Mario Party 10 review: off the board

Game Info
Box Art N/A
Platform Wii U
Publisher Nintendo
Developer Nintendo
Release Date Mar 20, 2015

Mario Party 10 throws a lot of spaghetti at the wall, and still serves up the stuff that lands on the kitchen floor.

That's not to say that none of Mario Party 10 sticks — some of its ideas are good, and some of the core fundamentals of the franchise are still strong. There are some neat interpretations of series' digital board game structure. There are hilarious reversals of fortune, white knuckle short-form competitions and exciting new ways to grief your friends into fits of rage.

But its new ideas and old conceits are all so wildly out of balance with each other, leaving Mario Party 10 on a pretty shaky foundation. You'll have a great time playing Mario Party 10, but you'll also have an objectively terrible time, and you will never be able to guarantee which experience you're in for when you're handed the die.

Instead of moving around the game board individually, all players take turns driving a shared car

For the uninitiated, Mario Party 10 continues the series' basic conceit. Built like a conventional board game, players take turns rolling a virtual die and moving spaces. The goal is to make it to the end of the board with more points than the other players, while surviving the whims of chaos and rubberband mechanics ostensibly designed to keep things interesting.

Mario Party 10 scatters its new ideas across three main modes, the first of which is a Mario Party that closely resembles the polemic structure of the series' last installment. Instead of moving around the game board individually, all players take turns driving a shared car. When you roll the die and move, everyone moves with you, but, for the most part, the special spaces on the board only affect the driver that landed on them.

mario party 10 review screen 1

If you're driving when the car drives through designated checkpoints, you'll gain the points you need to win the game — or lose them, if you drive through a negative point gate. You'll also earn those points by participating in mini-games, which are activated after landing on certain spaces.

I expect the design will remain controversial. Mario Party 10's boards, while straightforward, have a lot of character. There are a lot of themed events peppering each map, and discovering them is one of the most entertaining parts of the game. Watching your three competitors skip over events you wanted to see as you wait for your turn to come around again is, understandably, a pretty huge bummer.

in two separate games I went from first to last in the span of a single round
mario party 10 tall screen 1

However, there's a lot of strategy that can be utilized with this structure — and a lot of underhanded sabotage, too. In lieu of traditional items, you'll find a bunch of special dice blocks that you can roll instead of the standard d6. It's immensely satisfying to use a well-timed 1-2-3 block to position your car right in front of a point-subtracting gate, then watch with glee as the next player takes the hit.

It's a cool tactical layer for Mario Party, but so much of the experience is decided by chance, occasionally to a dissatisfying degree. Late-game turnabouts will happen, and often — in two separate games I went from first to last in the span of a single round, thanks to an unlucky Bowser Space event. Also, the Star Ceremony at the end of each match, where players are awarded stars based on random metrics — fewest spaces moved, most dice used, etc. — can still turn the tide of a match in its final moments.

Adversarial play is, I'm not proud to admit, my absolute favorite thing about the Mario Party franchise, and it takes center stage in Bowser Party, the game's second main mode.

Bowser Party is fascinating, because it gives Mario Party 10 a kind of cooperative twist — something modern real-life board games have successfully experimented with. Four players share a car and move around a map, running away from a fifth player, who controls a pursuing Bowser. Bowser takes his turn last, and chases the players down; if he catches them, all five are thrown into a special type of mini-game where Bowser attempts to deal damage to each player in an attempt to knock them out of the game.

At certain junctures in each match, Bowser can use the GamePad to sabotage the other team during critical decision points. That could involve hiding traps along two adjacent paths, leaving players to deduce which one is the most perilous. My personal favorite is when the traps are already set — one option is good for the players, the other terrible — and Bowser simply scribbles on the screen to psych out the other team, sending them to their unfavorable fate. All of Bowser's mechanics are just dripping with schadenfreude.

But more than any other mode in Mario Party 10 — or any other Mario Party game, for that matter — your enjoyment of Bowser Party is contingent entirely upon luck. A small minority of matches I played were a back-and-forth struggle; most were an absolute blowout. If Bowser rolls well, and knocks a player out quickly, their team will go down fast. If the players roll well, Bowser might not catch up to them the whole game. I've had matches that run the gamut, but one-sided bouts are more common, and just not any fun at all.

Amiibo Party is the third, and most fascinating of Mario Party 10's modes, because it does something completely different with the series: It tries to make it feel like you're playing an actual, physical board game. It abandons the all-in-one-car formula of the standard game and returns to the original concept, with players moving individually around a square board that you can customize using the various Mario-themed Amiibo you've collected.

You can customize your Amiibo with an in-game base and one-time-use special ability; perks you can unlock once per day by dropping your Amiibo on the GamePad. It's an interesting idea, equipping your personal statuette with its own loadout, albeit a limited one, for future matches. It's also nice to have the original, star-purchasing Mario Party scheme, which leans a lot more heavily on mini-games than the other two modes combined.

mario party 10 screen 2

However, a lot of the Amiibo functionality seems shoehorned; namely, you roll your dice by holding your Amiibo on the GamePad, and lifting it off. For just about everything else in the game, you just use your Wiimote, meaning everyone's got to sit around the GamePad and reach over it to start their turn. It doesn't really add anything to the experience — players not using Amiibos aren't really missing out — and just serves as a hindrance to the rate of play.

Minigames are pretty strong this time around, and you'll only use an attachment-free Wiimote to play them. Most are well-designed, skillful challenges, the strongest of which handle like proper multiplayer platformers. There are a small handful of more mindless, waggle-centric challenges which could have been mitigated by the addition of a nunchuck — though limiting the necessary hardware makes it easier to get a bigger party going with less peripheral investment.

But Bowser Party doesn't throw mini games at you in large quantities, and even the standard Mario Party mode can be pretty light on them on some playthroughs. Fortunately, there's a mini-game tournament bonus mode — one of a few standout extras, a list that includes a surprisingly captivating Match-4 puzzler and a simple but enjoyable Badminton game.

Wrap Up:

Mario Party 10 can be fun, but it can also be downright insufferable

The sign of a successful board game is balance, because that balance is what lets you play a good board game forever. Mario Party 10, for all of its interesting experimentation, takes equal steps forward to and backward from that ideal. It can be fun — it can be uproarious, even — but it can also be downright insufferable. The latter will make you appreciate the former all that much more, but it will also leave you reaching for steadier multiplayer fare when party time rolls around.

Mario Party 10 was reviewed using retail copies and Amiibo provided by Nintendo. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.

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6.5 Wii U