As a grown man who writes about video games for a living, I'm acutely aware that I don't exactly represent the target audience for something like Mario Party 10. And yet, it's people like me who end up reviewing the games, which is exactly the sort of thing that makes forumgoers distrustful of games journalists (or, as they put it, games "journalists").
So, rather than trust my world-weary perspective alone for an analysis of this latest in Nintendo's long-running virtual board game series, I decided to recruit some experts: My nephews and niece. (Technically, they're first cousins-in-law once removed, but "nephews and niece" sounds considerably more euphonic.) Armed with Mario Party 10, a Wii U, and a small army of Mario Party series Amiibos, I probably broke all sorts of child labor laws by asking them to spend a couple of hours testing MP10's modes for me — but such is the price of creating the most accurate review possible. Anyway, they were paid in Amiibos, which means they received better than minimum wage for the amount of work they did.
The review crew
Jackson: Age 12. Has a bit of an artistic streak and is currently obsessed with Pokémon, Marvel Comics, and Naruto. Memorizes wikis on his favorite topics in his free time. Picked the Luigi Amiibo for our MP10 session.
Cooper: Age 8. Has the most profoundly mischievous personality of any child I've ever met. Also obsessed with Pokémon, though less determinedly than his brother. Picked the Mario Amiibo, but only because Bowser wasn't available (to his profound disappointment).
Lily: Age 5. Wide-eyed sweetness masking a strong will, Lily is fascinated by princesses, fashion, and drawing. Picked the Princess Peach Amiibo, because there was never really any question about that.
Me: Entirely too old. Has played very little Mario Party but resents it in principle for giving children repetitive stress injuries in the N64 days. Picked the Toad Amiibo because, in his own words, he's the best.
After convincing Cooper to stop playing some PlayStation 3 game and explaining that I needed to hook up my Wii U to their television because no it's not just an add-on for the regular Wii, we busted out the game and accessories. And right away we ran into a problem: The three kids only had three Wii remotes in total, meaning only three players could participate at a time; unlike every other multiplayer Wii U game I've tackled to date, Mario Party 10 doesn't use the Game Pad as the first player's controller. Instead, it serves variable roles, sitting as a second screen for most game modes.
My fault for not reading the instructions, I suppose. So far as I could tell, MP10 doesn't offer a pass-the-controller option for those with only a Game Pad, since the constant minigames require everyone to be able to play simultaneously. Between the need for each player to have a Wii Remote and the fact that the game encourages everyone to come equipped with their own individual Amiibos for one of the game's three main modes, Mario Party 10 is much more expensive than the list price would indicate.
With only three controllers for four players, one of us had to sit out. The boys volunteered their sister, because big brothers are warm and loving creatures. Lily fortunately didn't seem to mind; she wasn't particularly invested in the game to begin with, and seemed happy to watch. Most of the time, she stood behind me and tapped her Princess Peach Amiibo to the back of my head any time the game required a player to touch their Amiibo to the Game Pad; she found this to be the height of hilarity. I suppose play value is where you find it.
Verdict: A little too much overhead for its own good.
Amiibo Party mode
As I mentioned, Mario Party 10 offers three main modes: Amiibo Party, Mario Party, and Bowser Party. The boys wanted to jump immediately into Bowser Party, but given the nature of that particular mode I could tell it would result in chaos and violence and decided to save it for the end of the review session.
Amiibo Party plays more or less like classic Mario Party, with players individually taking turns moving around a game board. Victory goes not to whomever makes it around the greatest number of times or collects the most coins but instead to whomever hits the most of the specific spaces that allow them to gather Stars. Once a Star is gathered, another Star appears in one of a handful of other random spaces, and this variability makes the game wildly unpredictable.
That's the Mario Party trademark, I suppose. An ace player can't count on a win, because there's a better-than-even chance that sheer luck of the draw will spoil things. Case in point: I played "better" than my young competitors, earning a frightful number of coins and destroying them in most minigames, and I still came in dead last simply because I didn't happen to luck into Stars as often as they did. And while that unpredictability can be infuriating in a game like Mario Kart, I don't mind it so much here. It would have been boring if, as the more experienced player, I had walked all over the others. Instead, the unpredictable nature of the Stars ensured that no matter how well I played, my nephews could outfox me by smartly (or luckily) warping to where the Stars would appear.
The difference between Amiibo Party and standard Mario Party comes down to one feature, basically: Amiibos. While I'd like to say the presence of Amiibos radically changes the game experience, I'd be lying. Instead, their role is entirely theatrical. Each player has to tap his or her Amiibo to the Game Pad in order to take a turn. This serves no purpose that I can discern except to encourage players to buy an Amiibo. But they don't even have to do that; Amiibo Party works without Amiibos, too.
Amiibos don't level up or offer any other niceties, so they basically amount to busywork. I lost count of how many times Cooper's turn would come up and he'd attempt to roll his dice without first touching Mario to the Game Pad — which would cause nothing to happen, of course. So ultimately all Amiibos are really good for is wasting time. I suspect Lily probably got more enjoyment from goofing around with her Princess Peach Amiibo than anyone actually playing the game did.
Verdict: A fairly entertaining board game. Amiibos have no material impact on the actual gameplay and simply serve as an expensive gatekeeping device to encourage kids to buy a hunk of plastic that serves only a minor cosmetic role.
Mario Party mode
Everyone agreed this mode looked boring and stupid after Amiibo Party and insisted on skipping it in favor of moving directly to Bowser Party for the remainder of the afternoon.
Verdict: Boring and stupid.
Unenthused by Mario Party mode, the kids instead opted for Bowser Party after we finished our Amiibo Party match. Bowser Party and Mario Party are actually nearly identical in concept: Up to four players (with AI characters taking up the slack if fewer than four are playing) advance along the board together via car, with Bowser following in hot pursuit and forcing the players into minigames any time he catches up with the player party. The only difference between the two versions is that Bowser Party allows one player to take control of Bowser, becoming the antagonist to the other players.
I could tell what kind of experience we were in for when the squabbling kicked off before we even began: Both boys wanted to take the role of Bowser. (I made them take turns.)
And who wouldn't want to be Bowser? Bowser gets all the perks. He gets to roll four or five dice instead of two, and he even enjoys the board game equivalent of rubber band A.I.: In the very first round of the game, the car-bound team managed strong rolls and pulled way ahead of Bowser. Infuriatingly, Bowser Jr. showed up and gave Bowser a free roll to allow him to catch up — infuriating for everyone except Jackson, that is. He was playing as Bowser, and cackled to get such an unfair advantage over the competition.
Bowser Party is also the one instance in which the Game Pad comes into play for a single player — naturally, Bowser uses it to control his side of the one-versus-four minigames. As if that player didn't have enough advantages already. Bowser Party's minigames, which appear somewhat at random, are exactly the same as the ones in Mario Party mode except (of course) for the fact that they're being controlled by a single player rather than A.I. These minigames already inherently have a more hostile tone than the more classic-style minigames from Amiibo Party, tending more toward timed survival than contests to score the most points, and their nature makes for a weirdly aggressive play experience... not really what you expect from a Nintendo party game.
The problem with Bowser Party mode is that it feels entirely too stacked against the car-bound players. Besides the massive advantages given to Bowser, the board tends to throw a few too many annoyances in the other players' way to feel entirely fair. Obstructions, lost progress, and more practically ensure the Bowser player has a chance to force the rest of the group into minigames every single round. Even more annoyingly, the final few spaces of the board are loaded with traps and disadvantages, making the task of advancing those final few spaces feel unreasonably difficult. You know how a game of Trivial Pursuit usually grinds to a tedious halt once everyone has all their pieces and struggles to get the exact roll they need to reach the center space? Bowser Party ends like that, except with some jerk messing with you at the end of every single round.
It's not much fun for the people trying to reach the end, but clearly the boys enjoyed their turn in the villain's shoes. Well, claws. When forced to play with me in the car, my nephews seemed sullen and resentful; when allowed — nay, required — to be jerks as Bowser, however, it was a different story altogether. I suppose that's a sign of a good game, to elicit such wildly varied emotions from players... but I do worry about the survivability of family relationships in the wake of such stress.
Verdict: Insanely fun for whoever plays Bowser, much less enjoyable for everyone else. Guaranteed to foster resentment and squabbling.
Once both boys had enjoyed their turn as Bowser, I polled them for their final thoughts on Mario Party 10. On a scale of one to five, I asked, how would you rate the game?
Lily: (Lily ran off with her Amiibo sometime toward the end of the Amiibo Mode session and was not available for further comment.)
Jackson: (After some thought) "I'd probably give it a four. It's really good. Really fun."
Cooper: "From one to five? I'd give it five billion!!" (These results may be somewhat skewed by the fact that he was currently enjoying the endorphin rush of completely dominating everyone else in Bowser Mode.)
So for kids, it seems the game averages somewhere between total indifference and shrieking enthusiasm. For my part, Mario Party 10 strikes me as being a wholly middle-of-the-road experience — its commitment to random results hurts as much as it helps, the logistics of play are inconvenient at best and (in the case of Amiibos) pointless at worst. And Bowser Mode is really only fun for one person at a time. Overall, MP10 is what some reviewers call "a mixed bag," right before their editors flog them for using a lazy cliché.
The board game interface is about as you'd expect, though the limitations on Game Pad usage rankles. And the Amiibo integration amount to pointless jumping through hoops.
The addition of Bowser mode is this game's saving grace: Genuine sociopathic fun in video game form. Provided it doesn't inspire any Bible-style sibling murder, of course.
The typical cacophony of Mario music and sounds effects.
As you'd expect, Mario Party has never looked this nice before. It's not exactly taxing the system, but it's sharp.
While it doesn't do much to satisfy adult players, Mario Party 10 isn't really meant to. It aims to be a chaotic, haphazard mess targeted toward kids, and it succeeds on that front in large part because Bowser Mode rewards them for being a complete jerk to everyone else. It definitely could use some fine-tuning, however, even bearing its unrepentant commitment to insanity in mind. Amiibo integration is haphazard at best, and the board game metagame breaks down the same way real board games do. Reasonably fun, and definitely more fun the younger you are.