I've always associated Mario Party games as friendship ruining. The sort of games that cause grudges that can hold for years, even decades. Mario Party is a venomous sort of minigame experience. Its upcoming Switch installment Super Mario Party is slightly leaning on another side of playing together: working cooperatively.
It's why Survival River feels antithetical to the core of Mario Party. Here I was, laughing and having a good time with Mario Party during my PAX West 2018 demo. I wasn't cursing the first borns of those I was playing with. I was having honest to God joy, with zero malice in my heart.
Survival River, as the name forebodes, is a four-player co-op mode of rowing a raft down a very long stream, playing as your favorite Nintendo characters. Sometimes you plunge down waterfalls Splash Mountain style, where you and your friends can shake your Joy-Cons to high five your rows. Out of the characters, I chose Waluigi (but I wish I chose Monty Mole, a criminally underutilized character in the Mario universe). In River Survival, you work together with your teammates to row down a river—literally rowing with the Joy-Cons. Occasionally, you row towards balloons to net a minigame, and thus more time to float down the river.
The minigames I played in the latest addition to the long-running series were all pretty adorable. One has you scrambling across ice to herd penguins into a goal. Another has you wandering around a Luigi's Mansion-like room, lighting all the candles across it while stumbling in the darkness. It's all distinctly Mario Party. We were able to make it to the very end of the river, choosing which way to go at forks in the river along the way. Sometimes Cheep Cheeps tried to crash into our rowboat along the journey too.
When the Nintendo Switch launched, it boasted HD Rumble and other motion and vibration-inclined details that none of its launch games really accentuated aside from the party-focused 1-2 Switch. Super Mario Party is essentially an amendment to that, since it takes advantage of all that the Switch has to offer hardware wise. River Survival's rowing and its motion-enabled minigames, such as throwing a boomerang at Pokeys, enables it further too. While 1-2 Switch played more like an elaborate tech demo to prove the Switch's concept, Super Mario Party seems more like the sort of thing you'll actually want to play around with alongside friends.
Overall, River Survival feels like the comedown from the typical board game mode of Mario Party games. A pleasant diversion from the usual dice rolling, star-stealing chaos. After awhile though, River Survival gets a little bit monotonous itself. After about twenty minutes of playtime, we started getting repeats of minigames. I wondered if it was due to the demo or if the River Survival mode plainly didn't have a large amount of minigames to pluck from randomly. It didn't ruin the fun—heck, I knew most of Mario Party 8's minigames like the back of my hand—but it did make me wonder if River Survival can stand to be in my go-to rotation for when friends are over in the future.
Overall, there will be 80 new minigames. I asked a Nintendo representative during our four-player demo if there were any familiar games from Mario Party's past, to which they highlighted one Toad minigame that would be sort of returning, only reimagined for this Switch version. Largely though, everything is new, as evidenced by my time rowing a boat down a stream with Bowser and company.
Of course, Super Mario Party isn't just River Survival. It's just one of many modes to join the latest in the Mario Party series, which includes new gimmicks like sharing two Switch screens for a different way to play for the Toad's Rec Room mode. Super Mario Party will be out for Nintendo Switch on October 5, 2018.
Disclosure: USgamer is part of Gamer Network, which is owned by ReedPOP, the organizers of the PAX events including PAX West.