Review: Mario Sports Superstars (3DS)

Five times the fun or five times the disappointment?

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 04/27/2017 10:00 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
1-Up Mushroom for...
Great presentation; all 5 sports are fully featured and fun; immediately familiar to longtime Mario Sports players; online is solid; horse racing is surprisingly fun
Poison Mushroom for...
Music is generic; Amiibo cards are too limiting, Superstar characters should be available to everyone who bought the game; lacking Super Mario fan service; customization is lacking

Mario Sports Superstars is one of the more interesting releases in recent years from Nintendo. While Mario Sports (which seems to be the new branding for sports games featuring everyone’s favorite plumber) titles have been a Nintendo staple from the get go, rarely do we see compilations of them. Mario Sports Mix on Wii was Nintendo’s first shot at doing a multi-sport Mario game, but it fell short of the pedigree of some of the mustachioed one’s greatest sports titles, like Mario Golf and Tennis. This time around, Nintendo decided to include perennial Mario sporting events like golf and tennis, as well as three others: baseball, soccer, and, for the first time, horse racing. While there’s plenty left to be desired in Superstars, what is on offer is robust and engaging, and easily worth sports and Mario fans’ time.

One of the first things I questioned about Superstars was its claim that it contained five fully-featured sports to play. I suppose my hesitation came from the fact that, outside of horse racing, the remaining four sports have traditionally been standalone titles — why would Nintendo be so generous as to put all four plus a new sport onto a single cartridge? The answer seems to be because these five sports in question are somewhat barebones offerings. They will feel immediately familiar to fans who have played titles like Mario Sluggers, Super Mario Strikers, Golf, and Tennis, but things like character customization and course/stadium/field variety are all yards shy of anything that’s come before.

Still, when Nintendo talks about “fully-featured” it’s clearly referencing the actual sports and not their respective clubs and balls. In that regard Nintendo has followed through on its promise. Every sport offers full rosters to play with, and even tennis boasts singles or doubles play. It’s evident that tennis and golf both borrow heavily from Camelot’s 3DS iterations of Mario Golf and Tennis, as the assets and gameplay between both are markedly similar. Though golf doesn’t allow for stroke play longer than nine holes, both sports are dead-on their standalone counterparts, which is to say they’re very good. Baseball and soccer also both feel very intuitive, perhaps even more so than in any of Nintendo’s previous attempts. Horse racing was a pleasant surprise, as it not only felt good rapidly tapping the button to get my horse zooming along, but there was a decent amount of strategy to take into account, too, like keeping my competitors at a close enough range so as to not tire my horse out.

Touching once more on customization, it’s hit or miss between the sports. The sport with the most customization in Superstars is horse racing, thanks in large part to Stable mode. Here, you can make up to 16 custom horses. The horses’ names, hair and fur colors, bridles, saddles, and head accessories can all be changed to the player’s liking. It’s a bit like Nintendogs, with players going into a first-person perspective to pet their horse, go on walks with it, and increase the bond between rider and equine. While on walks, it’s also possible to discover new things to feed the horse, along with new gear. It’s a fairly involved side activity that I wish, in some form, the other sports had as well. Speaking of the other four, none offer anywhere near as much customization. It’s possible to get different gear, but the pieces are somewhat limited and sometimes it isn’t clear until the middle of an event what gear has been changed and how it looks.

To get alternate gear you have to purchase digital Amiibo cards from the in-game shop. Don’t worry: there’s no real money involved, so put away the pitch forks and torches! The game generously metes out coins which allow players to buy 10-packs of cards for 1,000 coins, or 3-packs of cards for either 300 coins or via a scan of an Amiibo (note, it’s three 3-packs per day using Amiibo). When you get doubles, the game plucks them out automatically and keeps them separate until you’ve accumulated 100, in which case it will give you a 3-pack of “no doubles” cards. The cards can be viewed through the in-game album and they look great, especially the shiny rare ones.

It’s here that things get a little odd, though. The character cards don’t do anything. They’re separated into three primary categories: Super Rare, Rare (by sport), and Normal character cards, but other than being able to look at them, they do nothing to enhance the game. What does impact the game are the Gear cards, which change things like bats, balls, and more for each character. Again, it isn’t stated which piece of Gear goes to which character, so you can only try to suss it out beforehand or look at the Gear once it’s in-game. Sometimes things like tennis rackets are visibly different on the character select menu, but not always. It’s a strange implementation of the cards that feels half-baked, and the problem carries over to the physical Amiibo cards, as well.

Nintendo is selling 5-piece blind packs of Amiibo cards for Superstars, with every pack containing one card representing each sport in the game. There are 90 cards to collect in total, with every respective character getting a card in each sport. While the cards are nicely designed, unfortunately they’re the only way to unlock the Superstar forms of each character. Suparstar characters have greatly improved stats over their non-Superstar counterparts. Regular Star characters can be earned from Tournament play, but without Amiibo cards there’s no way of making them into a Superstar. Meaning, if you want to unlock the Superstar form of everyone in the game, you’re going to have to somehow accumulate all 90 of the cards available for sale. That’s insane — it’s one thing to ask fans to pay for DLC, another to require them to keep buying blind packs in the hopes of maybe getting all the cards they need. While the game is still plenty fun without unlocking a character’s Superstar form, it’s still an egregious design choice on Nintendo’s part.

Beyond that misstep, there’s a lot to like in Superstars. Online and local multiplayer work well, and with the right group of people matches can get incredibly competitive. The game’s graphics are lush, and Mario’s colorful cast of friends and enemies are animated very lively and pop right off of the screen. The music is a touch on the generic side, sounding like typical sports tunes one might hear while watching ESPN or Fox Sports broadcasts, but they’re done well enough to serve their purpose. That said, perhaps more than any other Mario Sports title, Superstars eschews a lot of the Mario-centric quirkiness of previous games, focusing more on the sports and less on the Mushroom Kingdom. Whether that matters or not will depend on the player, but I personally wished there was a little bit more fan service beyond the characters themselves. In short, Superstars is a solid game that perhaps bit off more than it could chew, and is tethered to a limiting Amiibo card system that holds players back needlessly. I do hope that Nintendo comes back to Superstars in some form on Switch, but for now this is a decent option for sports fans on the go.

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