- Buy the Game
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
here was a time when the release of a Mario-themed sports title was met with contempt from the gaming community due to Nintendo’s blatant exploitation of their mustachioed mascot. But save for his recent appearance alongside Sonic in 2009’s Olympic Winter Games crossover, Mario has been too busy saving the Princess to have any fun with his friends. You’d think the break would have done him some good, but while his return to the sports genre sounds great in theory (four games for the price of one!), “Mario Sports Mix” is too hit-and-miss to warrant a spot in your collection.
In fact, part of the problem is precisely because there are four games included. Each one is too half-baked to exist on its own, and yet as a compilation, it still feels a bit thin. None of them are particularly intricate games, but rather stripped-down versions that would be better suited for the latest rendition of “Mario Party.” As a result, your options are restricted to a) selecting your sport of choice, b) playing an exhibition match or a three-round tournament, and c) deciding whether to play 2-on-2 or 3-on-3. All of the usual suspects are available for team selection, but you’ll also unlock six additional Square Enix characters by playing through the various tournaments, and can even play as your Mii.
Of the four games available, basketball fares the best thanks to the variety of gameplay, and it’s the only one where you can truly have any fun on your own. While there’s a bit of a learning curve to shooting, the game feels a lot like “NBA Jam” in that you’ll spend just as much time setting up your teammates with sweet alley-oops as you will performing dunks and knocking over opponents to steal the ball. Hockey also has its moments, but because of the inclusion of a super shot (which is charged by holding down the A button), it becomes a little too easy to score, especially against the dim-witted AI. The other two games, meanwhile, are an absolute bore. Volleyball tests your patience for the mindless bump-set-spike formula, while Dodgeball doesn’t share anything in common with the game we all played as kids. For starters, there’s only one ball in play, catching it means absolutely nothing, and players now have a life bar that's depleted with every hit. There’s also something called a box player that teams can utilize on the outside of the court (yes, even behind you) that defeats the whole purpose of the game.
Thankfully – Nintendo being Nintendo – they’ve spiced up gameplay with the addition of question-mark panels that pop up on certain courts, yielding either coins or items that can be used to your advantage. Coins accumulate until you use them and are either added to your base point total when you score, or in the case of Dodgeball, added to your total attacking power, while items like turtle shells, mushrooms and stars can quickly turn a game on its head. Additionally, you can perform character-specific special moves that you earn throughout the course each match, and there are even special courts with their own unique properties – like a basketball platform that moves, a volleyball court with randomly-activated water fountains on top of the net, and a hockey rink with traffic cones blocking the goal. It’s the kind of thing that fans of traditional sports games would absolutely hate, but it actually makes “Mario Sports Mix” more fun.
Of course, none of these wacky components will make much of a difference if you're playing it on your own. This is a game that practically demands to be shared with a few friends in order to enjoy all the playful chaos – to the point that Nintendo has even tacked on a Party Mode with a quartet of minigames each associated with one of the featured sports. It’s a nice thought, but totally unnecessary, especially when "Mario Sports Mix" is ultimately a pretty forgettable experience. The game just doesn't have enough going for it to be anything more than average, but you could certainly do worse.