By Marcus Yeatman-Crouch
It’s been three long years, but Super Mario Party’s latest update will have many thinking it’s a brand new game. Since its original release in 2018, the iconic couch co-op game has been restricted to, well… just the couch. 10 out of 80 mini games were available to play online with friends, and it was impossible to play the main feature ‘Mario Party’ board game (where you would compete with friends in minigames to earn stars and move across the board) online. Understandably, this fell a bit flat with Nintendo lovers, who in an increasingly globalised online landscape saw one of the best party games left behind to gather dust.
There’s no doubt that the addition of an online mode will see Super Mario Party surge to the top of people’s party game lists, but in its absence a whole host of traditionally couch co-op games have made the move already. It seems like quite a simple update to make, but its taken a lot to force the change, when many titles had already embraced the opportunity of online play, and big new party games like Jackbox have cornered the market already. So why did it take so long for Nintendo to realise the necessity of online in Super Mario Party?
The big one, of course, was a global pandemic. With the sheer impossibility of having your friends round for some party games, online games became a mainstream activity for people to keep connected and have some fun beyond Zoom quiz nights. Among Us is one example of a gaming phenom born from the Covid-19 pandemic, where its easy multiplayer (and functionality on mobile) made it a feasible game for groups on all levels of the gaming setup tree, from RGB battle stations to iPhones. Super Mario Party missed the boat on that one – where the iconic characters, vibrant board and timeless mechanics would have been exactly what people needed for some fun on party evenings.
Now Nintendo’s flagship party game is coming in late, in the shadow of Among Us, Fall Guys, and even other Nintendo games like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Animal Crossing, the latter of which had multiplayer on its launch in 2020, just in time for you to visit your friends’ islands during that summer before we all quit the game. Even though it still sells well, the title had no use beyond your own household, and now that it has granted an online mode that should be a given in a party game, its been replaced by cheaper, more accessible and more replayable games.
And that’s the sticking point. The neglect of Super Mario Party is even more stark when you compare the general lack of updates it has had compared to Animal Crossing or other Nintendo titles. It hasn’t had any sort of DLC or content updates until this online addition, and there was already discontent among fans for the sparse choice of maps (four) and repetitive game modes, with little variety on what you could do after exhausting all the base game’s options. Previous Mario Party games, while separate titles, provided more frequent options for new content and updates to the system, whereas the online update for the Switch edition represents the only form of content released for the game in its 3 years of life. Without new maps or minigames, you can only play Super Mario Party so many times, until its predictable format leaves you more preferenced to try out the new maps and mods that are frequently appearing in Among Us.
Of course, Nintendo aren’t exactly known to follow the trends. They release their usual games: Mario Party, Mario Kart, a Legend of Zelda title, and some variant of a Mario sports game (keep an eye on the upcoming Mario Golf: Super Rush for a real competitive multiplayer title) and there are rarely any major content updates. So are we expecting a bit too much from Nintendo? Definitely not when it comes to putting an online mode in a party game – that’s on them for taking so long to figure that genius idea out. But they’ve proven they’re not ones to change a game much after release, regardless of the popularity of the live service model taking hold of massive franchises like Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed.
As it stands, there doesn’t seem to be a new Mario Party coming to Switch, so while we’ve got the online capabilities now, don’t expect any groundbreaking new minigames, characters or maps. Super Mario Party’s online update for the current title signals a modern progression for Nintendo, but the nature of the company suggests that they’re not promising anymore new excitement for fans of their party game.