Fervent Nintendo fans might be able to cite the company’s infrequent development collaborations with Square-Enix. Over the last fifteen years, the duo has worked together to create two titles: 1996’s Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Stars, as well as 2006’s Mario Hoops 3-on-3. While the two powerhouse publishers might share a rare alliance, the appeal of each crossover title is undeniable. From Legend of the Stars‘ exploration of Yoshi’s homeland to playing basketball with Moogles and Mages, the coalition has produced the type of synergistic subject matter which can exhilarate enthusiasts. On February 7th, 2011, gamers get to experience the third union between the duo of developers, as Mario Sports Mix makes it way stateside. After having played the Japanese version of the title for a few weeks now, here’s what players can expect:
Following the inspired design decision of Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour and Mario Power Tennis, each of Mario Sports Mix‘s four games reduce the recreations down to their raw essentials. Forgoing the penalties and pointless particulars of each sport, the disk’s interpretation of basketball, volleyball, dodge ball and hockey smartly concentrate on the fundamentals of each game, generating an arcade experience reminiscent of NBA Jam or Beach Spikers. Up to four participants may either use a Nunchuck and Wiimote combination or the Wiimote alone (held horizontally) to control their character. With the two-controller scheme, gestures are used to set or shoot the ball, while the solitary Wiimote method relies primary on button presses to initiate these same actions. Regardless of which input method is chosen, the title controls are unblemished, displaying none of the gesture-based stumbles common to most sport titles on the Wii. Cleverly, the title assumes players will never read the instruction booklet. Between the in-game tutorials, help screens, and on-screen icon which illustrate what buttons or gestures to make, Mario Sports Mix gradually encourages players to learn the rudiments of each game.
When initially summoning CPU opponents for one of the game’s 2 on 2 or 3 on 3 matches, AI players were relegated to the lowest difficulty, which resulted in a number of devastating (and dreadfully dull) victories. After emerging victorious, the ability to adjust the level of challenge becomes unlocked, resulting in a much more compelling competition. Sure, Yoshi was still able to soar like Michael Jordan above the entire key, but DK wasn’t quite the pushover on the game’s next to top setting. As player’s progress, additional Squeenix familiars are unlocked, as well as arenas which offer additional variations. Soon, volleyball had an interesting bingo-mechanic, where each dropped balls lit up sections of the ground. Another venue was sent on the beach where turtle shells washed ashore and a the net was held up by an inhibiting palm tree. There’s even a bonus game where characters take on a behemoth.
After players become accustomed to the fundamentals of each sports, they’ll be able to take advantage of the game’s more fanciful elements. Every character has a distinct power move- from Mario’s ability to spike blazing, near-unstoppable pucks to Diddy Kong’s ability to make sporting equipment weave in banana-shaped motions. Courts and rinks become increasingly filed with coins and power-ups, morphing each sport into new recreations which only marginally resemble their real-world inspirations.
Visually, Mario Sports Mix delivers the substantial, well-animated characters that players will expect from a Nintendo-licensed title. Each of the game’s imaginative environments- from a hockey rink in the middle of the Mario Kart speedway to a lush-jungle court filled with perfectly-pruned flora are rendered in spotless detail, and are brimming with vibrant hues. Fortunately, each sports measured pace means the game never shows the type of slowdown which beset Super Mario Strikers. An options for one-on-one and two-on-two online matches exist in the Japanese version of Sports Mix, I’ll reserve comment on the quality of the statesides edition’s netcode until I get my hands on a review disk.
While Mario Sports Mix looks to be an idyllic catalyst for dorm room competitions, my sole concern is each of the four’s sports longevity. Without the draw of a career mode, the title might not display the longevity shown by Nintendo’s solitary-focused sports games. Next month, players will decide if the Square Enix’s Wii Sports inspired decisions will reverberate at retail.