Factor in the handheld games and this is technically the thirteenth Mario Party. We live in a world where there are only five F-Zeroes and 13 Mario Parties. I imagine it's cheaper to build Party's signature playing boards than anti-gravity rollercoaster tracks, but it makes it no less easier to stomach. I mention cost because Mario Party has always felt cheap and cheerful to me, a reliable formula that's ideal for plugging a gap in the release schedule. Nintendo cooks up new boards, re-skins the mini-games that interrupt play, and devises a gimmick or two to tie into the controller of the moment. Job done! Sadly, Mario Party 10 is not the game to change that perception.
If anything, this entry is more confused than usual. It is split into three chunks: the 'traditional' Mario Party, the new Bowser Party and an amiibo-powered segment wittily named... amiibo Party. Mario Party's easily the strongest portion as it continues the solid work of Mario Party 9. Four rivals hop into a vehicle and journey along a path trying to collect more mini-stars than the other passengers. Clumping everyone together eliminates the agonising repetition of watching all four smash into the same obstacles in a row, making for a far swifter round. And in a game that is 80% watching virtual dice rolls, swifter is always better.
The group dynamic adds tactical play, too. Collecting rigged dice lets you force others onto punishing spaces or gives you an advantage in themed events, such as trying to sink Bowser's airship or steal stars from a Dragoneel's aquatic treasure trove. Even the GamePad gets involved, acting as Bowser's cage, slowly unlocking with each dice roll. It captures that frisson of risk that comes with Buckaroo or Operation, and watching some sap unleash Bowser's wrath upon themselves is genuinely funny. Once freed, Bowser livens up things no end, for example by rewarding stars for coming last in mini-games, forcing you to rethink everything. Weirdly, trying to break the rules is more fun than playing along.
Which makes it odd that Bowser's own mode falls so flat. Built specifically for Wii U, it gives a fifth player the GamePad and asks them to catch up with the team of four and crush them in an asymmetric mini-game that plays like mean-spirited Nintendo Land. Problem is, there're only 12 games and most of them are weak. Hitting button cues to climb after escapees or trying to tilt rolling fireballs into Mario and co gives you no room for maliciously toying with your foes. And an extra red mark for whoever devised the 'blow mic to make fireballs game' - didn't that kind of thinking go out of fashion in the first year of Nintendo DS? It blows on every level.
In case the eighty mini-games don't sate your lust for bite-sized gaming, Nd Cube includes three bonus asides. Trying to smash Bowser Jr. with a hammer, while conceptually satisfying (does anyone like that squealing jerk?), is simpler than most of the party games. Cross that one off. Likewise the terrible jewel-dropping number that plays like Puyo Puyo ruined with realistic physics. Very frustrating. Only Mario Badminton passes the patented GR+ fun test – it's a simple two button affair, but we managed to get some good rallies going and hitting the sweet spot to slam the shuttlecock into enemy territory is satisfying stuff.
It's a shame, as some of the GamePad thinking is smart. In an undersea number, branching paths are masked with squid ink, allowing Bowser to try to lead the team down more dangerous stretches with graffiti doodled directly onto the board. It's this kind of mind-game that really sees Mario Party 10 come alive. This trait is mimicked in the mini-games, too - when designers stop recycling tedious 'dodge the obstacle' or 'count the object' offerings that we've seen a hundred (well, 12) times before, they cook up some really malicious treats. Trying to surreptitiously rotate a conveyor belt to deposit a bomb in a friend's face is a real hoot. Mario Party 10 could do with more of this.
No amount of wasted potential can compare to amiibo Party, however, where placing a compatible figure on the GamePad unlocks a board themed around the figure in question. On the surface it looks more substantial than other amiibo games, but the board designs are largely re-skins of one another, with little of the polish lavished on the main arenas. Worse, these boards dump the four-in-a-vehicle idea for the traditional, and vastly inferior, Mario Party format. Collecting coins to buy stars is a fussy process at the whim of fickle Lady Fortune. That you can dominate every mini-game, proving yourself at the 'skill' part of the game, only for dice to steer you away from stars is total garbage.
Touching my plastic Mario to the GamePad was like whisking myself back in time 15 years, to the first fury-making installment in the series. Why even pretend that skill plays a part if the result is dictated by the roll of the dice? Where Mario Party and Bowser Party strive to balance the advantages and disadvantages of each role, amiibo Party just doesn't care - and it's the only bit you're expected to pay more to access. Do yourself a favour and avoid buying any figures for this. Hell, take a hammer to the figures you do have - anything to guarantee safe haven from this joyless drudgery.
It's a big, black blot on a game that's hardly firing on all cylinders to begin with. Rather than feeling like three must-have modes, it's as if Nd Cube couldn't decide on one strong concept and so ran in three directions at once. With the strongest mode so closely modelled on Wii's Mario Party 9, you're better off trying to hunt down a budget version of that instead. When the invitation arrives for this befuddling bash, I recommend you RSVP with a no.