Review by Matt S.
Nintendo really has lost the plot when it comes to its Mario Sports franchises, and that’s a real tragedy. Back on the Nintendo 64 and Gamecube, Mario and his buddies could do no wrong when it came to sports; be that tennis, golf, baseball or football. Focused in on light, arcadey action as they were, they were multiplayer games first and foremost, but they were also complex enough takes on the sport that there was a learning curve, and I remember spending hours with the games, learning how to move the ball around the court in tennis, master putting in golf, or just wrap my head around a super-sexy Peach in super-tight sports short in the Mario Strikers football game.
Related reading: Nintendo knows how to produce incredible sports games when it wants. Nintendo Pocket Football Club is brilliant. Matt's full review.
I think that might just have been the end of my innocence, that. It’s like if Daisy Duck did a lingerie photo shoot. I don’t even like the character of Peach, but hot pants took me places I can never return from.
Somewhere along the way, though, Nintendo lost control over its Mario Sports series entirely, and from the Nintendo DS and Wii onwards the collective franchise has been slipping ever closer towards utter shovelware. There’s a fine line between “simple” and “insulting,” and we see plenty of examples of the series ending up on the wrong side of that line. Mario Tennis has degenerated further towards button mashing powershots back and forth with every new game, and no longer resembling tennis to any degree. Compilations like Mario Sports Mix on the Wii have watered the mechanics of a range of sports to minigame standard, and as the Olympic Games actual minigame compilations have become major releases under the Mario sports franchise. These games are all briefly charming, but it doesn’t take long for their startling lack of depth to become apparent.
Mario Sports Superstars does nothing to help the series make its case. In fact, it’s quite possibly the most aggressively simplistic game I’ve ever played from Nintendo. In buying this game you get to play four different sports that previous Nintendo games have already done better, and one new sport, which we’ll hopefully never see again.
Those sports are:
Tennis - This is Mario Tennis, only somehow simplified over even its overly-simple predecessors. It uses the same engine as the previous Mario Tennis games, but gives players a couple of tournaments to play through in single player, and a multiplayer mode. That’s it.
Football - The promise of 11-a-side football sounds good, until you realise that aside from the four “main” characters, the goombas, toads and koopas that make up the rest of both teams are good for absolutely nothing. It may as well be 2-a-side football, and it doesn’t help that movement across the field is clunky, passing is a pain, and tactics are overly simple; I’ve played iPhone arcadey football games with better speed and fluidity than this one.
Golf - Golf has long been the finest example of Nintendo’s Mario sports games. However, while the basic golf game hasn’t been changed from those previous, in this package it’s still watered down a great deal. There are fewer courses, fewer options, and fewer holes to play. Anyone familiar with the series will find what’s in here uncomfortably lazy in execution, as though it has been cut and dropped in simply to add another sport to the back of the box.
Baseball - Baseball is the pick of the package for my mind. Though it’s still a simplified version of the game, it’s simplified in such a way that there’s still plenty of player skill involved in the win, and there are refreshingly few gimmicks involved in the action. It’s a basic, clean take on the sport, with Nintendo’s characters adding the customary bright charm to the proceedings. That being said, there’s still a real dearth of content within the game, both in single player and multiplayer, so it’s going to be unable to hold your attention over the longer term.
Horse racing - The less said about this one the better, frankly. If you think of Mario Kart, but without any weapons (just the occasional speed boost), then you’re halfway there. You get all the way there when you also imagine Mario Kart that moves at about a third of the pace, and doesn’t have skill-based tricks like power sliding to make the game more tactically interesting. What horse racing is is a ponderously-paced racing game with very little long-term value, as the tracks are overly simple and the AI laughably easy, or unfairly frustrating, by turns.
In choosing to give five games a halfway-there run, rather than just make a single sports game with depth, Nintendo has again failed to provide a package worth buying. You’ll play each of the sports for an hour, and then never feel inspired to come back for more, especially when the only reward for doing so is coins to buy trading cards that do absolutely nothing. Unsurprisingly the online community’s already basically dead, so unless you’re able to twist the arm of a friend you’re not even going to wrangle the slightly more entertaining multiplayer experience out of this one. And, no, the "training" minigames and Amiibo card functions add nothing more than momentary distractions to the overall experience.
Related reading: If you really want a Mario Sports game on your 3DS, then the 3DS Mario Golf is the pick of the bunch. Matt's full review.
Consider an alternative: Nintendo picks a single game from the above and still keeps the bright-and-happy colours and characters, while providing players with some depth. A football or baseball game with a proper league, star players, and transfers. A horse racing game where players can breed and train horses to improve their performance on the track. A tennis game that was about hitting the right shot in the right place on the court again, as used to be the case before the Mario Tennis games became about moving your character to a circle on the court and then hitting a power shot wherever. It's possible to do all of these things without compromising the simple charm and colourful characters. But, for some reason Nintendo insists that Mario Sports games should be vapid experiences that insult the intelligence of the very young children that they seem to be pitched at.
But hey, at least Peach isn’t doing a sexy hip thing in skintight hot pants this time. That’s something.
- Matt S.
Find me on Twitter: @digitallydownld