Review by BabyLuigiOnFire
A solid Mario Party that can be more fleshed out.
I'm a huge fan of the Mario Party series and I had played and owned all games, barring Mario Party Advance until Mario Party 9. Like a lot of us, many of us are disappointed to find out that Mario Party 9 had retired the tried and true formula for a haphazardous, move-together car mechanic that has alienated many people from the series, including myself. After a glut of rather mediocre installments, Nd Cube (composed of the same folks who have many of the older Mario Party installments in their resumes, including director Shuichiro Nishiya, who has been part of the planning team since Mario Party 2 and has been directing Mario Party games since Mario Party 6, aside from Mario Party Advance, Mario Party DS, and Mario Party: Island Tour) has decided to experiment with a brand new mechanic not seen in any Mario Party games. Now, experimentation has usually been a miss for Nd Cube, especially with how Mario Party 9, Mario Party 10, and Mario Party: Island Tour have been criticized as a bad experimentation and a huge departure from traditional board gameplay where you collect coins, moving individually to purchase Stars on a board. However, Mario Party: Star Rush surprisingly delivers on its new concepts, and, with the plethora of new modes to try out, it's a very solid entry in the Mario Party series that may please anyone who has been disappointed with the Mario Party team's recent history.
Mario Party: Star Rush comes with ten different game modes. The main selling point of the game is Toad Scramble. Here, unlike other Mario Party games, you take control of a color-coded member of the Toad species rather than a designated Mario character, and you navigate around grid-style, open boards to collect objects of interest, such as coins, balloons, and items. The main focus of this mode is retrieving Stars by defeating the designated boss of the board, where you can land on his space any time to begin the fight with him. Pivotal to the gameplay is going after various characters of the Mario series, and these characters have their own special abilities and a white Dice Block numbered 1 and 2 to help you out increase your movements across the board. For example, Luigi has a Dice Block called the Jumpy Dice Block that rolls half 1's and other half high numbers and he can stomp on Goombas hiding in grass to retrieve coins, while Toadette has a Cutie Dice Block that rolls only 3's and 4's and she causes flower buds to bloom as she passes them. These characters add a layer of strategy to the game, as you sometimes need a certain type of Dice Block and weigh the costs and benefits to each character before you use them. As soon as you collect the characters, you are able to use them, and they help you out on the important Boss Battles by simultaneously participating in a Boss Battle with you. All characters are helpful, and although there may be balance issues with some of them, namely Daisy's Friendly Dice Block being too good and Donkey Kong's Brawny Dice Block not being too useful, they're still all helpful to have and are a valuable asset to any team. However, because of the emphasis on how important they are, if a team is ally-less, they will struggle more, so occasionally, they have to depend on luck so they can acquire allies that appear close to them. Because they can't move as much with players with a lot of allied players, they may also struggle in acquiring allies.
However, ally characters you retrieve are not permanent. Other characters can participate in a feature called "Ally Duels" if they either use a Duel Glove or land on the same space as you. Unfortunately, Ally Duels are heavily luck-reliant; two of them are luck-based, as they either make you hit a Dice Block to see who rolls higher or choose a higher-valued card that was face down. The third one, which involves stopping a timer close to five seconds, is the most skill-based of the three and the one you want to pop up more often. Ally Duels occur more frequently than you think, so they're a major pain, especially if you don't want to give up your favorites to an opponent, to see your favorite characters work against you. Fortunately, there is a feature where you can pop Ally Balloons; here, if you win a minigame, you can steal allies from any other player, which is, in my opinion, what an Ally Duel should have been in the first place.
Speaking of starting minigames, dotted throughout the board are Coin Balloons, where people who pass by them earn bonus coins, as well as starting minigames. Aside from the Ally Balloons and Boss Battles, these are the only means to play minigames, and unlike other Mario Party installments I've played, they allow you to select 4 out of various minigames (which I will get to later in this review) to participate in, similar to how Battle Minigames in Mario Party games before Mario Party 6 let you select a minigame. You get a coin reward for clearing in the minigame in first place, while other players get less coins. Personally, I prefer the all-or-nothing system instated in pre-Mario Party 8, as the coins you earn feel more of a fulfilling reward and others are punished for performing under your capability in the minigame.
As in most Mario Party games, you can use items to help you gain an advantage over your opponents. These can be gained by either landing on ? Spaces, which are abundant, or landing on Shy Guy Shops, not so abundant. The main problem this presents is that you need to get lucky with your Dice Rolls, by either rolling odd or even to land on those spaces. Previous Mario Party installments allow you to buy items by simply passing by shops, highlighting how essential they are in board games, since they can influence your goal heavily. Fortunately, this game gives you more items to play with than the simple, but boring Dice Block items from Mario Party 9 onward. You can get a Golden Dash Mushroom to boost your movement or a Double Card, which doubles your coins or Stars received in Boss Battles (stackable too!). You can carry up to two items at once, and because of how important items are, you may find yourself obtaining more than you can carry, thus needing to discard items.
Boss Battle minigames range from 10 different bosses, all with their unique minigames. Depending on the board you play, you can fight as little as 2 bosses to up to 5 bosses. In any board that has five bosses in them, the last boss is always Bowser, and he gives punishment to any player who is too far from him, except if players don't have the materials they need to pay up Bowser, where he will reward them instead. If another player reaches a boss before you, you have to mash A to travel to the zone of interest before you can participate in the minigame. Boss Battle minigames range from running around tossing shells at Petey Piranha to simply ground pounding cannonballs to Dry Bones. They're fun, but they could use a little more variety, especially considering how much the game focuses on retrieving Stars that these characters stole.
When the last boss is defeated, the score tallies up and in true Mario Party fashion, the game rewards you with coins depending on your performance on the board. All of these are pretty random; one of the rewards involve moving the slowest or not having any friends. The Lucky Ally is completely luck-based, as it rewards a player if they have a certain ally in their party. As you will find out, the coins you retrieve get converted to Stars, with every 10 coins being converted to one Star; this mode places a heavy emphasis on collect as much coins as you can, from collecting coins on the board, to using character special abilities to earn more coins, and to participating and winning in minigames via balloons or Boss Battles. If you win, and collect enough Stars on the board, you are awarded with a Star Rush; enough gives you a Super Star Rush. Unfortunately, none of these accolades do anything except add a small button next to the map, indicating that you achieved them, and collecting a Super Star Rush for all maps doesn't do anything except for bragging rights.
A certain selling point of this game is the extended use of amiibo across most game modes, and it's most highlighted in Toad Scramble. Here, if you use an amiibo of a playable character, you can use the character in the first turn, as well as them gifting you with a Double Dice Block or a Bronze, Silver, or Gold Dice Block depending on the Mario Party 10 data saved on it. Furthermore, this character cannot be taken away from you in Ally Duels, nor can they be abandoned if your character roster gets too full. This is a fun idea and concept for players who wish to use their favorites immediately and have amiibos of characters they like, but it can draw problems due to extra cost of buying an amiibo, NFC adapter, and a certain character who has no amiibo at the time of this writing, with me being a fan of that character (Toadette).
Toad Scramble is not the only mode, even though it is the main focus of the game. One of the other game modes I frequently played was Coinathlon. Basically in this mode, you select three minigames from a set of mingames labeled Coin Chaos, and you compete in a race around a track around up to four players. As you earn coins in the minigames selected, you move a space around the track. You can complete 3, 5, or 7 laps around the track depending on your preferences, and these Coin Chaos minigames eventually change over time the longer you play, from Level 1, to Level 2, and eventually to the hectic and chaotic Level 3. It's personally my favorite mode because of how quick, simple, and ultimately fun the mingames can be.
An integral part of Coinathlon is the use of items, a bit similar to how Mario Kart handles them to toss up your opponents. As you collect coins, you fill a yellow meter indicated on the bottom right corner of the top screen. When the meter is filled, an Item Box gets deployed in your minigame; touching it grants you the ability to use an item, where you can then use it to either help your progress or hinder your opponents. Also as in Mario Kart the item's power depends on your position. If you're in first place, you're more likely to retrieve Coin Trios and Bloopers, while if you're in lower positions, the rarer Double Medals and Coin Bags can be obtained only in those positions. My most major beef with the game is how virtually powerful some of these items are, namely the Lava Bubble which burns up your much needed coins as well as Item Boxes you haven't grabbed or Kamek which locks you until you tap free. In some matches, you can entirely smoke the competition and overlap other players while in other matches, you struggle more because many players used powerful items against you. Some minigames also aren't as good for earning coins in a quick amount of time; for setting records, you won't see slower minigames like Pinball Brawl, Tiles and Tribulations, and Conveyor Meltdown being used in favor of Silver Lining or Rolling Rumble. More minigames is always welcome for this mode, and as you can see, the number of mingames is a recurring problem in this game.
Bowser appears in longer races, and he forces you to play one of three minigames in the Bowser's Gauntlet category. They're all survival-based, and if you die earlier, you get sent back more spaces. This can make or break closer games game; however, surviving all of these minigames isn't too particularly difficult so for the most part, you don't really have to worry about Bowser, especially if you secured a strong enough lead.
At first, you have to play through a round of Rival Race before you can take on the Free Play mode. Rival Race sets you against a consecutive series of 10 races against computer players, progressively getting more difficult the more you progress through. As I have stated before, item usage can really screw you over. You may have rounds where you win very comfortably while other rounds, you can barely keep up with the lead computer players because you had bad item luck, either by getting hit by Lightning Bolts or Lava Bubbles or getting worse items like Coin Trio and Bloopers. And if you lose one race, you have to start the entire thing over again.
amiibos allow players to use up to two duplicate items at once in a race, and each amiibo character comes with their own set of double items at the very beginning (such as Diddy Kong receiving Double Medals). They are very handy to have, especially during Rival Races, so if you have amiibo and a New 3DS/NFC Adapter, I recommend you fully take advantage of them should you do Rival Races.
Coinathlon can definitely use more modes and minigames. Rival Race and Free Play doesn't really feel like enough, and having more minigames to play with in this mode definitely wouldn't hurt. I don't have too much problems playing through three minigames every time, as, as I said, they eventually evolve into different variations of the same minigame to add some variety to the same minigames you'll be playing, but playing through expanded sets as well as longer races would have sufficed. I also would have preferred it if we had, you know, CPU opponents when you're playing with multiple players; it baffles me why this is the only 4 player mode that doesn't have multiple players racing against bots whereas you're forced to use bots if you don't have enough players for a party.
Oh boy where do I begin with this mode?
Ironically, the mode that plays the most like traditional Mario Party is one of the modes I like the least. Well, it's not so ironic once I explain myself why I don't like this mode. At its core, the game still plays very similarly to Toad Scramble than it does to traditional Mario Party. The maps still use a non-linear grid-based layout, except it's handled in hallways instead of being in the open like Toad Scramble. However, this hurts this game mode more than it helps. Acquiring helpful items from ? Spaces and Shy Guy Shops relies on you entirely getting a perfect roll to land exactly on this space. Considering how much items can influence games in your favor, this puts a heavy factor on luck rather than smart use of items you obtain. Having a Golden Dash Mushroom or Double Dice Block is very important to reaching Star Balloons, which buying Stars from them is the goal of the game. Each Star has a 10 coin fee, and later on in the game, it comes in bundles of 2 and 3 Stars. Players get rewarded with Stars if they are the first person to reach them, and if they reach the Stars before anyone else, the other people cannot buy a Star.
10 coins for a Star may not sound like a lot compared to 20 coins of traditional Mario Party, but this game mode really goes out of its way to care how little coins are worth, both highlighting problems on how abundant coins are and how little penalty you receive should you need to pay up for something. For example, you earn coins by simply passing through Coin Balloons, and they can come in 5's and 10's. If you win the minigames, you earn 10 coins; however, players also earn coins, depending on their rank of the mingiame; regardless, participants always earn coins, hurting the value of winning these Coin Balloon minigames, especially if players who have popped the Coin Balloon didn't even win the minigame. If two balloons are popped, you play a Boss Battle minigame and for some reason, you are forced into 2 teams of 2, with 1st and 4th and 2nd and 3rd being paired together. The Boss Battles last half as long, meaning they're pretty much half as fun, compared to either participating with a lot of team members in Toad Scramble or tackling them on independent of other players, especially if your teammate is a knucklehead who let your team down. Why they haven't made 2-vs-2 Boss Battles an option in Minigame Mode perplexes me but I digress.
If you plan to spend coins on items from Shy Guy Shops, assuming the map you're playing on even has a Shy Guy Shop to begin with, all items are dirt cheap. The very powerful Double Star Cards, which can double the amount of Stars you earn at those Star Balloons, cost only a measly 8 coins. Seriously, the most powerful Orbs and items in earlier Mario Party games can fairly expensive, with Genie Lamps and Wiggler Orbs requiring you to spend around 20-30 coins to possess the item, much less, having enough to spend extra at a Star simultaneously. This makes winning minigames feel even more pointless, since you've accumulated an amount so large, you basically don't know what to do with them. Oh wait, I forgot, there are Coin Duels and the Coinado items, which helps you steal coins from opponents, right? Too bad that, A. Coin Duels play in the exact same fashion as Ally Duels, meaning 2/3's of the time, it's luck-based and B. you take like only five coins away from them, which is virtually nothing at all, including the Coinado item, proving these two events very pointless and the Coinado one of the worst items in Balloon Bash.
The entire mode is basically very, very slow paced thanks to the saturation of Boss Battle minigames, Coin Duels, and constant popping of Coin Balloons. 20 turns feels like 30 turns and so on. At the end of the game, the game rewards your performance with Bonus Stars, akin to earlier Mario Party games, such as being too slow or not using too many items at all. Ironically, I would have vastly preferred if they used the Toad Scramble method of converting coins to Stars, so I feel like hoarding all of these useless coins wouldn't be so pointless. And just like in Toad Scramble, if you earn enough Stars, you get more pointless Star Rush or Super Star Rush accolades. It's also disappointing how the maps have completely generic names like "Map 1" or "Map 3". Come on, guys, you're Nd Cube, developers of a very wacky Mario Party series, you can come up with imaginative names like you did for the minigames.
Mario Shuffle mode is the amiibo-centric mode of the game, but fortunately, you're not required to own amiibo to play this game. If you don't use amiibo, you don't receive a 4-5-6 Dice Block and your figure on the board is represented by a cardboard cut-out rather than a figure. You can also use Bowser, Boo, and Bowser Jr. amiibo in this mode to use their figures as well, but that's the only portion of the game where they are technically "playable" in so fans of those characters may be disappointed.
I hate this mode the most by the way.
Before I get into detail, the game plays on a linear one way board. You have three character pieces on your side, and you must make it to the other side by passing your three opponent pieces before they make it to your side. You can roll two Dice Blocks to get two numbers, and use the outcome of one of those numbers to move your piece. That's basically the extent of the strategy to this game: you can move your piece to a + space and avoid your pieces go to - spaces or spaces that send you back to the start. If you hop over an opponent piece, you knock them over and they cannot move for that turn, and if you land on their piece, you knock that piece all the way to the start. The opponent pieces can do the same thing to you. If you roll identical Dice Blocks, all of your characters move the number indicated.
This game is essentially luck-based from the start. You can kinda control where your pieces go because of your two Dice Blocks but too many times I got screwed over because the opponent was lucky enough to land on my piece that sent him all the way back or because I rolled a double Dice Block number and one of my pieces landed on the space that sends your progress all the way back. And if one of your amiibo makes it in and still has a Dice Block, you can't use his now obsolete Dice Block for some reason and that's irritating. Aside from the infuriating luck, the game mode is uninteresting and boring. In this game, there's literally no difference from using your favorite characters aside from a different sprite, no different feedback for using your favorites, boring sound effects and very repetitive music. There is only one linear board in this game and it will get old fast. You can't even select your CPU opponents. There's really nothing redeeming in this mode. Granted, I haven't played this game mode with others, and I doubt I can persuade others because of how boring this mode is, but I enjoyed myself at least to a point in virtually all other modes in this game, so that says something I guess.
Rhythm Recital cooperates you with other people to play in rhythm some classic Mario tunes such as Chill from Dr. Mario or Super Bell Hill from Super Mario 3D World. The music comes with no changes and in theory, you should be able to enjoy bopping to the rhythm of these beloved Mario songs, right?
Actually, I think Rhythm Recital is overall a very sloppy mode, a mode I don't hold in very high regard. There is a good number of songs to be played, and the library is overall very decent. However, the "rhythm" part doesn't actually feel like you're tapping buttons to the music like how you would in Elite Beat Agents, Donkey Konga, Harmony Hustle from Mario Sports Mix or even Dance Dance Revolution: Mario Mix. It feels like you're being a metronome, just tapping back and forth the beats per minute in the song rather than actually timing your rhythm tactfully. The entire music is just tapping a monotone string of single pitch notes with some alteration here and there but it's ultimately that. That gets tiring very quickly and you'll probably lose your patience with this mode far before the music itself is even over. Heck, the DOOP. DOOP. DOOP. DEEP. DEEP. quality of the instrumentation may even ruin your hearing experience with excellent Mario tunes. It's a good thing there are options to select your favorite instruments, even though they don't really change anything up, and I don't really see the point of selecting CPU players in this mode, since they contribute literally nothing to your score, nor even compete against you. They're just...there. I don't hate this mode as much as I hate Balloon Bash or Mario Shuffle, but I feel like this mode just...exists mostly because of the poor rhythm quality.
This is the sole single-player centric mode of this game and I actually happen to like this mode. You climb up a pretty tall tower, marked in a grid-system, trying to avoid hitting hidden Amps on the way. Playing very similar to Microsoft's computer application, Minesweeper, the game gives you several indications of what to predict. Blue spaces mean you're safe to proceed in any direction, yellow means there's a hidden adjacent Amp, red means that there's two, and purple means that all three spots you can proceed are covered with Amps. Amps cannot be adjacent to one another, and there are some spaces you can't climb on, acting as barriers. You can mark areas you suspect that are Amps using your corresponding buttons. One hit from an Amp and you are dead and you have to start over, unless you have an amiibo character that can help you out; in this case the amiibo character takes over. However, you can use amiibo characters only once per day and you can't use the same character twice if you happen to have two amiibo.
I find this mode to have a nice, uh challenge to it. The only downside I can think of is how long this mode can take due to careful planning. There's not much else I can say here, I think this mode accomplishes what it wants to do and I appreciate it for that. I don't think anything's missing here.
Boo's Block Party
This is more of a "Rare minigame" or "Extra Mode" type thing than its own separate mode but I find this puzzle minigame to be...decent at least. You spin around numbers until 3 match to clear your row; if an entire column gets filled, you lose the game. You can compete for a high score here or face off against other characters in true puzzle game fashion. I'm not too much of a puzzle game buff so I can't go into too much detail here but I think this mode is pretty basic. I don't think it wants to be more than that but it's hard for me to get right back into it like most puzzle games and puzzle minigames of the Mario Party series unless there's a serious objective for completing some of the challenges like those in Mario Party DS. Scanning a Boo amiibo causes a Boo to appear in the background. Yeah you could do that I guess.
You can choose your hub character (yay!) and view some pretty funny character descriptions. If you have an amiibo, you can stamp out character entries with a stamp of their emblem in it. It's a neat collectible thing, but it's not as good as Mario Party DS where there are more objects to collect or even Mario Party 9's constellations and car designs. I also wish there's a sounds/music settings around somewhere, usually, Mario Party games let you waste time listening to character voices and music and those are always fun. The character descriptions and staring at characters do some animations can be interesting to oogle at, but it's far too easy to complete the library: all you have to do to "collect" characters is to just see them whether it's in a minigame or a board.
I have to commend Mario Party: Star Rush for having a multiplayer system like this that lets anyone who doesn't own a copy of Mario Party: Star Rush to essentially enjoy the full game. One of the few traits that the Mario Party series does consistently very well is handheld multiplayer. I absolutely hate handheld games that restrict content so that you're forced to buy two copies to enjoy the full game, so families get screwed over most by this. Looking directly at you, Mario Kart DS and Mario Kart 7. While this games does have Download Play restrictions, players can download the Mario Party: Star Rush - Party Guest off the Nintendo eShop for free. This app allows players to play with each other as if they all had their own copy of Mario Party: Star Rush. It's an ingenious way to sidestep any technical limitations that prevent games from having complete multiplayer experiences and I wish more games did that.
Oh and I forgot that there is no online multiplayer in this game. I personally don't have much use for online play, but many other people do and that is a problem that Nd Cube should have addressed by now in their most popular multiplayer video game series but for some reason has not and I don't know why, and what excuse they have is not valid, considering far smaller games like Fortune Street allow friends from afar play with each other thanks to online play.
The game is very crisp, bright and colorful. Mario Party usually have bright, colorful, and very pleasant graphics and this game is no exception. While you can see some animation hiccups as the game uses bodygrouping for some animations, namely character fingers as they are painted on rather than modeled separately for some animations, the animations help bring out the differences in each character despite all playing the same and one of the sole reasons why people have favorites in a Mario Party game and why I really don't like Mario Shuffle, as it sucks life out of these characters. Character voices are another factor to why I enjoy the game: I think they did an excellent job with the character voice direction of this game (you know, unlike Mario Kart 8 where many of the characters sound screechy and...off) and most characters have entertaining grunts and yells that add to satisfaction of winning or beating other characters up. Sound effects are fun as well, I guess I need to point that out, especially when you go inside a cannon in Leafboard Hoard.
The music in this game is pleasing and exactly what you expect from a Mario Party game. You get some up-beat music with some tense Boss Battle ones mixed in, but it's pretty much typical Mario Party fare. I know maybe three songs that I enjoy out of this game (Coinathlon Level 2 minigame, World 1 boards, and Challenge Tower if you're curious) but unfortunately, it's on the forgettable side. I play Mario Party: Star Rush quite extensively and I can still barely remember most of the minigame music. Again, Rhythm Recital does have a decent selection of classic Mario music; if the mode itself isn't so mediocre I'd factor it in more.
The meat of the Mario Party series, unfortunately, I feel this is one of Mario Party: Star Rush's weakest points. Even in weaker installments like Mario Party 10 or Mario Party: Island Tour, you get a respectable amount of minigames out of them. This game has around only 50 of them in total. And they're split off into these categories: Free-For-All, Coin Chaos, Boss Battle, and Bowser's Gaunlet. I do miss the 2-vs-2 and the 1-vs-3 minigames sorely, they added a lot of variety to the cast of minigames. Even so, I feel like a lot of minigames in Mario Party: Star Rush are hit or miss. I feel that too many of them feel too basic and small. Too many of them rely on your short-term memory, something I'm never good at and hence why I don't like some of the classic Mario Party minigames like Messy Memory. The biggest problem here is amount and variety. Too many memory games, too many games that I feel are too simple and basic, and not enough Boss Battles or Bowser's Gauntlet minigames. None of the minigames feel worse than typical Mario Party fare anyway, you have your usual luck-based minigames or irritating minigames that play like Honeycomb Havoc.
Mario Party: Star Rush is a respectable entry in the Mario Party series. While not the best Mario Party can offer due to the lack of minigames and ways to play through the modes and while not being able to draw in new fans to the Mario Party series due to retaining many core elements that made Mario Party fans well...like it in the first place, it's a game I still recommend to any Mario Party fan in their collection despite some of the lack of content it has. It's still a highly enjoyable experience that you may miss out on, and if you go into an open mind regarding the brand new mechanics, you may find yourself also enjoying the game. The game is fun on small playthroughs, and you may be finished with it within a day, but you may find yourself going back to it, playing with friends, beating your Coinathlon records, or taking up the Challenge Tower to make yourself think. I really like this game and while 40 bucks may be a mite too much for this game, I felt like it's money well spent.
Final Score: 7/10
Rating: 3.5 - Good
Product Release: Mario Party: Star Rush (US, 11/04/16)
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