Mario Sport Mix
For a rotund plumber, Mario doesn’t half know how to break a sweat. Whether it’s go-karting, golf, tennis, baseball or even football, the moustachioed mascot has tried his hand at whatever sport Nintendo have seen fit to fling at him. With just a few sports left for Mario to try, Nintendo have scooped together whichever games remain and thrown them all together for Mario Sport Mix, Square Enix’s latest sports party title since Mario Hoops 3-On-3 for the DS.
Much like Mario’s aforementioned forays into the world of sport, the Mushroom Kingdom’s take on Ice Hockey, Dodgeball, Basketball and Volleyball bears little resemblance to its real-life representation, with personality-based power moves, gold coins and Shy Guy Ice Hockey goaltenders aplenty. With four games for the price of one, are we looking at a Wii Sports-style game changer or a cynical cash-grab for whichever sports Nintendo hasn’t tried its hand?
The truth is somewhere in the middle. With excellent presentation and WiFi support, Sports Mix initially bends over backwards to impress when first booted up. However, once you’ve had your first challenge against the AI, you’ll discover that your computer opponents also have no issues with bending over backwards to appease you too. Sadly, the competitive balance needed to introduce a solid sports singleplayer mode is needlessly hampered by an appalling easy AI.
In Ice Hockey especially bad in this regard, with reaching double figures and not conceding on any occasion becoming the norm, rendering any sense of single player longevity near-impossible. Worse still, the only other incentive to keep at the singleplayer, unlockable Square Enix characters, is also needlessly hampered by the developer’s decision to have players unlock all six secret characters for each sport separately. All that effort for a Moogle?
As for the actual setup of Sports Mix, the title has four sports which are each played in 2 vs 2 or 3 vs 3 teams, with four tournaments of three rounds each. As you’d expect, arenas vary from typical professional arenas to Mushroom Kingdom and while the latter don’t feature their own custom-built levels, depending on the sport you choose you can expect unique obstacles.
As for the sports themselves, the aforementioned Ice Hockey is the pick (puck?) of the bunch. Not since the comedy punch-ups of Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey on the Nintendo 64 has there been a truly fast-paced hockey title that doesn’t take itself too seriously and watching Yoshi and Diddy Kong swipe hockey sticks in each other’s vicinity somehow feels right. Unfortunately, unlike the days of Gretzky, Sport Mix’s iteration doesn’t include quasi-fighting sections if two players get in a ruck – a missed opportunity.
Dodgeball also fails to live up to its potential and is nowhere near as fun as you may imagine, partly because Sport Mix tones down the impact of a ball striking a player’s face to undeniably unsatisfactory levels. I’ve waited over ten years to smack Toad in his stupid mushroom face, don’t deny me Nintendo! Sadly the lack of true aiming and a noticeable delay between the strike of a ball and impact lessen the game’s appeal, though there is a fair bit of strategy involved in both dodging opponents and attempting to catch the ball at the same time.
Basketball, considering Square Enix’ previous attempt on the DS, is a comfortable and solid experience, replete with alley-oops and wildly elaborate dunks. As the game that most relies on teamwork and utilising the two or three members of your team, however, it involves a lot more micro-management than any other sport, particularly since passing is completely manual. Too much time is spent cycling through your required teammate or worse, sitting through the animations which follow every point scored. Finally, Volleyball is the most forgettable of the bunch, relying mainly on timing for attack and moving your character into a pre-determined spot for defence. In a post-Kinect Sports world, it’s just not enough.
With a collection of diverting though non-essential sports, your enjoyment of Mario Sport Mix will largely depend on the likelihood of constant multiplayer battles, though admittedly in that respect the title still pales in comparison to Wii Sports Resort and even the original Wii Sports. With a singleplayer crippled by a non-existent challenge and shamelessly padded out for the pursuit of elusive Cactaurs, Mario Sports Mix is likely to become a largely forgotten entry in the already unmemorable catalogue of Mario sport titles.
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