Review: Mario Sports Mix

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OK, I know what you’re probably thinking: “Ugh, ANOTHER Mario sports game?” Am I right? Sadly, that’s exactly what you should be thinking, because Mario Sports Mix is just another flimsy Mario franchise cash-in.

Mario Sports Mix is a compilation of four sporting events infused with a party game slant and the magical spirit of the Mushroom Kingdom. There is basketball, volleyball, dodgeball and hockey, each playable in 2-on-2 or 3-on-3 matchups, and each requiring simple Wii Remote gestures to play. Whether you are bumping and spiking a volleyball, swatting at a hockey puck, throwing a dodgeball, or taking a jump shot, all’s you have to do is flick the remote, with other actions such as switching characters, passing, and using items and special moves relegated to easy-to-learn button presses.

All your favorite Mushroom Kingdom mascots are pumped and primed for athletic competition, including the likes of Mario, Luigi, Peach, Yoshi, Donkey Kong, Bowser, Wario and Waluigi, and with Square Enix handling development duties a few cameo bonus characters from Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, such as Moogle, Cactuar and Slime, have been thrown in as unlockables. You can import your Mii into the game as well, which is a nice touch.

Each character has different stats, play styles and special moves to take advantage of on the field of play, so there is some thought that goes into choosing your characters to create a balanced team. And during play you can collect coins to add bonus points to any base point you score and use power-up items like turtle shells and mushrooms to unleash on the opponent.

In terms of modes, Mario Sports Mix covers the basics. You can play in exhibition matches with up to four players at a time or follow a familiar tournament progression through tiered Cups (Mushroom Cup, Flower Cup, Star Cup) as a means to unlock new characters and arenas, and a ‘Party’ mode provides a few Mario Party-style throwaway mini-games. Online play is also supported with a basic stat tracking system and, thankfully, the ability to play in random matches without the need to exchange Friend Codes.

But sadly, the game itself just isn’t very fun. I was bored to tears with each sport and each mini-game literally after one play apiece, and a sense of obligation was the only motivational force driving me to stick with the game long enough to draw a fair impression, opposed to rushing through a couple games and throwing in the towel early without ever giving the game a chance to show off its talents.

So what’s the problem? Well, there are many problems, I’m afraid, chief among them the lackluster motion controls. Mario Sports Mix does NOT use Wii Motion Plus in any way, and as a result the game lacks finesse and requires little to no skill. The provided tutorials teach you to gesture the remote in accordance to the desired action – flick up to bump pass a volleyball or in basketball flick up to jump and then back down to release the shot. But in reality you can jiggle the remote any which way, and it all works the same in the end. Winning games against other live players usually boils down to luck of the draw, as far as who scores with higher coin point modifiers and escapes the spontaneous arena hazards.

Simply put, Mario Sports Mix plays like a first-generation Wii game with antiquated waggle controls that only make gameplay feel clumsier in place of a traditional game pad. Of course, you can avoid the waggle by playing with the remote turned sideways, but then it becomes a question of “why am I playing a shallow, arcadey Wii sports game without using the console’s main selling point?”

As a multiplayer party game, Mario Sports Mix can entertain in spurts, but as a single player game it is dreadfully dull. The AI difficulty goes from laughably easy on the low to medium difficulty settings, with opponents that don’t even try to compete, to unforgivably cheap on the higher difficulties, with opponents that never make mistakes, are always able to block your shot, and often seem impossible to beat.

Other flaws exist, too. The pace of play is extremely sluggish, for one, as the celebration sequences after every single point slow the games down to a crawl. Online play, although a welcomed feature, suffers from choppy performance the majority of the time. And I was also annoyed by not having a universal unlock system – instead of unlocking bonus content once across the entire game, you must unlock everything within each individual sport, and it’s just not worth the effort to do so.

Square Enix tried to cover up the rudimentary, barebones gameplay with a thick layer of Nintendo charm…and almost pulled it off! The bright, energetic graphics and music do pep the game up with a much-needed spark, the detailed, well-animated characters look amazing in action, and the many arenas, from Koopa Troopa Beach to DK Dock to Luigi’s Mansion, make for lively sporting venues.

But unfortunately not even the power of Nintendo’s nostalgic charm is enough to save Mario Sports Mix from failure. Even as a multiplayer party game, it barely sniffs mediocrity, and with so many better Wii sports / party games to choose from there is no need to show this game any attention.

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Pros:
+ Exceptionally colorful characters and environments
+ Upbeat music gets the head bopping and the foot tapping
+ Online play does NOT require Friend Codes
+ Characters have different talents and play styles to consider

Cons:
– Antiquated motion control implementation
– No Wii Motion Plus support
– Gameplay lacks any sort of skill or finesse
– Inconsistent online performance
– Games seem to drag on forever and become boring long before they end
– Lousy AI makes solo play either way too easy or impossibly difficult
– Non-universal unlock system forces you to unlock the same content multiple times

Game Info:
Platform: Wii
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Square Enix
Release Date: 2/7/2011
Genre: Sports / Party
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1-4 (local and online)
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

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About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!