One of the best parts of being a Nintendo Switch owner is how often you find yourself saying “Whoa! I didn’t know my Switch could do that!” This was certainly the most predominant exclamation in our war room after the reveal of Super Mario Party at E3 2018. Now, having seen the dual-screen mode, dubbed Toad’s Rec Room, in action, it’s safe to say our shouting was justified.
Toad’s Rec Room a set of four fun little diversions from the Mario Party we’ve all come to know and (mostly) love. This mode lets players pop off their joy-con and utilize the Switch’s hidden screen sharing ability. This isn’t screen sharing in a “traditional” sense, this function basically turns your Switch into a giant Nintendo DS, creating one larger image across both screens and spreading the touch-screen functionality seamlessly across the larger play area. Rec Room challenges include matching sets of bananas, pummeling each other while piloting tiny tanks, playing three innings of baseball, and fourth mini-game that has yet to be shown off.
Banana, Split throws half (or several halves) of images of bananas on either screen. Each player must rotate and reposition each image until both sides match, and then swipe across both screens to complete the challenge. You’re given several sets of images, played in rounds, and your goal is to match all the images in the shortest amount of time.
It’s simple and, admittedly, sort of goofy, but the fun here mostly lies in the ability to make up your own rules. Do you pass both sets of Switches, Hot Potato style, and race against the clock? Do you team up and determine which team can get the lowest time? It’s a nice change of pace when compared to traditional Mario Party games, which have often had a metric ton of rules, challenges, and moving pieces. My only concern was the occasional hiccup in swipe detection. If you’re not swiping in exactly the right speed or direction, your swipe may not register on the first pass, and in a game that’s all about timing, every second counts.
As much as I enjoyed Banana, Split; Shell Shock Deluxe was the game that truly sold me on Toad’s Rec Room. This 2v2, or the even more chaotic Free For All, puts each player in a miniature tank and lets them pummel each other across both screens. What’s most impressive here is the level of customization and variety that results in simply flipping the orientation of your screens.
You’re provided with three basic level plans, but in pairing your Switches together, you can determine the overall layout of the battlefield. This adds a simple layer of strategy, granting teams small advantages, painting players into corners, or just making one teammate miserable. Couple this with the ability to bounce your projectiles off walls at your enemies, and the level layout becomes just as important as your ability to control the tanks. Encounters are fast and frenzied, and the moment each round finished, I wanted to start over with a different layout.
Toad’s Rec Room is a perfect counter to some of the long-standing gripes some games have had with previous Mario Party games. It’s accessible, simple, and you can play a few rounds in a matter of minutes. Adding this to the tried and true formula that Mario Party is known best for, Super Mario Party may just be the most ambitious game in the series.