The one thing that is always a challenge when making a sequel to a preexisting game franchise is how do you make it fresh while also making sure to keep it consistent with the last game? What would be worse? Making the game so similar to the previous one that it feels redundant or making it so different that you disappoint the fan base?
It’s a tough balance, but the developers behind the never-ending Mario Party series seem to have gotten the formula down. Not only are the dozens of minigames in the latest Mario Party Star Rush what I’ve come to expect in the series, but the changed dynamic of the actual board game feels fresh and new.
This holiday season brought about the newest entry in the Mario Party series and the second for the Nintendo 3DS. The portable entry follows last year’s console release of Mario Party 10, which was the first game in the series to support amiibo. And like that game before it, Mario Party Star Rush also supports amiibo, so much so that Nintendo released a new series of figures alongside the release of the game. But more on that later.
The big change to the game in this iteration is the change from turn based play to all at once play. Instead of rolling the dice and moving around the map in sequence, each player rolls the dice simultaneously and chooses where to move around the open game board all at once. You’ll move around collecting coins, getting items from ? blocks or shops, and landing on boss squares to play for stars.
In the game you’ll play as a toad character, in either blue, red, green, or yellow. You won’t be able to play as any of the main Mario characters, but you will be able to recruit them along the way to help. As the turns progress those namesake character “allies” will pop up on the board. Run past them and they will join you, adding to your strategy.
Ally characters will give you a little boost when you roll the dice. In addition to your main dice roll they will also roll a dice, giving you a little boost. They can also help you in boss minigames, giving you a better chance of racking up points to win a star. You can also choose to have the ally character take the lead as they have different dice rolls and abilities around the game board.
Ally characters in the game include Mario, Luigi, Peach, Daisy, Wario, Waluigi, Yoshi, and more.
But just because you have an ally doesn’t mean that they’re yours to keep. If you and another toad land on the same space you’ll duel in a short game, with the winner taking the ally. These little microgames are pretty weak though and rely on a lot of chance. Pick a card and hit the dice are really hard to use any strategy on and are just luck of the draw. The third microgame involves trying to stop a timer as close to five seconds as possible. This one’s not bad.
You can also use an item to initiate an ally duel, which can be beneficial if you’re having trouble snagging one for yourself.
This is actually where the amiibo come in. Before you start the Toad Scramble mode, which is the main gameplay mode, you can tap a compatible amiibo to start the game with an ally character. Nintendo released seven new amiibo for the game, with all previously released Mario amiibo compatible with the game.
The goal of the game is to arrive at the boss characters, win the ensuing minigame, and collect the star. First place is awarded the star while second thru fourth only get coins. The number of boss battles in each game depends on the level, but you’ll win the Toad Scramble by finishing all of the boss battles and having the most stars. Like in previous games too you’ll rack up stars through sheer number of coins, so even if you don’t do well in the boss battles you can still clean up if you’ve got a lot of gold.
There is actually some strategy and choice in the game. Do you head right for the boss or wander around collecting coins? Once the first player reaches the boss it will start for everyone, though the other characters will have to mash the (A) button to rush to the boss while the first player gets a head start. If you’re skilled enough you can still pick up victory even if you get to the boss late, especially if you have a few allies in tow.
There are quite a few game boards to choose from so the variety is nice.
Mario Party Star Rush is also packed with a bunch of other game modes, which can be unlocked. By playing the game you will level up your “Party Level” which will unlock more ally characters and game modes.
Coinathon is like a race where the coins you collect in a series of rapid-fire minigames propel your character around a track. The better you are at the minigames the better you’ll do in the race. Balloon Bash is a smaller version of the main game, but instead of challenging in boss minigames you’ll collect coins and head for star balloons to redeem for stars. There is also strategy battle game called Mario Shuffle, a Tetris style game called Boo’s Block Party, as well as a Challenge Tower.
Something cool that Nintendo did with this game is the inclusion of a special free demo of sorts of the game. The special Party Guest Edition of the game, available as a free download in the eShop, allows for true full multiplayer with just one copy of the game. No download play needed. And included with the special download is the ability to earn points, level up, and unlock some minigames to play on your own without the full game. And best of all if you should decide to get the full game those points are fully transferable.
Of course the game can still be played with up to four players with Download Play.
While I kind of miss the traditional turn-based gameplay, Mario Party Star Rush is great fun and a solid addition to the series. The minigames are varied and fun, while the new twist on gameplay and additional game modes is fresh and also enjoyable.