Hello, Mario Partiers and haters alike. Last week, Nintendo released Super Mario Party, a four-player digital board game about playing cute mini-games and destroying your friends. I reviewed the game.
I liked it a lot. It was a great take on a classic formula, in my opinion, but it’s certainly not just about me here. Some of you guys hate the living shit out it. And we’re not just talking Super Mario Party. We’re talking the whole Mario Party series.
Cecilia D’Anastasio: My first question for you all is: Who hurt you?
Nathan Grayson: Well, Cecilia, you. Over the weekend. You were there.
Cecilia: I don’t recall. What happened?
Nathan: You lured me into your home with breakfast foods and then forced me to play Mario Party, a game where you don’t win so much as you run through a series of randomised gauntlets and pray to god that you don’t fall into an open manhole, of which there are a thousand. (I did not win.)
Paul Tamayo: Mario Party comes at you fast, bruh. I can understand why the random elements might turn people off of the game but I found it hilarious.
I walked away from it learning more about life and the joys of seeing a friend’s luck just crumble before all of our eyes.
Nathan: To be clear, I do not hate Mario Party, but I do think it’s evil. It’s a game that epitomises Nintendo’s love of evening the odds even when they don’t need to be evened, as exemplified by tripping in Smash Bros. Brawl and blue shells in Mario Kart.
Everything in Mario Party is like tripping or a blue shell. It makes me insane.
Ethan Gach: The idea that I’m a Super Mario Party hater is straight fake news.
Cecilia: Ethan—we have a record of you streaming the game with me last week. Hate, hate, hate. You had nothing good to say about it!
Paul: We got receipts!
Ethan: I think part of that was me going in with the wrong expectations. I’d been calling this game “Mario Party Switch” all leading up to release. It wasn’t until just recently I learned it was actually called Super Mario Party.
I went in thinking this would be the apex of Mario Party games, but really it’s a soft reboot. They cleaved off a lot of the series’ baggage, and in that regard, I think it’s certainly a success. I wanted it to be more though. And weirder.
Cecilia: I think it took advantage of the Switch’s versatility a lot. There’s the steak-flipping mini-game. And the mini-game about shaving ice into an ice sculpture. And the mini-game in which you say things to make your friends feel bad about their choices. OK, that one’s not canon.
But my point is that, despite these fun mini-games, Mario Party is never going to feel like a “full” game because the only way to really have fun is to inundate play with quips, compliments, insults, and human drama.
Paul: Facts. I also agree it does feel like Nintendo placing a lot of emphasis on the luck of the draw. But it also teaches you how to play on what I like to call “low heat” and be smart about preparing for when doom rears its goofy arse head. It’s like learning to have a savings account or the beauty of dental insurance. You might not need that mushroom now, but buy it and stash it away for a rainy day.
Nathan: My favourite thing about Mario Party is complaining about Mario Party, and I really do think that’s where a lot of the joy of it comes from. It’s a mixture of shared misery and attempting to inflict more misery on your friends. It kind of astounds me, to be honest.
It’s this game where so many mechanics function as “fuck yous” or at least “gotcha” moments, but it’s remained popular for so long. It has a legendary reputation for being infuriating while you play it, yet also for creating lasting, beloved memories. It’s a contradiction on so many levels.
I had a terrible time when we played it over the weekend, but I already look back on those memories fondly. Is this Stockholm Syndrome? This feels like Stockholm Syndrome. So I agree with Cecilia, but also I think it’s bad.
Paul: Bad things can be great. Just look at Monopoly.
Cecilia: Yeah, and while I agree with myself, and in theory Paul, I don’t know whether I extract the same life lessons out of Mario Party. Like, I hated tripping in Super Smash Bros. Brawl. And generally enjoy it when games maximise on strategy and skill than dumb luck. But I just don’t view Mario Party like I view other games, and view it more as an extension of, like, hanging out with friends.
Ethan: I actually like the role luck plays, it just feels like it doesn’t cascade in enough random directions. I needed about four or five more squares’ worth of unique, random events per board. I don’t think it helps that this Mario Party, in my opinion, has some of the most uneven mini games. If you get good ones it can be great, but if you keep getting so-so ones, it can be a really dull time.
Cecilia: So you want more chaos?
Ethan: Oh, for sure.
Nathan: I think... I think I agree with that. If you’re gonna have this kind of randomness, you may as well go all out. At least make my inevitable destruction as funny as possible to watch.
Cecilia: Agreed. More chaos. More opportunities for stealing stars. More ridiculous environmental effects. More choices that rely on social engineering.
Nathan: Cecilia, tell us about “social engineering,” which I’ve heard you refer to on more than one occasion as “bullying.”
Cecilia: U mad?
Ethan: I’ve always enjoyed trying to come up with a rudimentary game plan and then have to completely change it three turns later when everything flips, as opposed to most multiplayer games where your strategy remains the same and you just occasionally flip tactics or, more likely, just try harder, because your goal throughout an entire match of Overwatch remains, on some level, “shoot better.”
Paul: The “pity stars” at the end of a game are bullshit too. Just wanted to get that off my chest. That kind of luck can stay all the way out of Mario Party as far as I’m concerned.
Nathan: Yeah, though I do kinda enjoy the unanimous outrage that portion of the game generates. Nobody comes away happy. Except the winner, who was previously in last place and also probably a dead rodent outside your apartment.
Cecilia: That’s true. It doesn’t give players enough agency. Nobody really tries to be the unluckiest and get a star that way. But people do try to win the most mini-games and get that end-of-game star. However—that’s not always an option!
Ethan: I love seeing that at the end. It’s such an elegant way of doing the final accounting on all the earlier randomness and then occasionally transforming it into one more middle finger.
Paul: It’s a humbling experience for everybody involved.
Ethan: The game needs to be more antagonistic, I think. Exhibit A: Bowser is now just a chump like everybody else. Who would watch Survivor if Jeff Probst was out there getting food poisoning with the rest of the rubes?
Cecilia: Ethan, I don’t know if the game needs to be more antagonistic. I think it needs to offer more opportunities for antagonism. Because that way, players can really feel the full force of their vindictiveness. It was a choice.
Nathan: I think that takes away from the shared misery, though. Mario Party is—somehow, miraculously—a bonding experience. You can’t have players pissing each other off too much. Ultimately, you want them at least low-key raging against the machine, aka the game itself.
Paul: Low heat.
Cecilia: Everyone is comparing Super Mario Party to Mario Party 2, one of the most popular series entries. How do y’all feel about the comparison?
Ethan: I think the comparisons to Mario Party 2 are apt because it is similarly missing a lot of the stuff that made the later entries feel so extra, while still having things like duels and star stealing.
Nathan: I just checked and realised there have been 11 main series Mario Party games, and in my mind, they all run together like a big, infuriating stew.
The Mario Party series will outlive me, and that will be its final “fuck you.” Then I’ll reach the afterlife, and some other jerk will get a bunch of stars for things I did better. Oh, and one of the saints or whoever will inform me that my death was caused by a poison mushroom given to me by [checks notes] Cecilia D’Anastasio.
Cecilia: I repeat: U mad?
Paul: Shoulda had better health insurance, man.
Cecilia: So from all this, what I’m getting is that none of you actually hate Super Mario Party. And all of you love it.
Ethan: Oh, no, I definitely hate it. Can you believe Nintendo charged $US60 ($85) for four boards?
Cecilia: No, but do you hate the game or do you think buying it is a bad cost-benefit calculation? Those are two different things.
Ethan: The latter. Freshly packaging many of the series’ best ideas with some cool new Joy-Con enabled mini-game gimmicks does not feel like enough. I’m sure I would feel differently, though, if I had kids and wanted something I could play with them. The eternal Nintendo caveat.
Nathan: Yeah, I would not call myself a fan. I can appreciate elements of what it does and how it creates misery bonds between friends, but I do not actively enjoy playing it and try to avoid it where I can.
I don’t think attempting to avoid something is a sign of loving it. I love some experiences I’ve had with it in hindsight, but only because of the significance they’ve taken on now that time has passed — even if that means just a day!