For years now Nintendo has made use of Mario and the rest of his co-stars in some of the best arcade sport games in the business. There are specific standout titles in the N64 and GameCube era that really pushed the boundaries, but since the arrival of the Wii, Mario and his sports endeavours have been receiving several yellow cards. The games didn’t evolve and have become somewhat… boring. Is this finally the game that can hit it out of the park?
In short: No.
[pullquote_right]Mario Sports Superstars has now taken all the modern misfits and slapped them into one big game[/pullquote_right]It really does feel like a lifetime ago that we played the absolutely amazing Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour or Mario Power Tennis, not to even mention the incredible Super Mario Strikers. Since then we’ve received what can only be described as some of the most lethargic Mario sport games known to mankind, with zero excitement. The earlier titles always included something unique that had each character play to his or her strength, no matter the sport type. Be it speed, power or agility – you had to select your character carefully to overcome any challenge thrown your way. Mario Sports Superstars has now taken all the modern misfits and slapped them into one big game in the hope that it’ll instill some excitement as a bundle, instead of just one sport.
Mario of all trades, master of none
Each discipline starts off in the same manner. You select whether you play a tournament, exhibition or multiplayer (both offline and online). It’s from this point on that each sports brings its own options:
Once you’ve selected your captain, assistant captain, teammates, goalkeeper and formation you’ll find yourself in a stadium ready to take on your opponents. It’s a game of football as any before it. You can pass, lob, through pass, dash, use a technique and shoot at goal. Depending on the characters you select they’ll each come with their own unique stats (power, speed, finesse, shooting, passing, defense and stamina). So what makes this something special and unique? Once the football starts glowing, double tap the A button (your goal shooting button) and that character will perform his or her special move. No, you don’t work to get that activated, it just randomly happens. Play through the Mushroom and Flower Cup and you’ll find that by the time you get to the Star Cup you want to have your 3DS meet its maker as the AI will miraculously have the ball every single time it happens. The game feels generic and the tough AI feels like a cheap mechanic to lengthen your play time.
Out of the five sports this is by far the best of the lot. The aim here is to get a hang of both fielding and batting, and each comes with its own challenges. It’s probably best to leave the actual fielding bit to automatic while you focus on your pitching. You have a limited time to pitch each ball and it comes down to selecting the pitch type (Fastball, Slider, Forkball, Curveball, Sinker or Screwball) and then tapping the A button with good timing to pull off an accurate throw. All the basic rules of baseball apply, which means three strikes or a catch sees your opponents heading back to the stands, while a bad ball equates as a foul, with three balls giving the batter a free run to the next base. Build up enough skill points and you can perform a special throw that can genuinely be the decider of an innings. Once you’re batting it’s not quite as complicated. Pressing A performs a power swing, but your area of connecting a pitch is smaller, which means a strikeout is more imminent, while pressing B is less powerful, but covers a wider range – it comes down to a game of risk. Getting a good grasp of when to get your teammates to run between bases takes time, but once you pull off a homerun with four batsmen on the pitch it’s a great feeling.
Have you played Mario Tennis Open on the 3DS? Then you’ve played this tennis game. It’s exactly the same game, minus the cool environments and extra mini games. Press particular button combinations to pull off a Topspin, Flat Shot, Slice, Lob or Drop Shot, or simply press the X button for a simple shot that’ll automatically select the correct shot you require to get the most out of your swing. It’s fun to avoid the simple shot and learn that A follow directly by B will do a lob shot, and that swopping the order will deliver a drop shot. Perform the correct shot when it highlights a particular colour on the court and you’ll gain some extra strength from the shot. Other than including the ability to now double press the Y button to perform an aerial smash, when it prompts you to do so, there’s nothing new here and in fact comes with less extras than ever before… and even has the same music blaring in your ears you would have heard in Mario Tennis Open. Nintendo, seriously, you need to stop these double faults!
It brings absolutely nothing new that you’ve never seen in a Mario golf game before it, but it’s at least quite enjoyable. As before you’ll still have a normal or power shot, with only a limited number of power shots being available to you per hole. Press X and you can look ahead at where the ball will land and decide on the best strategy to tackle each hole. When selecting your club you should also consider the wind as it can play havoc with the outcome. Don’t expect any well-designed courses that’ll have you bouncing the ball off mushrooms and what not, but for a generic golf game it’s not all that bad, it’s just no Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour with brilliant level design and interesting challenges.
Surprisingly it’s not terrible. It’s the first horse racing game I’ve ever played and it was okay. The aim is simple – make it around the course three times and come first. It’s a game of pacing and stamina and because of this it’s not just the character you select that’s important, but also your horse. A nimble and fast horse will speed away in seconds, but won’t last, while a bigger horse will be a little slower but comes with lots of stamina for the long racer. Along the way you eat carrots to replenish stamina, which you lose with every tap of the A button to speed the horse up, and you’ll also collect stars. Each star you collect fills up a circular area and once filled you can press X for a Star Dash – it’s always a good idea to keep the maximum of three star dashes towards the end of a race to thump your competitors. There’s nothing more to it really.
[pullquote_left]The small silver lining comes in the form of unlocking two new characters, without requiring anything but skill[/pullquote_left]So why on earth would you want to play these various generic sport games? To earn coins, apparently. After boring yourself to death you can go and purchase card packs (made up of 3 or 10 cards) to unlock cards in your collection album. What can you do with these cards? Absolutely nothing. It gets worse. Players can scan an amiibo figurine to unlock 3 virtual card packs (3 times per day), but these figurines have no other use in the actual game. To unlock in-game rewards you have to buy physical amiibo card packs. Sold separately. All these cards do is to give your players a skill boost in whatever sport they’re participating in.
Mario Sports Superstars is honestly a massive letdown. The small silver lining comes in the form of unlocking two new characters, without requiring anything but skill, but it’s just too little to make it a bundle worth recommending. One thing is for sure, Nintendo best look at their past glory days. They’ve created some of the most amazing arcade sport games in the past, but those days are long gone. All you see now are own goals, strikes, bogeys, double faults and a racing horse that’s seen better days. Nintendo, here is your red card.