(Pocket-lint) - If party-gaming is what you crave, Nintendo consoles have always been the best bet. The Wii captured the public imagination thanks to its party-gaming capabilities and, if anything, the Switch (at least on paper) has even better party-gaming credentials, thanks to its added portability.
So it's slightly surprising that Nintendo took so long to bring its long-running party-game franchise, Mario Party, to the Switch. Was it worth the wait?
At least Super Mario Party has received enough of a revamp compared to its predecessors to merit the 'Super' prefix. While it remains comfortingly familiar to those who played Mario Party games of yore, it also sports some conspicuously innovative elements – and innovation isn't something the franchise has previously been known for.
Super Mario Party's central element is familiar enough: it's a virtual board game in which four players compete to win stars and coins. Game lengths between 10 and 20 turns can be chosen (the former taking roughly an hour). For Super Mario Party, the board game section has received a judicious set of tweaks – each Nintendo character you play as can opt to use their own special die, which, for example, might let you throw numbers higher than six but will add a risk of making no progress at all.
The four boards are packed with path-rearranging occurrences, power-ups, hidden blocks and opportunities to steal opponents' stars and coins. Ally spaces come in particularly handy, as they bring buddies whose dice-throws augment yours.
The Mario Party section of Super Mario Party is more irresistible than ever: it's every bit as fiendish – beneath a similarly apparently innocuous exterior – as Mario Kart, surprisingly tactical, and proves a great source of inevitably raucous fun. And there's a team version called Partner Party which pits two sets of two players against each other, and ramps the tactical aspect of the game up several further notches.
Mini-games add fun
The end of each turn in Mario Party sees a round of mini-games, from a huge repository of 80 (56 of which are unlocked when you first start-up the game). Super Mario Party has gone way bigger on mini-games than its predecessors: while the majority of them pit four players against each other (the game will strip in AI players if fewer than four humans are playing), there are also plenty which cleverly pit three players against one, as well as 2v2 team mini-games.
The mini-games aren't quite as bizarre as those of the WarioWare games, but at times they come close – most are silly enough to induce at least a grin, and the majority make good use of the Joy-Con controller's motion-sensing and even rumble abilities. You might have to whirl it around as if pedalling to win a kids' tricycle race, wave it around to remove virtual sweets from a jar, or wield it as a saucepan-handle, flipping a cube of beef until it is cooked on all six sides.
You can jump in and play any mini-games which take your fancy, or indulge in some more structured mini-game exercises. Mariothon, for example, pits contestants against each other in sequences of five mini-games. Square Off centres on a 4x4 grid and throws 16 mini-games at you; the winner of each gets to colour in a square and if you can enclose any of your opponents' squares, you get to steal them. Sound Stage groups sequences of music-based mini-games together.
The most innovative section of Super Mario Party is Toad's Rec Room, where you find a number of games designed to be played using two linked Switch consoles. There's a turn-based pattern-matching game which involves orientating the two consoles so that you align both ends of bananas that have been split in two, but most of the Toad's Rec Room games pit two teams of two, with a Switch each, against each other. Again, classic party fare.
There's also a long four-player co-operative game called River Survival, which places you in a raft which you must get to the end of a river before time elapses. That involves paddling in sync with your team-mates, hitting speed-ups and balloons which trigger mini-games that bring time extensions. The ability to choose different paths along the river brings an OutRun-style flavour and adds plenty of replay value.
No story to speak of
In common with its predecessors, Super Mario Party doesn't bother with any coherent structure, but it does provide plenty of inducement to explore its every corner. The more you play, the more mini-games you unlock, and further rewards await when you unlock them all. You earn in-game currency which can be spent on items such as stickers, and when you work your way through the entirety of any of the game's elements, you begin to earn Gems, which also lead to rewards.
Plus you can play Mariothon against online opponents, which is a first for a Mario Party game, although that requires a Nintendo Online subscription, which seems a bit cheeky.
And there have been rumblings about the fact that the Mario Party element comes with just four boards, although Nintendo promises to provide more as downloadable content.
Super Mario Party is by no means one of the Switch's most essential games: the franchise has always concentrated on providing fun, frothy party-games to indulge in when you get back from the pub, perhaps, or at Christmas family gatherings.
If that's what you're looking for, though, you will find it very satisfying. It's by far the best Mario Party game yet made, and committed Nintendo fans will find it irresistible. It shows off the Switch's party-gaming credentials with plenty of panache - which is something the competition fails to offer.