Ain’t no party like a Mario Party, and I’m not joking when I say Mario Party 10 was one of my most hotly anticipated releases of 2015.The first Wii U installment of Nintendo’s longstanding mini/boardgame mashup series finally lands March 20, with a new Bowser mode and Amiibo support in tow. The question is, is this party as hard-partying as its many excellent precursors? The answer, as borne out by many solo hours and one actual party, is mostly yes, with a few caveats.
- 1-5 players
- Amiibo support
- Wii U GamePad and Wii Controllers
- Release date: March 20
- MSRP: $49.99
- Product info page
- Up to five players thanks to new Bowser mode
- Mini games still amazing
- Main Mario Party mode retains single vehicle board travel from Mario Party 9
Nintendo hasn’t done anything dramatically different in terms of how the basic gameplay in Mario Party 10 works, but that’s a good thing – this is a series where the maxim “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” definitely applies. Mario Party 9 probably saw the most dramatic shift in core game mechanics of the series so far, with the decision to pile all the players in the same vehicle as they work together to make their way around the track while also competing with one another for points. It was a controversial change at the time, and it’s probably going to be no less controversial as it returns here for another appearance.
The shared board navigation is at work in both the main Mario Party and Bowser Party modes, and I have to say it’s not something I love. I confess to having skipped Mario Party 9, so perhaps the hurt is just new and I’ll get used to it, but I specifically sought out and overpaid for a used version of Mario Party 8 and that’s the standard against which I’m measuring. The individual tokens on the board for that and earlier games adds an entire dynamic to the game that the single conveyance approach just lacks, which is especially apparent in the down beats between mini games when you’re playing with a group. Jostling for position made the old approach constantly entertaining, whereas now there’s a bit of a rise and fall to the action.
Luckily, Nintendo has also added an Amiibo party mode to this game, which uses the NFC-enabled figures it debuted last year, which can read/write information to Wii U titles via the NFC reader chip on the GamePad. This uses a simplified version of older boards, which won’t amaze you with their intricacy, but which do offer up a way to at least compete for position, and use the old coin and star-based system from previous games. Despite the visual richness of the new main boards, and the ability to use up to five players with one playing as Bowser in Bowser mode, the Amiibo mode proved the most engrossing in multiplayer situations in my testing. But remember you’ll need a compatible Amiibo to play – our review unit was the box set that included the new Mario figure.
I’m making a mountain out of a molehill to some extend with the board mechanics; both modes are still very fun to play in group settings, and the new Bowser Party offers one person the chance to go against their friends as a spoiler, which has a very Munchkin-type feel if you’re familiar with that card game. It offers the opportunity for ample good-natured conflict, and definitely presents a twist on the Mario Party gameplay we’ve all come to know and love.
The Wii U can power terrific graphics, but Nintendo does a great job of maintaining its focus on fun and color over visual realism here. The look and feel is in keeping with previous Mario Party games, but with a visual refinement that works to its favor. The new boards for the main and Bowser modes are epic fantasy lands, but this can’t help but emphasize how much better you get the feeling it’d be to play them if you were running your own token and fighting for position with your competitors. Everything’s in HD for the first time ever, though, and the difference really shows.
What I love about this game’s visual style is the way in which Bowser is portrayed. He’s literally an outsized presence, represented as a screen-filling avatar both on the board, and in mini games. In most of the mini games where he appears, he’s holding some kind of giant weapon or otherwise looming over the characters in a deviously threatening way, which greatly enhances the satisfaction of playing him in Bowser mode.
The gameplay features in Mario Party 10 include the first-time ability to control Bowser, as mentioned, which lets you try to catch up to up to four other human or computer played enemies, and steal their hearts while they try to reach the end of the board. In these games, you encounter the other players in mini-games that always pit you against them, and it’s fun and better for larger groups.
Other features include the new Amiibo Party mode, which lets you use up to four compatible Amiibo, providing an opportunity to play with different boards, and collect tokens that can be used in-game to affect play. You can write these tokens to your Amiibo as you collect them for use later, too. The best part of this mode, however, is letting you play with a style more akin to previous titles, with individual tokens; the worst part is that you have to physically place and remove the Amiibo to roll dice, which is an inconvenient and inelegant mechanic when used so frequently.
The game also offers unlockables, which add a nice dimension in terms of replayability, although gameplay on its own (including just playing through the mini games on their own) offer ample reason to return to this title again and again.
Nintendo’s Mario Party series is among the most joy-inducing in games, especially when you’re playing with a crowd. Mario Party 10 continues in that tradition, with a massively different new mechanic in Bowser Mode that pushes the franchise forward and really takes advantage of the Wii U’s specific hardware. Amiibo mode is promising but could benefit from further refinement (as is true of the software hooks for Nintendo’s new collectibles in just about every game they appear) and again, I still miss the core mechanics of older titles in the main Mario Party mode. Ultimately, though, Mario Party 10 is still probably the best game for four or more people you’ll pick up this year, in terms of something that can actually be played and enjoyed by all in party-style settings.