Mario knows sports. The overall-wearing hero has thrown his name in the ring for almost every sport you can imagine — basketball, snowboarding, tennis, golf, and soccer. But Mario has been relegated to the bench in recent years, as Miis have become the sports stars on Nintendo Wii.
Yet no longer: After a couple years of training, Mario is making his comeback in Mario Sports Mix. Developed by Square Enix, the title brings the Mushroom Kingdom gang back into the fold for four different sports. Players can get some sand in their pants with volleyball, hit one another in dodgeball, throw down in basketball, and even body-check their way to victory in ice hockey.
At E3 2010, Noah and I got to put Mario through his paces in a demo that included volleyball and basketball.
Evan: Out of all the sports, I’m really digging volleyball. We found ourselves on a beach in the demo, with waves washing up on shore as we played. The environment was vibrant, colorful and full of Mario cheer, though the character models did not seem up to Nintendo snuff yet. Controlling Mario and company was very easy to learn, as Wii Remote motions allowed me to jump, volley, and spike. At first, this method may seem overly simplistic, but there’s enough small touches — like aiming spikes with the analog stick — to please avid gamers and provide depth. In addition, each character has a special move to unleash after a certain criteria is met, which is very satisfying to unleash on adversaries. I did just that as I smashed Noah with my skills and, at the same time, had a pretty good time.
Noah: The only thing I took from my play time with Evan is that I should resume my prior strategy of humble domination, for after I spiked him into oblivion for the game’s first point, I made the mistake of asking him, “Where ya at, Evan? Huh?” Then he proceeded to get all the next points and beat me. I don’t attribute this to any skill of his but karma. When I don’t boast, I own, and I hope to do just that next time I play against him– if there’s online support. The controls of the game are pretty easy to pick up, though getting the timing down is tricky. Positioning yourself with the nunchuk’s analog is simple, especially since glowing spotlights identify where the ball will land. But using “flick remote up” and “flick remote down” to activate bumps, sets and spikes is hard to get down because of the response of the motion (as compared to a button press) and the speed of the resulting animation. Getting the hang of the zany power-ups’ timing and aiming was also harder than expected. Nothing impossible– just some more time getting used to it. I wish we could have seen some of the other crazy settings you could play volleyball in, but we went traditional for this first experience.
Noah: A helpless fellow show-goer made the mistake of stepping up to challenge Evan and I in a match of 2-on-2 basketball, the only other sport being demoed in this 2011 title. The game’s demonstrator teamed up with the new guy, and Evan and I buried the hatchet to pit Peach and Donkey Kong against them. Determined not to go traditional this time, we selected the Bowser version of the basketball court, which featured Las Vegas neon signs and numerous pyrotechnics. The game functioned a lot like Square Enix’s Mario Hoops 3-on-3, with the requisite collection of scrambling for coins and making frequent passes and insane dunks on a tiny basketball court. Perhaps working against it was a greater mix of button pressing for some moves and gestures for others– we seemed to flail a bit to get the hang of things, but thanks to the timed score-multiplier zones that appeared and disappeared on Bowser’s court, we ended up with a score of something like 35 to 8– in only two minutes’ time.
Evan: No one was going to take down Nintendojo. Noah and I got our act together to dominate the competition, but I did not enjoy basketball as much as playing volleyball in the sand. After each field goal, the game breaks away to a cut scene showcasing the players celebrating. This eruption brings the game to a halt, at least until the team that scored hits a button. This game design choice really breaks the flow of the game. I was annoyed, more than anything else. Also, players are free to goaltend as much as they like. There is no penalty that I was aware of while playing, so expect a lot of rejections and goal guarding. There is still fun to be had in basketball, but there is lots of room for improvement.