Feel free to call us old and conservative, but we have always been sceptical about portable versions of one of our favourite franchises - Mario Party. We love the games, but that's almost exclusively based on its multiplayer potential. You throw insults as you leave your friends in the dust, only to get pesky sneers thrown back at you when the luck turns with a Bowser Revolution.
You're not getting this with the portable iterations. At best, you get to play with someone, but for the most part (unless your part of a 3DS group) you'll be playing alone. And to be spiteful against the computer just doesn't hold much value. Instead of attempting to recreate Mario Party on a handheld we would have love to have seen a proper sequel to the peerless WarioWare Inc .: Minigame Mania, where mini-games and loneliness goes perfectly hand in hand.
Still, we started playing Mario Party: Star Rush with an open mind. Who knows, maybe this time Nintendo has cracked the code that makes the game enjoyable even for the lonely portable gamer. When the game starts, you get to control Toad around what can only be described as a cross between a hub world and an interactive menu. Several different game modes are available, but none of them stand out to signal that this is where you will find the core experience.
Therefore, we chose to start our journey by simply getting stuck into the mini-games. Only three are available from the start, all must be considered entertaining. In one of them, you have to run with a plate of acorns along a path where erratic Goombas and fellow players make it difficult to finish the race with all your acorns still on the plate. Another mini-game has you running a side-scrolling obstacle course with three opponents in a line, with the premise being that a failed jump means that you end up last in line, and the further along you are, the harder it is to react to the obstacles. The last is a tricky memory game where you need to memorise cakes as seen from above, then you then get to see a cut piece and determine where the cake was cut. In addition, the graphics are very well crafted.
So the mini-games are fun to play, but the lack of human opposition still lessens the overall entertainment value. To compete in memory against a computer opponent you know remembers everything, but fails on purpose to give you a chance to win, just feels a bit off. Without the prestige between gamers, the reason to give a damn disappears. Gradually, we unlock more game modes and we decide to try something else.
Next in line is Toad Scramble, which is probably the mode that comes closest to normal Mario Party, but with more puzzles. The main goal is to collect stars, but there are also bonus items, partners to acquire, and bosses to beat up. With company this works decently, but the gameplay is far too slow and doesn't live up to the standards set by a normal game of Mario Party.
It should be mentioned that Nintendo has made a good job of making Mario Party: Star Rush multiplayer easily accessible without the need to buy multiple copies of the game. First and foremost, there is a free version of the game to download that can be used as long as someone has the full version, but there is also the more limited Download Play concept. Both variants clearly offer more fun than playing by yourself. But the problem of getting four people to sit together each with a 3DS in hand remains, and when you do so it's actually a lot more fun to just boot up the Wii U and play the old games.
There are more game modes in addition to the one mentioned above, but in the end none of them are really successful and just come across as different excuses to play various mini-games. We got the same feeling from Mario Party: Star Rush as we did with Nintendo Land, that it's a collection of casual games meant to show what the Nintendo 3DS has going for it. However, the 3DS is getting on these days, and therefore this feels a little unwarranted. Several mini-games are lacking as well. Balloon Bash is a pure game of luck, Challenge Tower lacks replay value entirely, and Rhythm Recital is a Mario version of Wii Music that won't make anyone happy.
Mario Party remains a favourite franchise of ours and we've spent hundreds of hours playing. Although the series has almost twenty years to look back on, it still has that "let's play one more round" feeling after each game played, and we long to see what sort of party Mario will throw on the NX.
As we played Mario Party: Star Rush, however, we instead sit wondering when we can turn the game off. It doesn't help matters that it's technically beautiful, has some ingenious mini-games, and a lot of content; without friends it's simply not a party.