There are sports games, and then there are sports games starring Mario and his friends. Special attacks galore when Mario does basketball, dodgeball, ice hockey and volleyball.
The atmosphere is rather good after a few rounds of dodgeball. We're four virtual dodgeball pros, activating ridiculously powerful special attacks, we yell "who threw it?" when Yoshi gets his socks knocked off, and we down a drink or two. But it's more a testament to the great circle of friends in front of the TV, and not necessarily the game itself. After going through the four events there is no clear winner amongst the bunch and we quickly switch games. And the impression stays when I try the game under calmer circumstances, and I'm forced to conclude that it's a poor mix of somewhat odd ingredients.
Dodgeball, ice hockey, volleyball and basketball is what makes up this odd collection populated by Mario and his cast of monkeys, princesses and dinosaurs. Not your typical sporting heroes. Expect lots of special attacks, ice hockey games where both teams reach double figures and a constant chaos on screen.
You can jump straight into the action in Quick Match, or opt to go for Campaign Mode. All events are playable 2-on-2 or 3-on-3 and AI controlled characters will join if you haven't got any friends nearby. You can also play as your Mii and unlock characters from Final Fantasy or slime from Dragon Quest.
In certain levels the arena itself is part of the game as we've experienced in previous sports themed Mario titles. In the Luigi's Mansion level it suddenly gets dark and a bunch of ghosts are released on the players, and when we play volleyball on Peach's court water fountains get in our way as we are about to block a smash. These little additions can either be fun little intermissions or annoying, but fortunately there are vanilla levels available as well.
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How entertaining are the events then? Dodgeball is a semi-entertaining event where you hurl balls at the opposing team and try to avoid getting hit. When you're hit your life meter goes down until you find your character standing behind the opposing team's side of the court. To avoid, or dodge, the ball with a move is strangely not possible and the objective of the receiving team is to catch the ball in the air.
Ice hockey is my favourite event in Mario Sports Mix. There is a decent depth to it, but it's not as accessible. The tutorial presents your moves according to the following easy to follow steps: 1) pass with the A-button. 2) Shoot by waving. 3) And then there are nine more moves! Face-off! Regardless of this it's fun to pass and shoot at the Shyguy in the net and it reminds me of Mario Strikers: Charged.
Volleyball is not as much fun. The games get chaotic when players on your side of the court run into each other trying to catch the same ball, the controls feel unsatisfactory, and finishing a match (three sets) seems to take an eternity. There isn't a lot of variation either.
The basketball smells of Mario Slam Basketball (also developed by Square Enix), and it has good pace and ridiculous slam dunks. But much like the other events the court is presented and angled in a way that makes it much easier to score when you're going for the net in the top end of the screen. Something that also affects all events is the poor artificial intelligence and playing against the AI is even more boring that what it usually is compared to human opponents.
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There is a lot of waving, and once again I come to the conclusion that it just doesn't work as well as pressing buttons. To pass with the A-button and shoot by shaking the Wiimote maracas style takes me out of the experience, and does not immerse me as intended. You can control things with a horisontally held Wiimote, but then you are forced to use a rather stiff d-pad for orientation.
Mario Sports Mix can kill off a few hours for you and your friends, but as a whole it feels like a budget experience. Cheap and empty. Nintendo should have added more events and better ones, a less gimmicky control and equipped the AI with some smarts for this to have been a homerun.
6 / 10
Decent party game, ice hockey, creative special attacks.
Few events, varying quality, imprecise waving, poor overview, lacklustre A.I.