You usually know what you're getting yourself in for with the Mario Party games. Accessible to a T and designed to be played by the whole family - from the little brother who spends his day pwning noobs on COD, through to grans and grandads whose only experience with a Wii Remote was when they mistook it for the telly controller - it's a collection of mini-games wrapped up in a board game shell, and a favourite at parties, as one of the few games that can get the whole family involved.
But in recent years, things have taken something of a turn for the worse. Throwing caution to the wind, Nintendo have broken that most golden of rules - if it ain't broke, you shouldn't fix it. For every progressive Mario Party pretty much since Mario Party 4, there's been some new gimmick, or some new tweak that only ever really serves to act as a albatross around the game's neck, making things somehow not as much fun as they should be.
The tweak this time is that rather than going around the boards individually, you now all travel around as one, aboard the good ship/boat/car/plane Mario. Taking it in turns to roll the dice, everyone moves around the board at the same time, as your vehicle pootles along - but only the player who's turn it is gets to feel the effects of the spaces you land on, whether they be good or bad.
Your objective, too, has changed since the earlier Mario Party games. While before you used to play for a certain number of turns, collecting coins as you went, which you could then spend on a star once you passed a certain point, now, each course is effectively only a straight line with a few occasional branches - and the only thing you're playing for are stars, which are scattered across the board. Far from making things simpler, however, all this does is make the game feel like it's more about bad luck than anything else. Whereas before, even if you sucked at the minigames, you could happily make your way around the board, collecting coins, buying stars, and generally making progress, now, you effectively end up feeling like you're watching as everyone else goes around the board. It feels like there's nothing to do - and before you know it, you'll have scooted past all the spaces to the finish.
The only way you can collect stars on the board is by making sure you're the player that goes through that space - something that's easier said than done. With four of you controlling the car, you end up having to plan anywhere between three and eighteen spaces ahead, making it nigh on impossible to anticipate what's going to happen, or where you're going to end up. With no control over your own destiny, things tend to get almost kind of boring, especially as there are fewer minigames to break things up.
In another weird twist, rather than having a minigame after everyone's taken their turn (so a 20 round game would involve 20 minigames), now, you only actually get to play a minigame when someone lands on a special, minigame space - essentially relegating the fun part of the game an optional extra.
Luckily, the minigames on offer here are the usual sort of affair - although, strangely, they're a little bit more involved than usual. From Cheep Cheep Leap (pictured above), which sees you leaping into the air to try and catch the most fish, to Bob-Omb Bogey, a golf game which wants you to hit only golf balls, not bombs, by swinging the Wii Remote, or Cloud Cover, a game which shows you a series of 7 platforms with button icons on, then covers them, and it's up to you to memorise them if you want to reach the end, it's the usual mix of simple, accessible Mario fun - only it's not as fun, or as accessible as before. Weirdly, the instructions the game gives you before each minigame is lacking, with no obvious explanation of the controls (the video preview it gives you occasionally has buttons pop, but that's not the same as a clear list), which means you end up sitting on the ready screen for quite some time, as you try to figure out what exactly you're meant to do. The minigames themselves also seem slightly more complex than before, with more allowing you free movement using the +Control Pad - something that still feels a bit trickier to pick up than just wanging the Wii Remote around, for those relatives who don't often play games.
There are a few genuine new additions for Mario Party 10 though, the biggest of which is the Bowser Party, a mode for up to five players that lets one of you control the famous Mario baddie himself. The idea here is that four of the player have to work together to escape from Bowser, who pursues them around the board - while all four players get their own die rolls, Bowser himself gets to throw four. If he catches up with you, you're plunged into a Bowser vs The Rest minigame, with the odds heavily stacked in Bowser's favour. Should he squash/electrocute/otherwise punish you in the game, you'll lose a heart - and if you lose all six, you're out.
While it's a good idea in concept, Bowser Party hasn't been all that well thought out. Bowser himself has a huge advantage - not only are the minigames stacked in his favour, but when it's his turn, if he doesn't roll enough to catch up with you, he's given the opportunity to re-roll. Yeah. Pretty much the only way you can make this work is by having someone who's utterly rubbish at games playing as Bowser - as even with our slightly less than experienced player at the GamePad helm, they still caught us and destroyed us only slightly over halfway. So, in essence, this is a mode that will likely go unplayed - unless you have very patient kids.
In all, then, Mario Party 10 is a game that includes plenty of changes - but none of which change the game for the better. With less accessible minigames, and less in the way of prompts, it's harder to get the whole family involved than it was before - and the "tweak" the board games makes it feel like Mario Party Lite rather than a real evolution. Frustratingly, there's actually a normal Mario Party style board game hidden away in here - but it's locked away, unless you have a compatible amiibo to scan. In fact, perhaps embarrassingly, at the moment, Wii Party U feels more like a Mario Party game than Mario Party does. If it's a family fun minigame collection you're looking for, you'll be best sticking with Wii Party U instead.
Format Reviewed: Nintendo Wii U