As expected, each level is filled with items, objects and characters found in traditional Mario games. From Koopa shells power-ups to Petey Piranha baskets to rolling Donkey Kong barrels, each court is filled with obstacles that you have to be mindful of. Some of the levels use the Mario accoutrements minimally, while others really change the strategy of the game.
Hoops takes advantage of the DS touch screen in a very big way. Passing, shooting and dribbling are all stylus-driven, and in an intuitive fashion (each character has special shots and alley-oops that are executed by drawing a pattern on the touchscreen). It really adds a fun touch to the title, but with a few caveats. Lefties will be at a disadvantage since they’ll have to use the face buttons as the d-pad and the computer-controlled characters can do things that just aren’t possible for humans to do via stylus, but more on that later.
One of the biggest problems with this game is its AI. At the more advanced stages of the game, the computer-controlled characters pull off some pretty outrageous moves that are perfectly acceptable within the context of the control scheme but are also things that most real humans can’t do with a stylus. While the game never gets super difficult, the unbalanced AI can make things annoying at times and frustrating at others.
Fans of Square RPGs are in for a real treat. Mario, Luigi, Peach, Daisy and the gang are joined by characters Square games, including Black Mage, White Mage, Ninja, Moogle and Cactuar. There’s even a Square-specific stage featuring those nasty Malboros.
If Mario Tennis and Mario Golf are the gold standards of Mario sports titles then it looks like Mario Hoops 3-on-3 is a bronze. The game looks great and there’s definitely lots of fun to be had. Plus the added gimmick of Final Fantasy archetypes adds some appeal for RPG fans. That said, it just doesn’t seem as fun or diverse as previous Mario sports offerings. Stay tuned for our review to see if this game is more Dominique Wilkins or more Gerald Wilkins.