Despite the fact that nobody’s ever seen the Mushroom Kingdom’s moustachioed hero do any actual plumbing, that’s what Nintendo’s most famous mascot is known for. He has an inferred, but never really displayed aptitude for dealing with pipes, valves, and other fluid-conveying apparatus. Of course Mario and his menagerie have been doing other things in other games for decades – and one of the things they seem to get together to do quite a bit, is sport.
Mario and his crew have played Golf, Tennis, Football, Baseball and just about every other sport imaginable over the years, with varying degrees of success. Mario Sports Superstars is a noble attempt to put them all together – but it unfortunately falls a little flat in its execution.
It’s a collection of five sports; the aforementioned Golf, Tennis, Football, Baseball – and the odd introduction of horse racing. If you’re hoping to relive the glory days of the Mario Sports franchise though, you’re bound to be disappointed. While there’s nothing egregiously wrong with any of the five sports on offer, there’s nothing remarkable about any of them either; they’re all just competent and serviceable arcade representations.
Simplistic menus give way to simplistic sports games, though the austerity of its menus belie the customisation options each sport (other than the barebones Tennis) hold. You can play exhibition matches, full tournaments – or go through a series of training challenges for each activity, setting options for rounds, length and difficulty as you please. Interestingly, the sport games have been handed to different developers – with Nintendo stalwart Camelot handling development duties on Golf and Tennis, while Bandai-Namco seems to have handled the rest
Camelot’s Mario Tennis games are usually a blast, but this feels recycled from previous ones. It plays out like a distilled version of the mostly middling Mario Tennis Open. It dispenses with Ultra Smash shots and Mega Mushrooms, relying instead on the core back and forth nature of the sport. Sometimes, glowing circles showing where the ball is to land so as to allow players to pull off power shots, but it feels rudimentary. Thankfully the AI is pretty good, so you can expect your lobs and volleys to be adequately challenged.
The Golf too, seems to be largely appropriated from a previous Camelot Mario sports game. The user interface and presentation is lifted directly from Mario Golf: world Tour. It plays out much the same too – but with the courses not having any Mushroom Kingdom flair, it all lacks character. It’s probably the most competent game of the lot, and whacking balls down the 9 hole course is cathartic and fun. But if you already own World Tour, you’ve got a superior golfing experience already.
I think the one I’m most disappointed by is football – but only because of how damned good Mario Strikers Charged on the Wii was. This maintains a few of its staples – like charged up moves – but they’re a little muted. The team that has control of the ball for long enough may see the ball start glowing, which means that the striker can unleash a powered-up shot on goal. It’s often dizzying, but hardly a guarantee of a goal.
Thankfully the AI is also competent here, so you’re never just putting goals in the back of the net – but it feels too simplified, and there’s something that’s just a little off about its controls. It always feels like your actions are about half a second behind your inputs, and that’s the opposite of fun. All the game needed to be was a mobile version of Super Strikers: Charged to make the entire package worthwhile– but it’s not.
Baseball’s a bit hit or miss. While I actually liked its simplicity, I’m sure many who love what was once America’s favourite pastime will find it too basic. When pitching, you’re able to select different types of throws, using timing to nail a perfect pitch, and as a batter, you have a small window in which to try strike at one – but there’s little else to it. The fielding is largely AI controlled, so there’s very little for players to actually do. I had mostly mindless fun with it though, but it’s very far from being a comprehensive or even competent baseball game.
The last game in the package is a bit of an oddity. It’s not the first time Mario and his mates have taken on the challenges of an equestrian nature; Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games have put the plumber and pals on horseback. Like previous efforts it plays out a little like Mario Kart, only without the weapons, sense of urgency or fun. As with just about every other game on offer here, there’s very little of the Mushroom Kingdom shining through, so it all feels bland and boring.
There’s also some aggressive and egregiously terrible use of Amiibo in the game. Many of the characters are a grind to unlock, requiring you to complete just about everything within each sport. Character unlocks aren’t universal though, applying only to said sport, so you may have to play through seriously unfun games just to get the characters you want. Or you could just use Amiibo cards to unlock them – which are sold separately in blind packs. Nasty!
An odd exclusion here is download play. In most 3DS multiplayer titles you’re able to beam a mini version of the game to a friend for a bit of local multiplayer, but there’s nothing of the sort here, which means that you’ll need multiple copies for local multiplayer. That’s made up for, a little, by the inclusion of online multiplayer – though I don’t expect you’ll have an easy time finding many opponents.