smash Bros., but again, when the characters people want keep getting ignored while seemingly random selections make it in, it’s annoying. I love Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, and I think it’s the best game in the series. But would I enjoy it more if I could play as Geno? Oh, hell yeah! Without question.

Look, I understand that not everyone can be pleased, and some fans are always going to be disappointed. But there’s a difference between certain characters not making the cut, and the characters people have wanted most for over a decade not making the cut in favor of characters no one asked for (again, that damn plant!). It just comes off as spiteful (even if that isn’t the intent).

Even K. Rool and Ridley, despite their demand, had to wait until now to finally make it into the series, with Sakurai always coming up with rather weak reasonings for their omissions in the past (the “character uniqueness” statement in regards to K. Rool was particularly laughable, given all the similar characters already present in the series). I don’t want to complain too much about that, since they’re here now. Better late than never and all that. But given some of the characters who made it in before them, it’s pretty head-scratching.

What’s particularly hypocritical of the fans who dismiss those who express disappointment is that they’ll often ridicule fans of a particular character when they’re not in, but once a character makes it in, they suddenly act like they were always onboard with the idea since Sakurai and company gave the green light. It’s like, what a bunch of trollish sheep.

Look, I hope I never sound too negative in regards to Super Smash Bros. I truly love the series. But that’s why I get so passionate about it, both the good and bad. It’s easy to love the games themselves, but it’s often hard to ignore what could have been… especially if what we get is Piranha Plant.

Again, I hope to have my review of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate up soon. And since the omissions of my (and other people’s) most wanted characters isn’t a serious fault in terms of game design, I won’t be talking much about this stuff in my review. Hence why I decided to get it out of the way here. It’s certainly not the first time I’ve ranted about the Smash roster, and it surely won’t be the last.

My review of Ultimate is definitely going to be mostly positive (except in regards to World of Light). So please don’t think I’m just a grumpy guys when it comes to Smash. It’s just that I, like many fans, have the right to be disappointed when the series, frankly, disappoints in certain areas.

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Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Impressions

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is finally here, and it’s yet another jewel in the crown that is the Nintendo Switch. Although it may be premature of me to say this, given I haven’t tried out all of its modes yet, but Ultimate may very well be the best Super Smash Bros. title yet.

Like any sequel to a multiplayer title, the gameplay hasn’t exactly changed much, but something about it definitely feels smoother. It just feels right to control. It’s hard to explain, but it seems like every returning character I’ve tried feels more fluid to control than they did in past games, and the newcomers are just as smooth. The gameplay may be the series’ trademark “sumo rules” take on the fighting genre, but it just feels so polished.

Another big improvement over past games is the Classic Mode. As much as I appreciate Super Smash Bros for 3DS/Wii U trying to make Classic Mode into something bigger, it never really enticed me to try it out with every character. But here in Ultimate, I find myself wanting to complete Classic Mode with every new character I unlock. The beauty lies in its simplicity, as Classic Mode sees each character go through six fights, a bonus stage and a boss enemy, with each character’s opponents being vague (or literal) little callbacks to their own games.

For example, Ryu’s version utilizes stamina rules to reflecting the traditional fighter nature of Street Fighter. Meanwhile, Mega Man’s journey ends with a battle against Dr. Mario who, once defeated, becomes Mewtwo, subtly referencing the final fight against Dr. Wily in Mega Man 2). And in perhaps my favorite example, Dr. Mario’s fights are against triple opponents, with each bearing a red, blue and yellow color scheme in reference to the viruses from the classic puzzler. It’s just simple, fun and addictive.

Admittedly, the Adventure Mode, dubbed ‘World of Light’ is one I have yet to play. I’ll get around to it, but honestly, Brawl’s Supspace Emisary story mode was kind of a glorified means of unlocking every character. So I’m not exactly rushing into the story mode when everything else is already so much fun. So no opinions on World of Light for now.

Much to my pleasant surprise, it was actually really easy to play against my friends online! I know, that seems shocking considering this is a Nintendo game that isn’t Mario Kart, but playing against friends is actually accessible. That alone gets huge brownie points from me. I also haven’t experienced any lag issues when playing against opponents on a broader online scale, so that’s also an improvement from its predecessors. I have heard some people say the specific searches for quick online matches aren’t very accurate (one-on-one proponents experiencing repeated multi-man matches and such), but I haven’t tried that myself yet so I can’t comment. But the sheer easiness of playing against friends alone feels like a godsend, given all the hoops you usually have to jump through for such features in Nintendo games (I’m looking your way, Splatoon 2).

Then, of course, we have the characters. The title’s main selling point is that every past fighter from Super Smash Bros’ history is present. And with a small batch of newcomers, as well as ‘echo fighters’ we have about 70 characters (depending on how you count Pokemon Trainer). That’s a pretty hefty lineup of characters. And while the roster isn’t perfect (Geno isn’t in it), there really is such a wide variety of characters that, no matter what your play style is, you’re bound to find multiple characters you like. I personally have quickly become a King K. Rool man (hey, if Super Mario RPG isn’t represented, I’m going with my other favorite SNES title, DKC2).

All in all, I find myself having trouble putting Super Smash Bros. Ultimate down. In a weird way, it doesn’t feel quite as “massive” as the past few entries in terms of what it adds compared to what came before, but it does feel better. It takes the best bits and pieces of past Super Smash Bros. games and makes something that feels like one of those ‘special’ Nintendo releases on par with Breath of the Wild or Super Mario Odyssey.

But seriously, can we please get Geno?

My Thoughts on Persona 5’s Joker in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is finally out (and it’s pretty great). A day before its release though, it was revealed that the first of the five upcoming DLC characters for Nintendo’s brawler is none other than the protagonist of Persona 5, Joker.

*And yes, I am aware that by internet standards this news is old by now. But guess who doesn’t care and is going to write their thoughts about it anyway….. Me, obviously. I can’t very well write other people’s thoughts.*

To sum up my feelings about Joker being added to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, I direct you to this classic prequel meme.

Now, I’m not going to pretend like I’m a major fan of Persona who knows the series by heart. Persona 5 is, thus far, the only Persona game I’ve actually played. And even then, I didn’t get very far as I was intimidated by the game’s sheer length (though I guess I really have no excuse for not going back to it now that I’ve trudged through the campaign of Red Dead Redemption 2. I’ll get back to it). However, Joker’s addition to Super Smash Bros. not only showcases how far Persona has come as a franchise, but also can give Smash Bros. fans a collective sigh of relief, as all our concerns over the fact that Nintendo chose all the DLC characters were maybe a bit misplaced. That is, assuming Joker isn’t a one-off and the rest of the DLC characters don’t end up middle finger-y towards fans in the same vein as Piranha Plant (yes, I’m still salty about that).

Not only are third-party characters still in the cards, but so are fresh character ideas that are unexpected and different. Granted, I still (obviously) expect some of these DLC characters to be from Nintendo franchises (why wouldn’t they be?), but it’s kind of nice that the first one announced is so promising, and not just another random Pokemon or Marth clone. Maybe we can finally get Dixie Kong as an expected (and well overdue) character, and then get a bunch of surprises for the rest of the DLC (because, honestly, aside from Dixie, what major recurring Nintendo character isn’t in Smash already?).

Basically, Joker’s presence in Super Smash Bros. – like Snake’s all those years ago – opens the door to seemingly anyone. Especially seeing as Persona 5 isn’t on Switch (though I assume that his inclusion could mean a port is in the future), it feels like all the gloves are off. And that’s awesome.

Most importantly, let’s hope this means we can finally get Geno.

Minit Review

Because of their limited resources, indie games often have to rely on a specific ‘hook’ to compensate for their smaller scale. Minit is one such indie game, and one whose charm stems from its particular gameplay hook which, in a weird way, seems to be a parody of indie games with said hooks. Though it’s mostly modeled after 2D Zelda adventures, Minit also feels equally inspired by WarioWare. That’s because the aforementioned ‘hook’ of Minit is that the player character dies and returns to a checkpoint every sixty seconds, keeping whatever items you claim in a given life, meaning that you’ll make incremental progress at a time.

It’s a fun and charming little gimmick, as you rush to get even a single objective done within the allotted minute. Your house is your initial checkpoint where you’ll respawn after every minute, though there are other houses (as well as a hotel and a trailer) that become your new checkpoint when entering, thus serving as shortcuts to different objectives.

As stated, Minit works like a bite-sized Zelda. The player character (who resembles a Tamagotchi creature) travels the land, completes puzzles, and helps others to gain items. The ultimate goal of the game is to stop a factory from producing cursed swords, which are the cause of the “one minute of life” curse. With your own such cursed sword, you fight off enemies, but the character can only equip one primary item at a time, so for certain lives you may have to replace your sword with another item (found right outside your current checkpoint once collected) in order to solve a particular puzzle. It makes for some fun puzzle-solving as you try to use every last second effectively.

Perhaps the game’s greatest strength is how the setup allows for players to tackle it in different ways. Only a handful of items need to be acquired in order to stop the factory, but others still exist out in the game’s world to be collected, along with additional hearts and gold coins. Basically, even though the game is already served up in bits and pieces, it works in such a way that should really appeal to speed runners. On the downside, while Minit may be fun while it lasts, it doesn’t last very long, with most players probably able to complete the whole thing in about two hours. And unless you are really into speed running or are a completionist, I can’t imagine Minit would have too much replay value.

“The game features some fun (but necessarily brief) dialogue.”

While it may seem like unfair to criticize the graphics of an indie game of limited resources and budget, the fact that Minit’s graphics lead to me dying more than any enemies seems to be a bit of a problem. Although the character designs are charmingly simplistic, the black and white graphics can often lead to objects blurring together, and I found my clock hit ‘0’ quite often simply because I couldn’t tell where I could and couldn’t go. Even the puzzles themselves can, at times, be pretty vague with what you’re supposed to be doing.

Minit may be something of “Zelda meets WarioWare” in concept then, but it lacks the depth of the former, and the latter’s instant communication. Minit could be better polished then, and it may not have enough substance to it to make up for its short playtime. But all things considered, Minit is a fun little experiment that strips the Zelda template to its barebones minimum, and should leave those with the interest finding scurrying to find ways to save every precious second.

 

6

Super Smash Bros. Disappointment…

Well, the final Super Smash Bros. Ultimate-focused Nintendo Direct before the game’s launch has come and gone. And, well…that was it? I mean, really? That’s it? To use an old (and pretty disgusting) phrase, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate was about to win the race, and then crapped its pants right at the finish line.

Look, I have no doubts that – mechanically speaking – Super Smash Bros. Ultimate will still be a very fun game. It has a solid foundation to work from, and it really can’t be too bad in terms of gameplay if it sticks to what the series does best (Brawl was also a very fun game, even with the tripping). But the forty or so minutes it took for the Direct to begin and end made Ultimate go from my most anticipated game of the year, to one I’m simply going to play and review. And that’s kind of sad when I think about it.

Let’s get the big bad out of the way first: Geno is not in the game. Despite being arguably the single most requested character to join the series for well over a decade, he’s still MIA. And I know people will say I’m just being sour over the character I wanted not making it, but here’s two things: 1) This is a series built on fan-service, so being bummed out about your favorite character not making it is actually a reasonable disappointment (provided that the character in question was a likely possibility, which Geno very much was at this point). And more importantly 2) It’s not like I’m the only one who wanted Geno. Like I said, he’s been possibly the most requested character for years, rivaled only by Ridley and King K. Rool, who collectively became known as the “Big Three.”

Look, I think it would be awesome if Muddy Mole were added to Super Smash Bros., but I also know I’m just about the only person who thinks that. So no harm no foul with that omission. But Geno? Pretty much everyone and their grandmother wanted him at this point, and after giving fans what they wanted with Ridley and King K. Rool, people actually expected Geno to make it in. So now it all feels like a cruel tease, especially after that Mii Fighter costume debacle last time around…

“But Geno’s too obscure! He was in one game! He hasn’t been seen in years!” is what the detractors (AKA people who apologize for everything Sakurai does) would say. But none of those arguments hold a bit of weight by this point, considering K. Rool and several other characters hadn’t been seen in years, obscure characters have been part of the series since day one (EarthBound, Ice Climbers), and the fact that a character like Dark Pit is in the game at all means relevance clearly isn’t an issue. Hell, if anything, the demand for Geno over the years has actually made him more relevant than ever. Besides, Ultimate is the fifth (technically sixth) installment in the Super Smash Bros. series. We got all the most recognizable characters out of the way long ago, now was the time to get crazy with the fan-service. Instead Ultimate only went halfway.

Again, if we were talking about a character I wanted, but I know I was alone in wanting, I would give it a pass. But when a character has actually grown more iconic because people want him in Smash Bros., wouldn’t you think they’d prioritize such a character? As stated, if we weren’t teased with a Mii Fighter costume in the last game in might not sting as much, but after that mess, it feels like the fans were practically owed the character.

It’s not just Geno’s exclusion, but other characters that people have wanted for years also got left in the cold. Isaac from Golden Sun is still an Assist Trophy. Again, people would say I just regret the omissions of my favorite characters, but I’ve never actually played Golden Sun (it’s on my to do list), so I’m not talking about personal history or want here. But I sure as hell know he’s been one of the more requested characters over the years, certainly more so than many characters who are already there (did anyone really want three different Marth clones?), so the fact that the Direct just casually showed Isaac still stuck in his Assist Trophy position and just expected people to be cool with it is kind of insulting. I mean, could they have at least made a bigger deal about him somehow? It basically just screamed “you want this character? Yeah, we don’t care.”

Yet even more notable omissions include Skull Kid and Dixie Kong (the latter of which having no excuse for not having been in the series for some time already). Two prominent, highly requested characters from two of Nintendo’s biggest series. But, y’know, screw them. And yes, I know, from the beginning, Sakurai said there wouldn’t be too many newcomers this time around. But you would think, with fewer newcomers, they’d actually put the most requested characters front and center. At the very least, had Geno made it, I’m guessing the other exclusions would have been a little easier to swallow, considering it would mean we’d finally be getting the “Big Three.”

“Incineroar reaction.”

What makes the omissions sting all the more is the final lineup of newcomers in the Direct. Ken from Street Fighter makes sense, but it’s kind of hard to get too excited over a clone of an existing character. What makes less sense, however, is that the final ‘new’ character was revealed as Incineroar from Pokemon Sun/Moon.

Look, I get that Pokemon is Nintendo’s big money maker, and I’ve said in the past that Pokemon (along with Mario and Zelda) is one of the few series that could have as many characters as it wants and it would be hard to argue against it. But THAT’S the final character you decide to reveal? Incineroar isn’t even as popular as fellow Sun/Moon starter Dicidueye, who would have been a more unique character anyway. I mean, I’m not totally opposed to Incineroar, but to be the final character in the starting roster? Talk about a popcorn fart of a reveal… Would have been better off revealing Incineroar months ago and ending with the Belmonts and K. Rool.

Since I mentioned the starting roster, it is important to note that Sakurai has promised that, through the first year or so after Ultimate’s release, a quintet of DLC characters will be released, each coming with their own stage and selections of music. So there is hope yet for Geno, Skull Kid, and Dixie (not sure on Isaac though, given that they kept him as an Assist Trophy). But still, wouldn’t revealing someone like Geno (after already having Ridley and K. Rool) been the perfect final character? Incineroar just seems so…unceremonious.

There is a downside to the DLC, however, in that the five characters are still a mystery. So while we can all be hopeful that those aforementioned fan favorites will make the cut, after having the rug pulled from under us time and again from the Smash Bros. series’ character choices, it’s kind of hard to get too excited. I mean, if Geno couldn’t make it even after teasing everyone with the Mii costume, it’s more than a little bit of a kick to the crotch of the fans.

“Wow, a generic Piranha Plant can make the roster. Suddenly I really feel for the Waluigi people.”

Speaking of the DLC, however, there is one inclusion that might be even more questionable than Incineroar’s baffling presence as the final reveal… Piranha Plant is going to be a DLC fighter shortly after the game’s launch. Thankfully, it’s separate from the other five mentioned mystery DLC characters, but yes, a standard enemy from the Mario series gets in before the handfuls of characters fans have been requesting for years. That’s… that’s just insulting. I mean, I think Waluigi is a pretty lame character, and I think his requests for inclusion is little more than a joke taken too far. But at least Waluigi is a character! I think he’s earned a spot before a basic enemy like a Piranha Plant, no matter how much of a staple they are to their series. And if we’re throwing in standard enemies now, why not add the Waddle Dee with the bandana, since people at least wanted him? It is the most baffling inclusion, and not in a good “I wasn’t expecting that!” kind of way, but in a “wow, no one asked for that…” kind of way.

Sure, the Direct also revealed things like the new Story Mode, titled ‘Spirits.’ And I know some people are excited for a story mode. But in a game like Super Smash Bros., a story mode isn’t exactly the selling point. I’m sure more people would have preferred to see more of their requested characters make it into a series all about providing fan-service than they would like a story mode out of a fighting game. I mean, Brawl’s story mode – Subspace Emmisary – became pretty infamous for being a means to unlock the characters, and then completely forgotten about afterwards. And while the Spirits mechanic has some appeal, I again state that people would have probably preferred more newcomers over it.

Yeah yeah, Sakurai apologists would just write me off as being salty about the exclusions, but again, I’m talking about characters fans have wanted for years (some for over a decade). And they get bumped (yet again) for uneventful inclusions like Ken and Incineroar, and a Piranha Plant, something no one wanted. How exactly were they expecting people to react to these final announcements?

Sure, I’ll repeat myself and say I’m sure the game will be good fun in terms of gameplay and mechanics. But whatever steam Super Smash Bros. Ultimate picked up in the past few months through the likes of the Inklings, Ridley, Simon Belmont and King K. Rool came to a screeching halt in the span of forty minutes. Sure, Ultimate has already added some good new characters, but if you’re playing the lottery it doesn’t matter how many numbers you have, if you’re missing out on the last number, you still lose the jackpot.

Well, here’s hoping those five mystery DLC characters end up being worth the hype. In the meantime… Meh.

Super Mario Odyssey’s First Anniversary!

Wow, can you believe it’s already been a year since Super Mario Odyssey brought perfection into our gaming lives?

Yes indeed, Super Mario Odyssey celebrates its first anniversary today.

“Image originally from Super Mario Odyssey’s Japanese Twitter, to celebrate the occasion.”

Of the hundreds and hundreds of video games I’ve played over the course of my life, Super Mario Odyssey is easily among the very best. It stands as one of (currently) only nine games I’ve awarded a perfect 10/10, and probably its biggest competition for the title of best game of this decade is its own predecessor, Super Mario Galaxy 2 (another of my 10/10s).

How good is Super Mario Odyssey? So good that, when I beat its story and the credits started rolling, I actually stood up and gave the game a standing ovation. You might say that doesn’t make any sense, since I just completed a video game by my lonesome and it’s not the same as a theater environment where other moviegoers could join in. But that’s just how good Odyssey is. Come to think of it, I don’t know why I didn’t mention my standing ovation in my review of the game somewhere. I don’t believe I’ve done that before with a video game, so it’s worth mentioning in regards to how much I enjoyed it.

Why is Super Mario Odyssey so good? Like all the best games that don the Super Mario name, its a non-stop barrage of creative ideas. And Odyssey might just showcase this better than any other entry in the series. From the second the game begins to well after the credits roll, Odyssey presents players with insurmountable imagination. There’s not a moment in Odyssey that isn’t utterly delightful and inventive.

Super Mario Odyssey is a game that takes elements from just about all of its predecessors, and rearranges them in such ways that it constantly feels fresh and new. Whereas most games – even exceptional ones – often present you with the long and the short of their vision within the first couple of hours and then repeat those elements for longevity, Odyssey never lets up with its restless imagination. It looks back on its peerless catalogue of predecessors not just to simply rekindle fond memories of gaming’s past, but more importantly, to reinvent the very things we love about the series.

Happy one year anniversary, Super Mario Odyssey! One of the very best experiences gaming has to offer. Keep putting smiles on faces.

Full Super Mario Odyssey review can be found here.

Super Mario Party Review

Super Mario Party is something of a bittersweet occasion. It’s mostly sweet, mind you, as this eleventh installment in the long-running series feels refreshingly like a return to form, after the past few sequels seemed to go off the rails. Super Mario Party is, in essence, what Mario Party should be: four-player multiplayer fun. The bitterness is felt in Super Mario Party’s technical restrictions, a few unfortunate gameplay limitations, and at least one element in the main mode which feels outright unfair… even by Mario Party standards. So while Super Mario Party may be a return to form for the beloved series, its shortcomings prevent it from reaching the staggering heights it otherwise may have.

“Star get!”

First and foremost, Super Mario Party resurrects the series’ classic gameplay (No more ‘party car’ nonsense). Four players face-off in a giant board game, where they compete to gain the most stars. In between turns a mini-game is played, with the winner of each mini-game claiming coins. Players primarily gain stars by purchasing them from Toadette on the game board, though there are a few other means of obtaining them.

Although the classic gameplay has returned, a few new twists have been made to the formula. Super Mario Party includes twenty playable characters (four of which need to be unlocked). While they may all play the same within the mini-games to keep things fair, each character now possesses their own special dice, in addition to the standard six-sided die that anyone can use.

“I kind of love how you can play as iconic enemies like Shy Guy, Boo, Monty Mole and a Hammer Brother.”

The character specific dice are a case of risk and reward. Shy Guy’s dice, for example, is comprised of five sides of 4 and one 0, giving him a safe chance of moving a decent number of spaces, but risking not moving at all. Meanwhile, Bowser’s dice allows him to trample all over the place with high rolls of 8, 9 and 10 spaces, but also risks landing on a 1 or losing three coins (in addition to not moving). It’s an interesting twist on the Mario Party formula, with the characters who boast the biggest advantages also having the biggest shortcomings, which not only balances things a bit, but prevents the standard dice from losing its relevance.

“Oh lord, it’s Double Dash all over again!”

There’s another interesting new element to the proceedings, as players can now gain allies by means of landing on a special space or using an item to summon them. These allies are comprised of any of the playable characters not currently in the session. Whoever you claim will not only add to your roll (allies can only roll a 1 or 2), but also give you access to that character’s dice. You can also gain multiple allies, which means that much more can be added to your rolls, and you can use that many more dice. There are even a few mini-games in which your allies can help out, which may seem unfair, but it’s the kind of “hate your friends” unfair that has always been associated with the series.

“Waluigi wins? Is it possible to use those words together in a sentence like that?”

As for the mini-games, Super Mario Party boasts no less than 80 of them. And for the most part, it’s a pretty stellar lineup. The usual four player, two-vs-two and three-vs-one mini-games return, though the battle and dueling mini-games from the series’ oldest entries are sadly still absent. The mini-games use a variety of different play methods, whether traditional button presses, motion controls, and even games with minimal interaction (like selecting objects in one of the game’s surprisingly fun memorization games). Thankfully, very few of the mini-games feel based around luck this time around, and the motion-control implementation is top-notch (one game which sees players try to jiggle candy out of a jar is the best use of physics in a video game this year).

On the downside of the game, there is one aspect that is completely luck-based: the end-game bonuses.

Yes, the old Mario Party titles also included end-game bonuses, which could turn the tide completely at the last minute, but they were consistent with what their bonuses were. Those entries rewarded the player who won the most mini-games, landed on the most green spaces, and claimed the most coins (an odd choice, considering it usually coincided with the mini-game bonus). But in Super Mario Party, the bonuses are randomly selected, as are the number of bonuses it decides to dish out at the end of a match (usually it’s two, but every so often there will be three).

In the first game I played, I managed to snag a bonus star for winning the most mini-games, but I ended up in a close second in my second game because one of my opponents got bonuses for having an ally and for moving the least spaces (why should that even warrant an award?). It was frustrating in the old Mario Parties when your friends would steal first place in the last minute thanks to the bonuses, but at least you could somewhat strategize with the knowledge of what the bonuses would be. You could try to win the most mini-games, or aim for the most coins. But here, you have no idea what the bonuses will be until they’re dished out. If the game had to have random end-game rewards, it should at least inform players what they’ll be at the start of the game, so that they can actually try working towards earning them, instead of keeping their fingers crossed.

“Hey! The Bob-omb King! Remember that guy? One of the boards revolves around him.”

Aside from that (admittedly infuriating) aspect, the classic board game play style of Mario Party is at the best it’s been since the early GameCube titles. And the excellent mini-games are the most memorable since the beloved N64 trilogy. Unfortunately, there is a strange shortage of game boards to choose from at only four. Each board is fun and finds ways to stand out, but you can’t help but wish there were more.

On the bright of things, Super Mario Party makes up for the lack of boards by providing some interesting new modes, one of which – River Survival – is actually a great alternative to the classic board game setup. If classic Mario Party is all about competition, River Survival changes things up in the name of cooperation.

“Race for your life, Shy Guy!”

In River Survival, four players work together to – as the name suggests – survive river rafting by working together. All four players paddle their oars using motion controls, with the players on the left swerving the raft right, and the players on the right swerving the raft left. Players will have to pop balloons spread throughout the river to play cooperative mini-games, which will add more time to the clock upon completion. While the number of mini-games in River Survival are limited, the river itself contains branching paths, with each path providing their own challenges. So there’s still a decent sense of variety.

The other new mode is Sound Stage, which pits players in a series of motion controlled, rhythm-based mini-games as they compete for the highest score. It’s a fun and welcome diversion, but Sound Stage lacks the heft of the classic mode and River Survival. In addition to these modes, you can always choose to play a selection of unlocked mini-games.

“Alex, I’ll take “Things Sakurai Would Never Say” for 500.”

One unavoidable aspect of Super Mario Party that might not sit well with all players is that it’s a Switch title that cannot be played in the Switch’s handheld mode. There are a few mini-games that can be played with multiple undocked Switches – which serve as cool tech demos but won’t last long – but you can’t play any of the game’s main modes in handheld form. At the very least, this is an understandable technical limitation, as the game requires players to only use a single Joycon so that it’s easier for multiple players to join in (not to mention the game brings out some creative uses in the Joycons’ motion and rumble features). But it’s obviously a limitation that won’t sit well for those who enjoy the on-the-go nature of the Switch.

A far, far less understandable restriction comes in the form of Super Mario Party’s online mode. Continuing Nintendo’s infamous trend of bizarre online decisions, Super Mario Party’s online is limited to a single mode which sees players sprint through five mini-games. Five mini-games that are on rotation from a grand total of ten.

That’s right, Mario Party finally has an online mode, but you can’t get the whole Mario Party experience with friends across the world. You’re limited to a measly ten mini-games, with only five of which being playable at a time. No board game, no River Survival, no access to the majority of mini-games.

This not only comes off as a huge downer, but also an embarrassing missed opportunity, considering Super Mario Party’s release practically coincided with the launch of Switch’s online service. Some might say that the board game matches are too lengthy, and have a higher risk of players dropping out, but I can’t see why they couldn’t limit the board games to be played with people on your friends list, and giving access to every mini-game to the broader online crowd.

“My favorite characters (minus Geno) teaming up? Yes please!”

For those who long for the glory days of Mario Party, Super Mario Party serves up a fitting return to form for the series. The classic board game style is resurrected and at full force – being muddled only by a lack of boards and the obnoxiously random end-game bonuses – and the additions of character dice and allies provide some meaningful change. The mini-games are varied and among the best the series has ever seen. The River Survival and Sound Stage modes provide some good versatility to the overall package. The game boasts simple-but-catchy music, and incredibly sharp, colorful visuals (it’s no Odyssey, but it doesn’t need to be). The single control option won’t be to everyone’s liking, but it’s the bafflingly restrictive online features that serve as the real party-pooper.

Super Mario Party is a whole lot of fun, and it’s great to see the series get back on track. But here’s hoping the Switch sees a Mario Party sequel in the not-to-distant future that expands on what Super Mario Party started, and isn’t afraid to take the entire friendship-ruining Mario Party experience online.

 

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