Nintendo has proven time and time again that it can slap Mario and the gang on the cover of pretty much any kind of game, punt it out the door, and it’ll sell. The franchise has been largely synonymous with quality, though a few duds have snuck into the line-up. Past attempts to pair the heroic plumber with popular sporting pastimes haven’t always yielded the best results, but Mario Sports Mix strikes the right balance between solid sporting action and Mushroom Kingdom-themed wackiness.
This Mario-themed sports package lets you craft custom teams from the franchise’s many silly heroes and villains before diving into upbeat games of basketball, volleyball, hockey, and dodge ball. Single exhibition games offer shorter bursts of fun, while the longer tournament modes let you dig in and unlock additional goodies as you play against increasingly tougher opponents. Playing alone lets you hop around between AI teammates. Alternately, you can roll with up to three other couch buddies or head online for some Wi-Fi matches against friends or strangers. For hardcore stat-heads, the game records a detailed run-down of your performance and tons of extra info to track – all excellent fuel for competitive boasting between buds.
Offering 2-on-2 or 3-on-3 matches, each main event plays out like the core sport it’s based on, though the inclusion of familiar power-ups and unique arena designs changes the action up in entertaining ways. Koopa shells, invincibility stars, slippery bananas, and other items let you trip up opponents and get a leg-up on the competition, and collecting coins that appear in matches lets you boost your score. The levels themselves also feature many popular settings culled from the Mario universe, and each introduces unusual hazards and elements that pop up to shake things up. For example, B-balling in the desert stage means you’ll have to contend with incoming trains that roll right through the court and spew bananas everywhere. Playing volleyball in the haunted mansion throws random ghosts into the fray that turn the lights out and affect the ball trajectory. These surprises are mostly pleasant ones. They don’t deviate much from what you’d expect to find in a Mario sports title, though they also don’t dilute the straightforward fun found in the solid sport events.
Streamlined Wii Remote controls feature similar control setups for each of the four games, which makes it very easy to move from one sport to the next with little fuss. For those who need a little extra handholding, there are interactive tutorials that quickly walk you through the basics. Playing with a Nunchuk works well, but we really like the fact that all each player needs is a Wii Remote to jump in and play.
Beyond the four main events, you’ll find party-style minigames that resemble the core sporting activities but also add fresh elements like hurling fruit into the gaping maw of a large piranha plant, dodging bombardments of falling explosives, catching musical notes, and knocking opponents off an iceberg. Though they’re on the simple side, these multiplayer-focused diversions are great for getting the competitive juices flowing before going head-to-head in the main game.
Don’t judge Mario Sports Mix by some of the other variable quality sports gaming fare we’ve seen the plumber appear in; this collection has sturdy legs beneath it. The individual sports woven into this collection may not be quite as fleshed-out as you’d expect from standalone games, but there’s enough depth and variety to merit some marathon rounds alone or with friends. It’s easy to get sucked into a quick game or two and wind up blowing through hours of matches. Team Mario doesn’t strike out this time around.
Feb 9, 2011