During this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), Nintendo decided to put Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild in the spotlight, meaning that Mario Party: Star Rush’s announcement was shoved into the background. Star Rush was one of the titles revealed in between gameplay footage of Zelda, and in a way, the final product feels very much like the 23-or-so minutes Nintendo spent talking about it in June: something to fill in the gap between bigger releases. There’s certainly some interesting stuff here; Nintendo’s developers managed to modify the classic Mario Party formula in a way that caters more towards portable gameplay, but it really falters in terms of content and could have used far more time in the oven.
The meat and potatoes of Star Rush is a mode called Toad Scramble, in which four players navigate their Toad through one of fifteen boards across five worlds (technically four, since the first one is just a tutorial). Along the way they’ll gather coins, collect stars from bosses, play minigames, and recruit other familiar faces to assist them.
For the first time in Mario Party history, you won’t be traveling down a linear board game path. Instead, maps are far more open-ended and you can choose to travel in any of the cardinal directions. This means that you’re in charge of navigating through the route that will net you the most coins and items, while avoiding hazards and opponents. This grid-based system also lets every player move at the same time, significantly decreasing waiting time (one of my biggest issues with Mario Party: Island Tour, the previous 3DS Mario Party title). There’s definitely still dumb luck at play here, but your skill and decisions are more likely to influence your successes and failures. It feels nice to have more control over your destiny, and I hope this new gameplay style isn’t just a one-off for the franchise.
There are seven game modes to choose from in Star Rush, most of which are unlocked by scoring Party Points as a result of regular gameplay. They are all quite different, so I’ll take a second to highlight each of them:
Coinathlon is probably my favorite mode after Toad Scramble. The goal is to outpace your opponents in a race around a track by collecting coins in minigames. Every coin you pick up lets your character move one space, and items allow you to interfere with your opponent’s progress. Your character runs on the bottom screen as you’re playing on the top, so the only time gameplay is interrupted is when you’re hit by an item. This mode is really fast-paced and the minigames are well-designed, so you won’t get sick of them after a few playthroughs.
Balloon Bash is very similar to Toad Scramble. So similar, in fact, that the only real differences are that you’re collecting slightly more balloons (which doesn’t really affect gameplay), you don’t need to start out as a Toad, and there are only three maps to choose from. There isn’t much to say about this mode that I haven’t already covered above.
Rhythm Recital is a music rhythm game with so little substance that I struggle to understand why it was included at all. Imagine if Guitar Hero was set to classic Mario tunes (the only saving grace for this mode) with only one button for input. All you do is wait for the musical notes to get to the right point on-screen and tap the bottom screen. Sure, you can choose from one of four instruments, but this has little to no effect on the actual gameplay. There are no difficulty settings, no detailed scoring system, and no real reason to play it unless you want to jam out to some good music (already easily done via YouTube).
Mario Shuffle is a strategy board game where you need to get your three character pieces across the board before your opponent. Each of your characters is on a linear track with one of the opponent’s pieces at the other side. You roll your dice to move forward and can either make your foes lose a turn by walking past them or landing on the same square to send them back to the start. This is a very simple mode with only one board (another victim of Star Rush’s lack of content), but it was addictive enough that I kept coming back to it in between rounds of Toad Scramble.
Boo’s Block Party is watered-down Panel de Pon (like Tetris Attack or Pokémon Puzzle League). Rows of numbered bricks (1, 2, 3, or 4) are slowly ascending towards the top of the screen, and if they get there it’s game over. You can select a brick with your cursor to change its number, and landing three or more same-numbered bricks in a row will make them disappear. Tetris Attack is one of my favorite Super Nintendo games and I love the genre a lot, but Boo’s Block Party isn’t challenging in any meaningful way and certainly isn’t worth very much of your time.
Challenge Tower is a fun little single-player game (the only one that you can’t play with two or more people) that is very reminiscent of Minesweeper. You’re climbing up a tower that consists of different-colored LED panels, and need to avoid hidden enemies. Each color indicates whether or not an enemy is nearby, and it’s up to the player to deduce whether or not the way ahead is safe. The unique gameplay and difficulty settings make this an excellent game to play when you only have a few minutes of free time.
Mario Party: Star Rush’s minigames are a noticeable improvement over those found in Mario Party: Island Tour. For starters, they’re far more consistent not only in their quality, but also in the way they control. In Island Tour, I often felt like the games didn’t have the tight mechanics that I’ve come to expect from other Super Mario games, and that the way they controlled varied way too much from minigame to minigame. Fortunately, the same physics engine seems to have been used for every minigame in Star Rush, so none of the controls ever felt “off”. can only think of one or two minigames that I legitimately disliked, but it was never because of the way they controlled.
I’ve emphasized several times that Star Rush is lacking in content, but it’s time to crunch the numbers. There are 26 free-for-all minigames, 12 boss battles, and 15 coinathlon games, bringing the total up to 53. By comparison, Mario Party: Island Tour had 81, Mario Party 10 had 75, and Mario Party 7 has the most at 88. Nintendo might have tried to pad the game out with worthless modes like Boo’s Block Party and Rhythm Recital, but I feel like they would have been better off fleshing out Toad Scramble with extra minigames and maps, since it’s so enjoyable.
When it comes to core gameplay, Mario Party: Star Rush’s changes are certainly for the best. The minigames are tighter, turns pass by much quicker, and having more control over your character means you won’t need to rely on luck to win. Unfortunately, there just isn’t a lot of content to enjoy, and many of the additional modes feel like padding. If you have friends with 3DSes there is an app you can download to enjoy the game with only one cartridge, so the only way I could highly recommend Star Rush is if you’ve got a group of pals ready to enjoy it; in that case, it will certainly provide an excellent Mario Party experience (at least for a couple hours). As a single-player experience, you’re better off looking elsewhere.
Final Score: 7 / 10