Mario Sports Superstars Review
Sports titles on Nintendo consoles go as far back as possible, all the way to when the NES first gave the world Tennis and Golf. The Game Boy had Golf and Tennis too, with a picture of Mario on the box art. It wasn’t until the N64’s days though that Nintendo started leveraging the value of their favourite mascot and calling every sporting game Mario this and Mario that. Since then - aside from some titles including the notable Wii Sports - Mario has become synonymous with tennis, golf and latterly football and baseball. The 3DS is the most recent console to benefit from Mario’s sporting prowess and with Mario Sports Superstars we have a smorgasbord of varied sport, all of which is rather entertaining - at least when playing with someone else.
In fact we have five sports to choose from here, immediately demonstrating the sheer value present in one title. We’re used to buying one golf game, or one Mario football game. Whilst we do have a great breadth and variety on display there’s the feeling - as evidenced through spending some time playing each sport - that we don’t have anything particularly innovative here. If you’ve played any golf game before, or any football game - let alone a Nintendo one specifically - you will find a version included, but which feels lacking in comparison. If you have never once played a videogame of any of these sports you’re in for a treat - at least until you tire of the novelty because again, there’s nothing really special to distinguish it from games dedicated to each individual sport.
It doesn’t necessarily matter though because you’re getting to play five sports, on your handheld and against the CPU or, importantly, other people locally and online; friendlies and randoms. The five sports in full are football, tennis, golf, baseball and horse racing. Each is immediately accessible to play and quick to tire unless you can engage other people. In that regard it’s similar to any sporting arcade game or simulation. However, with something like FIFA or Rory McIlroy PGA Tour you can use the single-player components to learn how to play as you start out, different playstyles when you need to mix it up and more - be that five-star skills or perfect pitching. With Mario involved you pretty quickly get to grips with things and have nowhere else to go, aside from playing more challenging opponents. But in so doing you’ll beat them the same way with effort, it’s not like you have to change the way you play and learn how to best the AI. Mario Sports Superstars cannot be seen as an alternative to any standalone sporting title. It just doesn’t hold a candle to the better ones - it probably wasn’t trying to.
Sadly, even with the variety of sports on offer things still aren’t great. Football is standard eleven-a-side fare where you select your two main characters and the supporting cast are Koopas or similar. As you’d imagine your character’s stats will vary and your playstyle may be biased to tricky runs, hard shooting or bulldozing your way through. Tennis is just like any Nintendo tennis title we’ve ever seen, allowing you to choose your character as per the football above and compete on varying types of surface which in turn will impact the way the ball moves. You can select from a dizzying array of shots dependent on what you think is best - lob your opponent, do them with a drop-shot or pass them down the line. Basically whatever you see Andy Murray doing you can do - and more too if you perform a special shot where you might smash the ball unstoppably or make it swerve more than an illegal banana in the EU. It is good tennis, but we’ve seen it before. The same for golf, to be honest.
Baseball and horse racing are where things get a little fresher. We have had the former before but the latter is brand-new to the world of Mario sports. It’s also kind of odd and not a patch on its most obvious simile: Mario Kart. You take a horse around a track, racing the bends whilst managing stamina and collecting power-ups in your path at ground level or with a jump. Oh yes, you also avoid the various obstacles in your way. This unfortunately falls so flat. It’s just not fun or engaging in many ways and really jars when presented alongside the other sports. Even if you were a fan of horse racing you’d find little of interest here as it feels more like the aforementioned kart racer with the karts subbed for square boxes made to look like horses. No flair or drift in the racing, and it’s not a challenge in terms of passing the obstacles and suchlike meaning the non-fun racing is all that’s left. You do get to look after your horses between races though in something akin to a sports’ game version of Animal Crossing crossed with Nintendogs.
Baseball involves pitching and batting. It’s quite fun and varied in terms of what you can do. You can throw fastballs and curveballs; you can aim it all over the batsman’s area and when attempting to return it you can go for a simple hit with more chance of connecting or the harder one - requiring better reactions and response time - with the significantly higher chance of getting that home run. In each game you have various options of how to play, be it via tournaments such as the Mushroom and Flower cups, exhibition matches or multiplayer. With multiplayer you have three options: local, against friends or against randoms. If you can find a game and your connection is stable then you’re good to go and if you can find enough people often enough this is where you’ll find the most fun. Only it’s single games rather than any league or competition so aside from reviewing your stats there’s not much incentive to play built into the game. If you have a friend then rivalry is automatic but if it’s against randoms something to measure yourself against would be good.
Nintendo have been watching the world of in-game purchases intently, either via their own experience of mobile gaming or the home console enterprises such as Fifa Ultimate Team. As you complete competitions you garner coins. You can use these coins to buy packs of cards and on opening these you can get better versions of each game’s characters, or you can use any amiibo you have lying around. If neither of those options work for you, there is the opportunity to buy physical amiibo cards, scan them, and unlock the special players for use in one of the sports. Amiibo were a great idea, at least on paper. Then we realised their in-game use was generally naff and so people interested in having funky Nintendo models on their shelves went back to getting proper models for that purpose. Unlocking better avatars is fun, whether via the daily grind or spending cash - if it’s available and the entire transaction understood by all involved. But to sell cards, for this game? If Nintendo is just testing the water a little more, the idea is unlikely to catch-on. If more of this type of thing is planned, they need to make sure the cards are part of a collection and make sure that collection is worthwhile.
A Mario sports title is always well-received. Five sports, each at least as good as something that’s come before, if not necessarily the best we have seen. When combined that makes for a lot of good gaming, especially if you’re new to these games. For something to pick up and play on your commute to work, or lunchtime at work and school - something like this where you can have a quick footie match or game of tennis with your mates at the aforementioned locales or otherwise, well it works very well. However, the package is only as good as the length of time you're willing to play it. With three stalwart sports that have had little changed since their original introduction, one game that needs company to be fully enjoyed, and one new addition that should be consigned to history as a failure, it's a mixed bag. If you have plenty of multiplayer options, you'll enjoy some solid gaming. But for a single player the fun is limited and you can’t quite ever get past the notion that Bandai Namco Studios and Camelot Software Planning were dialling it in this time around.