The prowess of the Mushroom Kingdom’s populace has rarely come into question. From Mario’s ability to trample an unruly Goomba to Yoshi’s talent for flutter-kicking across a wide gap, Shigeru Miyamoto and Shigefumi Hino’s creations have been consistently agile. Yet, it wasn’t until developer Camelot Software Planning moved the beloved characters to golf greens and tennis courts, that Team Mario demonstrated an aptitude beyond high jumping. With a career that includes forays in baseball, basketball, kart racing, as well as Summer and Winter Olympic games, the one-time plumber has successfully capitalized on his latent athleticism.
Following the trend of transferring development duties to external studios, coding for Mario Sports Mix was handled by the capable hands at Square-Enix (responsible for 2006’s Mario Hoops 3 on 3 for the DS). However, beyond the inclusion of moogles, cactuars, and blue slimes, the title contains all the graphical charm and control finesse exhibited by a first-party Nintendo title. While the title forgoes the depth typically devoted to single-sport disks, each of the Sports Mix‘s recreations giftedly balance approachability with playability, mirroring the assurance displayed by 2006’s Wii Sports.
Of the four diversions on the disk, Basketball and Hockey are the stand-outs. The former is elevated by absorbing shot blocking, alley-oops, and dunks, while the later included charged shots and fights to get matches lively. Volleyball is a respectable interpretation of the sport, although it would have benefited from an increased shot selection. Dodgeball is the weakest game of the lot, as steps were made to artificially extend each match. Both the leisurely velocity of the ball and the incorporation of life bars (beaned players lose a bit of health) strips away the zealous tempo of the sport. While players can play more straightforward interpretations of each pastime, the title’s whimsical power-ups can be captivating. From bingo-like volleyball courts to coins scattering around the beach-side court, these variations present intriguing game-changing prospects. While the game’s character-specific abilities, from Luigi’s paranormal vacuum cleaning to Mario’s ability to throw a flaming dodgeball may be overpowering, most pay careful homage to Nintendo canon.
Each recreation relies on a set of fundamental commands shared among each recreation, while offering a few sport-specific commands. For example, in basketball players swing their Wiimote skyward to initiate a jump then rapidly bring it down to complete their shot. When on the hockey rink, a quick horizontal fling of the wrist will release a slapshot. These examples assume gamers are using the Wiimote and Nunchuck control scheme; Mario Sports Mix also accommodates a single horizontally-held Wiimote for players who have a sub-controller shortage or simply want to play with a modicum of waggle.
Expectedly, Mario Sports Mix offers the requisite exhibition matches and tournaments for solitary players. Competitions are composed much like Mario Kart‘s contests, with gamers vying for Mushroom, Flower and Star Cups- unlocking arenas and characters with key victories. Yet, once all the collectables have been garnered, the game’s subdued challenge level offers little incentive to persevere. The problem is the game’s artificial intelligence, which is a predictable pushover on all but the highest difficulty setting. Although casual games might enjoy the lenient opposition, hardened sport gamers will wish for a mercy rule in the Nintendo leagues, during a turbulent trouncing.
Fortunately, capable competition can be found with Sport Mix‘s online component. While gamers wishing to compete with specific players will have to initiate a friend code connection, those seeking to jump right into a competition can be matched with random participants. Although lag can be a reoccurring problem when playing net-based, high-speed action titles on Nintendo’s console, contests ran fluidly and were nearly indistinguishable from a couch-based co-op session.
From the game’s vibrant colored and creatively designed venues to the large, well animated characters (Miis are also supported) Mario Sports Mix’s visuals are a treat. Coupled with a fluid framerate, reasonable load times, and consistently responsive controls, the game’s reveals the typical sparkle that Nintendo enthusiasts have come to expect from top-tier games. Small touches, such playing hockey with a coin instead of a puck, or giving a cloud-riding Lakitu face-off and jump ball responsibilities certainly adds to the game’s appeal. Although the game’s music is dependably inoffensive, each characters’ limited amount of voice samples repeat a bit too often.
From the moment Mario Sports Mix was revealed, the game’s ambitions were evident: the title was poised to offer a collection of well-polished, pick up-and play, athletic-oriented events which could be enjoyed by participants of all ages and skill levels. Undoubtedly, the disc realizes those ambitions, warranting a full-priced purchase, especially for those interested in local or online rivalry.