The Esquire Review: You're never too old for Mario Party
In a few years I’m going to turn 30, and yet somehow, tonight, I’m squatting over a couch covered in potato chips and pretzels, sweating alongside three screaming idiots as we try to row a virtual raft down a waterfall in the new Super Mario Party for the Nintendo Switch.
I’m playing as Shy Guy, the nondescript clump of red fabric with soulless black eyes over something that looks like a Kabuki mask, and each time I waggle my controller, he makes a sound not unlike Owen Wilson saying “wow.” The raft gets struck by a boulder, and we leap into a furious rage.
As two of my closest friends whip each other with the safety straps of their neon controllers, the other spills his drink all over my new coffee table. My first instinct is to worry that my parents are going to get mad; then I recall that I’m a fully grown adult and I live in my own apartment.
True, video games are not just for children, but I honestly didn’t expect to have so much fun playing Super Mario Party, which seems so geared towards kids that it forces you to give each other encouraging thumbs-ups by raising the motion-sensitive “Joy-Con” controllers together in tandem before most rounds begin.
Between the sparkly visuals, emphasis on healthy teamwork, silly rhythm mechanics that feel straight out of Just Dance, and a hilariously wholesome storyline, Super Mario Party feels a bit like a safe choice for an overworked parent who just wants to distract the kids for a few hours of peace. But it's the most fun my dumbass adult friends and I have had playing a game together in ages.
For most of us, the N64 version of Mario Party was the definitive edition of the series, but now that Nintendo seems to have finally embraced nostalgia with their Mario 64 throwbacks in Super Mario Odyssey and the new Nintendo Switch Online software that allows you to play a huge catalogue of old NES games for free, it seems Super Mario Party is a return to form for what the Wikipedia calls “the longest-running mini-game series” in the history of gaming.
There have been several revitalisations of Mario Party throughout the years. Vehicle mechanics were added in the GameCube editions, characters like Donkey Kong came and went, there were microphone gimmicks, broadened single player modes, and the games always had a multitude ways with dealing with the evil Bowser, and later, his shithead son, Bowser Jr. Over the course of the 15+ titles, many of these updated functions and traditions have been embraced, tossed aside, or otherwise reconstituted in favor of Nintendo’s ever-growing arsenal of hardware peripherals and shiny new gameplay-specific toys, creating a cluttered, disjointed tableau for a series that started with a very pure and simple board game premise on the N64.
But, like Mario Tennis Aces, and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Nintendo seems keen on taking a victory lap with their beloved franchises, and as a result, nearly everything that’s great about the history of the Mario Party series can be found in this celebratory new Switch version. The graphics are fine-tuned, the controls are extremely tight, and with the return to the straightforward board game rules of the original N64 title, it feels a bit like taking a joyride through your hometown in your very first car.
The highlight of the night for my particular group of friends was the “River Survival” mode. What first felt like a tedious exercise in group breathing became an extremely raucous family vacation down a surging stream of rapids, where the four of us encountered gigantic squid monsters and boost ramps as my brand new couch bore the full experience on its resilient wooden legs.
After that, we chilled out in something called “Toad’s Rec Room,” which allows you to take the Switch off its dock, place it in varying flat positions on a table, and hunch over and take swings at each other in inventive, albeit neck-straining mini-games like baseball and tanks.
I watched my friends play through the wildly bizarre “Sound Stage” mode, which applies the rhythm-based dance mechanics of trendy titles like Dance Dance Revolution to the sensory overload universe of the Mushroom Kingdom, forcing my buddies to throw their hips and swing their limbs to smooth jazz by synth. An embarrassing, sweaty Sunday night together among grown-ups well-spent.
It’s becoming starkly evident, with new release after new release, that we’re living in a new golden age for Nintendo. Games like Super Mario Party, Breath of the Wild, and Super Mario Odyssey are making the Switch extremely competitive, if not the number one console on the market–and it’s capable of bringing joy to children, honour back to the brand, and can even get your friends all the way out to your home to spill drinks all over your living room.