Mario Party: Star Rush does a lot to recreate the feeling of couch-based multiplayer and pioneers with a handful of new modes, but succumbs to its portable limitations in time.
The original Mario Party titles still stand as some of the greatest 4-player, couch co-op titles around. Their accessibility and competitive nature drove countless hours of consumption amongst core and casual audiences alike, but the series has seen a dip in prominence with more modern installments. Perhaps this is a natural phenomenon owing to the fact that the medium is still evolving, but that isn't stopping Nintendo from ensuring that the franchise lives on in the form of the recently released Mario Party: Star Rush for the Nintendo 3DS.
Unlike the vehicle-centric Mario Party 10 on Wii U, Star Rush is more of a return to the series' tried and true formula – albeit one that has taken into consideration the isolating nature of a handheld gaming console. To Nintendo's credit, the developer has gone about implementing a way for those that don't have the game (but own a 3DS) to get in on the action, and it helps to break down the barriers that were so prominent in the hardware's previous lacklustre iteration, Island Tour. By simply downloading a Mario Party-branded application referred to as "Party Guest" on the eShop, up to three additional users sans Party can partake in the action – provided at least one user has the game.
While the download is a great option for those attempting to recreate the living room sessions that the home console versions provided, Star Rush never does quite capture that magic of playing whilst gathered around the television. This is simply the result of the hardware's single-player design – something that the Nintendo Switch seems keen on clearing up – but Nintendo has done its due diligence in ensuring that multiplayer is as accessible as possible. Even then, there are still several core modes for players that may not have friends or siblings with additional 3DS units on-hand.
In lieu of multiplayer accessibility, the developers behind the product have implemented an RPG system of sorts that allows gamers to level up as they play. As new tiers are reached by users, new characters and modes will unlock, which will cultivate a strong desire on the part of players to earn everything that is tucked away. The process can, at times, feel like a bit of a grind, but the Party title will roll out a new mode just as a sense of tediousness begins to set in – giving fans a new way to play. Admittedly, unlocking everything doesn't take an absurd amount of time, which is probably best for players hoping to engage with immediate friends and additional content.
In total, seven different modes await players in Mario Party: Star Rush in the form of Toad Scramble, Coinathalon, Balloon Bash, Rhythm Recital, Mario Shuffle, Boo's Block Party, and Challenge Tower. Each offer a different way to play, with Toad Scramble quickly ascending above the others. Throwing users into the role of the ever-generic Toad, players are required to maneuver around a grid utilizing dice rolls. Others change things up by encouraging fast-paced coin collection or strategic Star gathering, and the game does innovate through these venues.
What's lacking, however, is the tried and true layout that gamers accustomed to the series may have expected. Instead of turn-based dice punches and movements that will send users through a standard looped board, fans are instead thrown into a series of different grids (in several of the core modes, at least) and will move simultaneously alongside their opponents. It's a significant changeup that is sure to strike many as odd, but it is an effective change of pace when stacked up alongside previous iterations. It's not as if this is an overwhelmingly negative note, but it feels somewhat incomplete when resources have been dedicated to a few game modes that don't standout as must-have experiences.
In closing, Mario Party: Star Rush is an enjoyable sign that Nintendo is still willing to experiment with the series. More importantly, it's proof that the developer will go out of its way to accommodate those hoping to play with nearby friends, and that's a noteworthy selling point for a notorious multiplayer title. It may not be a revolutionary leap forward for the property, but it's an enjoyable step in the right direction that offers 3DS owners something that's as familiar as it can be different.
Mario Party: Star Rush is currently available on Nintendo 3DS and Nintendo 2DS.
Nintendo provided Game Rant with a physical copy of Mario Party: Star Rush on Nintendo 3DS for review purposes.