Michael De Piano
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Mario Sports Mix has a facade of technical prowess, but beneath this both design and technique on display here are less than impressive for a top tear Wii game.
It's amazing how talented Mario is. Not only does he have a great habit of saving Princess Peach every time she gets into a spot of bother, but he also manages to find the time to master several sports, including tennis, football, athletics, snowboarding, and golf.
Now, with the release of Mario Sports Mix, our favourite plumber can add Basketball, Dodgeball, Hockey, and Volleyball to his impressive roster of sporting gifts.
In my experience, Mario sport crossovers are a lot of fun. There are few better multiplayer games than Mario Tennis, and Mario Golf for the N64 was a surprisingly satisfying release. However, this has not always been the case for the Wii, with both Mario and Sonic boring us with a Winter Olympic themed mini-game hell.
Although Mario Sports Mix is developed by Square Enix, it is your typically polished and technically refined Nintendo title. The controls are extremely fluid, and the character models are bold and vibrant. The game also packs the usual Nintendo charisma, with every character having individual stats, animations, and unique special moves.
The presentation in Mario Sports Mix is generally excellent, but Mario's latest sporting venture does not do much to push the Wii hardware.
Square Enix has put several unlockable characters into Mario Sports Mix, including a Moogle and a Black Mage from the Final Fantasy series. There are also themed levels, such as Luigi's Mansion, Koopa Troopa Beach, and Bowser's castle, which attempt to add variety to each sport. Similarly, classic items, including green shells, red shells, banana skins, stars, and coins, can make multiplayer matches both chaotic and enjoyable.
There is no real incentive to keep playing.
But unfortunately, it does not take long to realise that the gameplay in Mario Sports Mix is shallow and tedious. Only two of the four sports are relatively engaging, with volleyball being a complete waste of time, and Dodgeball being only marginally better.
Hockey can be quite fun though, particularly when you get a couple of friends round. But each sport lacks depth, which means that it is easy to pick up, and no challenge to master. Consequently, there is no real incentive to keep playing, and there is no satisfaction in finishing any of the tournaments on the harder difficulty levels.
Although the four sports are supposed to be unique, they all suffer from the same generic technical problems. One of my frequent gripes was that the computer AI can be quite basic, especially, it seems, when they are on your side. This issue is compounded by the fact that there is no Nearest man feature a la Fifa, Pro Evolution, and every other sports title.
This makes playing any sport on your own unnecessarily frustrating, as switching between characters can be quite difficult in between the frenetic action. It's a technical decision that may be good for casual gamers, but undermines some key gameplay design.
It's a technical decision that undermines some key gameplay design.
Another issue is that playing Mario Sport Mix requires you to shake the remote to do pretty much everything. There may be other commands available to the player, but I found that all I needed to do was run, shoot/spike/throw, and occasionally tap the A button to pass, in order to win most matches.
Although the special moves try and break up the monotonous gameplay, they can become rather stale after a few hours.
The truth is that Mario Sports Mix has no lasting appeal. Although hockey and basketball retained my interest for a brief period, and were actually quite entertaining with friends, Dodgeball and volleyball became tiresome almost immediately.
Sadly, I do find Mario Sports Mix difficult to recommend, even for the most ardent Nintendo fan.
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