Mario Party Star Rush is yet another new direction for the old board game/mini-game collection mash-up. New modes and an emphasis on boss fights make Star Rush feel like a suitably distinct hand-held entry in the series so many years into its pedigree. With plenty to do and a consistent level of quality across the board, SR’s only fault may be spreading itself too thin.
Toad Scramble – Star Rush’s primary game mode – doesn’t see you moving along tracks individually like the old days, or even riding together across a board, à la MP 9 or 10. Instead, players move around a grid, travelling the exact number of spaces they roll. The goal is to beat each level’s bosses and rescue the stars they’ve kidnapped. The player who deals the most damage takes the stars. Whoever has the most stars once all the bosses are dealt with, wins the game. Come the end of the game; players receive a star for every ten coins they’ve managed to collect, meaning explorative or mini-game focussed players get a boost up to those heading straight to the bosses.
Things do go a little bit deeper, though. Playing as Toads, recruiting Mario characters around the board as allies yields great benefit. Each character has their own dice block and particular abilities. For instance, Wario’s dice block offers a good chance of rolling a 7, but roll poorly, and you’ll lose a coin. Lead Wario to a vein of gold ore and he’ll smash it open and retrieve some coins. Each character on your party adds to your dice roll, so the faster you gain some allies, the faster you get where you need to be. If that weren’t enough incentive, each of your team members joins in on boss fights, significantly increasing your potential for a win. Balancing the rewards of collecting allies, grabbing coins, and heading to the bosses provides Star Rush with a degree of strategy not considerably beyond its predecessors, but it’s certainly a new field to master.
What makes a Mario Party game at its core, though, are the mini-games. Great news, then, that Star Rush homes some of the most fun, exciting mini-games in Mario Party history. Unfortunately, their somewhat limited quantity starts to wear thin across Star Rush’s many modes. Boss fights are great, larger spectacle mini-games that do a wonderful job of disguising puzzles, platforming and such as conflict. With each of the 15 Toad Scramble levels featuring 2-5 of said encounters, though, the pool of 12 feels far too small. The same goes for standard mini-games – it doesn’t take long to feel like you’re repeating the same 41 over and over – because you are.
The diverse selection of game modes does what it can to break up the monotony, though. Coinathlon sees players racing to collect coins in a series of mini-games with each coin bringing them closer to the finish line of a race. Balloon Bash focusses more on mini-games than Toad Scramble on smaller, more traditional Mario Party boards. Rhythm Recital is a god-awful attempt at a rhythm game that I honestly can’t believe made it onto the cartridge. Mario Shuffle offers a bare-bones strategy game with players trying to reach opposing sides of a board. Boos Block Party is a fairly generic yet satisfyingly fun puzzle game. Challenge Tower, finally, is an excellent single player puzzle game, relying on the player to use Minesweeper-esque strategies to climb a dangerous tower.
Each of these modes – with the exception of Challenge Tower – can be played with more players. What makes Star Rush’s multiplayer functionality especially commendable, is the fact that only one of up to four players need to own the game. Guest players aren’t unfairly restricted or annoyingly punished for not owning the game in any way, and the seamless multiplayer is all the more wonderful for it. For such a multiplayer focused game, the financial accessibility of playing with friends is an exceedingly positive quality.
Star Rush is a unique Mario Party game full of great modes and some of the very best mini-games the series has ever seen. Unfortunately, the relatively limited selection of mini-games leaves much of the modes feeling repetitive faster than I might have liked. Everything Star Rush has to offer (with the extreme exception of Rhythm Recital) is of an exceptionally high level of quality, emanating with jolly fun. It’s just a shame the wonderful mini-games are spread so thin across so many modes.