We are just a few months before the release of the Nintendo Switch and the developers at Nintendo are busy working to have a strong lineup of launch games for the new machine. Waiting for the release of a new Nintendo console is always exciting, but this also means that the game releases for the current generation slowly dry up as the resources are focused more and more on the next generation. While officially not stated yet, we can safely assume that the Nintendo Switch, as a portable and home console hybrid, will replace both the Wii U and the 3DS.
Nintendo’s least successful home console to date, the Wii U sang its beautiful swan song last month with the well received Paper Mario: Color Splash, which seems to be the last big first party game for the system before The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Meanwhile owners of the more successful 3DS still have some games to look forward to, but it is pretty obvious that Nintendo is focusing most of its efforts elsewhere. Many of the upcoming games are ports of Wii U games (Super Mario Maker and Poochy & Yoshi’s Woolly World), budget re-releases of successful titles with amiibo support (Animal Crossing: New Leaf), or, like in the case of Mario Party: Star Rush, a sequel that repurposes a lot of already existing assets.
Mario Party: Star Rush is the second Mario Party game on the Nintendo 3DS (after Mario Party: Island Tour), the third game this generation, and the fourteenth Mario Party video game overall. The first game in the series came out in 1999 in the U.S. and since then every Nintendo console and handheld has had its fair share of Mario Party titles. It’s pretty obvious that Mario and his friends love to party, but do we really need another Mario Party title? Well, let’s find out!
Mario Party is a series best played with others on a big screen. While the games can be played alone, the real fun begins when you have a few friends over. The board game and mini-games aspect of the title appeals even to people who don’t usually play video games, especially since the combination of luck and skill-based tasks give newcomers a chance to keep up with the more experienced players. Playing Mario Party on a handheld is a different story: it’s a much more solitaire experience. Even if you play with your friends, everyone focuses on his or her own small screen, creating a different dynamic.
Luckily you don’t need to own multiple copies of the game just to play with your friends. If you have at least one copy of Mario Party: Star Rush, people who do not own the game can download the Party Guest software from Nintendo eShop and join the game. This works fine if your friends own a 3DS and bring it to your place when visiting or if you have multiple 3DS handhelds in your collection, but it’s still not as easy or convenient as simply handing everyone a controller. So you might end up partying alone most of the time, but this isn’t a bad thing at all, because the developers put a lot of effort to offer a compelling single player experience with many ways to play.
There are eight different modes in the game: Toad Scramble, Coinathalon, Balloon Bash, Rhythm Recital, Mario Shuffle, Boo’s Block Party, Challenge Tower and Minigames. The main attraction of Star Rush is the Toad Scramble mode. While other modes have to be unlocked by leveling up, this mode is available right from the beginning. In Toad Scramble you play as a Toad against three other Toads on a big board. Every player throws the dice at the same time and can move simultaneously, exploring freely in any direction. To succeed in the game you have to recruit allies, play mini-games, fight bosses, and collect coins and stars. Allies are characters from the Mario universe including Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Princess Daisy, Yoshi, and others. Potential allies appear on the board at different places, and the player can recruit them by passing through their spaces. Allies help you by moving faster on the board and can often provide assistance with the boss fights, so it is essential to recruit them to succeed in this mode. Focusing on finding allies early in the level is great way to gain an advantage.
In the Toad Scramble mode there are five worlds with three boards each to play on. Every board has multiple boss battles against different characters including Mega Goomba, Petey Piranha, King Boo, Kamek, Bowser Jr., and (spoiler alert!) Bowser himself. Sadly there are only twelve different Boss battles, so you will play the same boss fights again and again, without any increase in difficulty. While this might sound disappointing at first, those Boss battles are actually very enjoyable, so I didn’t mind at all that I had to replay them multiple times.
The goal in Toad Scramble mode is to collect coins and stars. You can find coins scattered throughout the map and win them in mini-games and in boss battles. The player who manages to grab a Coin Balloon earns coins immediately and can select a mini-game from four random options to play against the other three players for additional coins. There are 26 possible mini-games in total. When two players land on the same space a quick event called Ally Duel begins whereupon the winner can steal an ally from the loser.
While in the mini-games you play against the other players, boss battles are both a cooperative and competitive effort: players fight against the boss together, but get points independently based on their individual performance. The first player to reach the space representing the boss fight nabs extra coins and can start the boss battle earlier, while the other players are running to the site by mashing the A button as quickly as possible. The player with the highest points at the end of the boss fight wins a star (worth 10 coins), while the second best gets 5 coins, third place earns 3 coins, and the lowest point earner nets only 2 coins. In each level, the stakes at the last boss fight get higher, because the winner gets not one, but two stars and the other prizes are also doubled. At the end of each level coins are converted into stars (ten coins = 1 star). The player with the most stars at the end wins the game. A typical level in Toad Scramble mode can last anywhere from fifteen minutes to half an hour, so it’s best played when you have more time on hand.
While Toad Scramble offers a deep and engaging, but rather long gameplay experience, the Coinathalon mode is perfect for a short gaming session. In this entirely skill-based mode the players race on a simple board by collecting coins in mini-games. Each coin collected moves the character forward by one space on the board. In Rival Race mode the player has to race against rivals and try to score ten wins. In the Free Play mode the player can freely choose three out of the twelve available mini-games exclusive for this mode, select the number and difficulty level of the rival or rivals and decide whether to race for three, five, or seven laps. In each mini-game the player gets 60 seconds to collect coins. When the time expires the next mini-game immediately comes into play. In five or seven lap matches, Bowser also joins the game and tries to mess with the players via short survival games. The players who get eliminated in the survival game are sent backward a few spaces. The player who finishes all rounds and reaches the finish line first wins. A typical gaming session in this mode is between three to ten minutes long, depending on the number of laps.
In the Balloon Bash mode you can select any character from the available roster and the goal is to collect the most stars in a set number of rounds. The characters throw the dice and move simultaneously, similarly to Toad Scramble, but the maps are much smaller. Coins can be found scattered on the board and can also be won in the various mini-games. Coins have to be exchanged for stars by passing through Star Balloons that appear on the board every round. Just like in the Toad Scramble mode, the player gets a star for every ten coins. Balloons have a limited number of stars, so even if you arrive to three star balloons with 50 coins in your pocket, only 30 coins will be exchanged for stars. A Balloon Bash session can last 10, 20, or 30 rounds, depending on your choice. While not bad by any means, somehow I didn’t enjoy this mode as much as I did Toad Scramble.
Rhythm Recital is a very simplistic game where you play with a character of your choice as part of a band. The repertoire of the band consists of some of the most memorable songs from previous Mario games, and your only task is to tap the bottom screen with the stylus to the rhythm of the music. While the music selection is fantastic, as you would expect, my biggest complaint is that somehow the instruments you can choose in this mode feel out of place. It sounds almost like a middle school band at its first rehearsal, especially when your timing isn’t perfect. While Rhythm Recital isn’t the best mode in the game, it’s still enjoyable for a short session, and the charmingly silly orchestration makes me smile and hum the familiar tunes every time I play.
To be honest, I am puzzled why Mario Shuffle is even part of the game. It’s a very simplistic board game with two-player mode and Amiibo functionality. In this mode, two players with three characters each stand up on the opposite ends of a simple, three-lane linear board. The goal is to reach the other side of the board with all three characters before your opponent does. If a character passes the character of a rival player, the rival character will be knocked down, rendering it unable to move in the next round. If a character lands on the other player’s character, it will send the other player’s character back to the start of the board. This mode is almost entirely luck based, and to be honest, I found it kind of boring. Maybe it is aimed at younger children with its very simple and easy to understand game mechanics, but I just don’t see any reason why I would play this mode instead of Toad Scramble or Balloon Bash.
If you had a feeling until now that something is still missing from your life, then I have good news for you: stop searching, because here’s Boo’s Block Party, a simple match-three game! If there was anything missing until now, then it was another simple match-three game for sure. Well, it’s still fun, but don’t expect anything in-depth like Puzzle & Dragons Super Mario Bros. Edition. Boo’s Block Party is really just a basic match-three game, but it’s a fun diversion.
Challenge Tower is a vertically challenging tower climbing game, where you have to climb to the top of a tower (hence the name) while avoiding Amps. While climbing, the spaces you touch light up, and show you how many amps are around it: blue = none, yellow = one, red = two, and purple means that three adjacent spaces contain an Amp. If you accidentally climb on a space with an Amp, you’ll get shocked and fall off the tower. It’s a simple puzzle game, but it can be pretty addictive.
Finally, if you are only here for the mini-games, then look no further, because the Minigames mode is just for you! This mode is great for practicing the ones you are not really good at yet, or to just replay your favorites. Besides the different game modes, there is a Character Museum option in the menu, where you can check out all of the characters you can meet in the game. I suggest you to spend some time here, and read all the descriptions (there are 57 total) because they are hilarious!
Graphically Mario Party: Star Rush looks amazing. It really shows that Nintendo knows how to get the most out of the aging hardware of the 3DS. The bright colors, detailed environments, cute characters and funny animations create a fantastic atmosphere. While most of the graphical assets will likely feel familiar from previous Nintendo games, this also means that everything is polished to perfection. The 3D effect works really well with this game, especially in the Toad Scramble and Balloon Bash modes: the boards look almost like dioramas with tiny characters from the Mario universe. The music sounds just like you would expect from a Mario game: it’s cheerful, with many memorable melodies.
Mario Party: Star Rush offers a lot: there are 8 game modes, 53 different mini-games, amiibo support, and multiplayer options for up to four players. While not all modes are equally fun, Toad Scramble alone could be enough reason to buy the game. But, when all is said and done, at the end of the day it really is just another Mario Party game on the 3DS. When it comes to playing with friends, Mario Party 10 on the Wii U works better, simply because it can be played on a big screen and doesn’t need extra consoles or preparation. Also, it is worth noting that Mario Party: Island Tour right now is available under the Nintendo Selects label for half the price of Star Rush. So if you just want a Mario Party game for your 3DS and do not own Island Tour yet, then that’s a pretty good deal, and an option worth considering.
Mario Party Star Rush Review
- Graphics - 9/109/10
- Sound - 8/108/10
- Gameplay - 8/108/10
- Lasting Appeal - 7/107/10
Final Thoughts: GREAT
Mario Party: Star Rush is all about fun. The main attraction, the Toad Scramble mode is excellent, the mini-games are exciting and the game looks beautiful. While the additional modes vary in quality, it’s still the best Mario Party game in ages.