Mario Sports Mix Review
Written by Jason Trent Tuesday, 12 April 2011 05:00
Nintendo generally seems to have pretty good luck with their ever so famous mascot named Mario. Mario does it all. He continually saves his princess from a life of servitude to archenemy Bowser, drives circles around the competition in his kart and he even dabbles in the wide world of sports every so often. He’s the Swiss Army knife of video game characters and so it would be fitting that he’d be starring in his latest outing in not one, not two and not even three sports. No, he’d have four full sports under his belt with which to dominate the competition and our hearts. Mario Sports Mix is now on the shelf of your local retailer or not-so-local e-tailer, and is begging to be the centerpiece of your Wii multiplayer collection. So, does Mario make a goal or does he foul his audience?
I started with basketball. I’ve never been one for professional sports, at least until recently when I began watching NBA games. Over time I picked up an appreciation for the sport, and so I decided to start off my Mario Sports Mix career with it. As is the case with many party-oriented games, Mario Sports Mix is one best played with one or more friends, so I got one and started a cooperative two-on-two game against the CPU. The controls were responsive and simple. With the bulk of your actions involving moving around the court, passing the ball to a partner, shooting, dunking and stealing. As you’d expect from a first-party title on the Wii, waggle does come into play. Lift the Wiimote to jump, then bring it back down to make your shot. Releasing the shot at the peak of your jump results in more accuracy.
These things make sense. What doesn’t make sense, however, is how all these things come together to create an ultimately flawed and lopsided experience that encourages players to break the game instead of playing it. The core problem is this: it’s pretty tough to sink a basket. The timing isn’t hard, but there’s still a lot left to chance. Dunking, on the other hand, is another story entirely. Hold down A to leap into the air, keep holding it, hold it some more and bam. You just accomplished the most spectacular slam dunk known to mankind. Though dunks can be blocked, it’s not something that’s easy to do, nor is it something that the AI will really ever succeed at. My friend and I spent the next cup and a half using this ‘strategy’ without other teams making so much as a point against us. It would be one thing if dunks were made from normal distances, but as is, one player can dunk from nearly half court just by holding down one button. If you decide to take things more advanced, cooperative alley-oops can be made from beyond half court. Though other teams eventually got points to call their own, we still never lost a game. Not once. Even the hard mode which you can access once all cups have been completed wasn’t overly challenging.
We then moved on to hockey. Hockey is odd, because even though you’d expect the controls for basketball and hockey to be interchangeable, they’re actually quite different. Checking opponents is done passively instead of with a button press, shooting was done with a combination of a button and a waggle. Cooperative shots, too, are accomplished differently than the game before it. The point I’m trying to hit home is that you’d want these four games’ controls to be similar enough that you could switch between them with ease. Instead, there’s always a period of confusion where each player is trying to recall just what button does what in each sport. To the benefit of hockey, I will say that it and the other two sports, don't suffer from the same level of broken that basketball has. But, it was still a very basic experience without any subtleties or complexities that one would expect. It’s like I went to the game store and picked up the economy brand of Hockey.
When I was in Jr. High, dodgeball day was always the worst day of the week for me. I was that chubby kid who was continually struck in the face as the bigger, more athletic kids slung balls to my side of the court hard enough to shake the bleachers if I was lucky enough for them to miss. Mario Sports Mix takes a decidedly less ‘Lord of the Flies’ approach to the sport and actually manages to make it slow and tedious. If your player is struck by the ball, then they’re out, which actually just means that they need to stand behind the other players. They can rejoin the game should they successfully get another player out and you win once the other team has no players left. My problem is that all these things happen so slowly. You never actually feel as though you’re dodging much of anything. Instead you find yourself running around the court as you waggle to throw your ball. There’s not even aiming involved. There’s nothing overtly flawed about the sport, it’s just not very fun.
Volleyball is the beacon of hope to be found in this compilation. It’s the one sport that I feel has a legitimate level of strategy and complexity; one that I actually found myself challenged with. It all begins with the serve. You aim where you plan on serving to, throw the ball in the air, then smack it. As the name implies, each team volleys the ball between one another until someone eventually fails to make it over the net. The strategy I mentioned comes into play when aiming and receiving shots. Making sure that each player is where they need to be, covering which area needs to be covered, then being able to predict where the ball will land is involving. Communication with your team members is key to your success. It’s still a very simple game with few thrills, but it’s the only one in this collection that I feel truly exemplifies what a Mario sport title should be: an easy to pick up game with layers of depth that both old and young can enjoy in tandem.
Each sport has items and special abilities which attempt to give the experience a bit more of that Mario flavor, but even they are executed poorly. If you’ve played any Mario game, you’ll know what to expect. You have your green shells, red shells, banana peels, small mushrooms and stars. These are used to slow your opponents down in one way or another, but they can be really risky because you can wind up hurting yourself or an opponent instead of their intended targets. The worst culprit is easily the small mushroom. More often than not, one person on my team would drop this only to have the other step on it and shrink. Mario Kart managed to take these items and make them integral to the experience, but they feel little more than an afterthought in Mario Sports Mix. They’ve certainly never been enough to change the outcome of a match.
The one thing that was consistently interesting throughout my experience with Mario Sports Mix was the varied arenas to compete in. Each venue offers slight changes in rules, obstacles, and even score multipliers depending on where you score from. Adapting to each new level was actually, this is tough to say, fun. One level would have a train drive through the middle, which is an obvious issue during a game of basketball. Another might have road cones setup in front of the goal in hockey. They were subtle changes, but still, they did what nearly nothing else in this game did, which was make things feel fresh from time to time.
It’s with a heavy heart that I have to blow the whistle on this poor excuse for entertainment. I had to give it a yellow card. It’s off to the penalty box. It struck out. If there was horse racing in this game, I’d take it out back and shoot it. There just aren’t enough bad sports puns in the world to describe my disappointment. No, not even Mario himself could save this game from itself.