- Fives sports all offering solid gameplay
- Nice chunky and colourful graphics
- Golf, Tennis and Baseball are good fun
- All sports are lacking in certain areas
- Football is the least exciting to play
- Horse Racing focuses on tactics over skill
Available March 10 on Nintendo 3DS
Mario Sports games have delivered the goods over the years, with football, golf, tennis and more, all making use of Nintendo’s famous characters to deliver unique twists on the classics.
Mario Sports Superstars delivers a combination of sports in one substantial package, but sadly, the overriding feeling is one of competency rather than the expected Nintendo magic.
First on the main menu is football, and the one to offer the broadest appeal. However, by offering only a barebones version of the sport, it ends up being one of the weaker and dullest games of the package.
Functionally the gameplay is solid, including pretty much all the passes, shots, and cross types you’d expect. If you come to Football in Mario Sports Superstar having played FIFA or PES, even button combinations to perform more advanced moves – such as the lofted through ball – will seem familiar. Essentially, everything works as you’d expect.
While the gameplay mechanics have been handled well, the actual playing lacks the thrill and unpredictability of matches in PES or FIFA. Even the fantastical element usually found in Nintendo sports titles is rather simple, with dribbling and shooting building up a power meter that can be used to perform a power shot. These are flashier than standard shots, but not as spectacular as you might be expecting – and don’t always result in goals.
As is the case with all the sports featured, the choice of character will determine your strengths, with all-rounders, powerhouses and speedsters all on offer – but this isn’t entirely dissimilar to players having different attributes in sports sims.
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It was always unlikely that a collection of sports such as this would deliver an experience that’s on a par with dedicated titles, but the overall sense here is that football is merely okay. Which is, in fact, an accurate way to describe the majority of Mario Sports Superstars, with tennis, golf, baseball, and horse riding each failing to excite.
Tennis and golf offer the best gameplay of the bunch, feeling less stripped back than the other sports included in the package. Perhaps this is due to a relative lack of competition in the market (there’s no FIFA vs PES-style battle every year driving improvements in the video game space). Gameplay in golf is nuanced enough to allow for improvement over time, while tennis is more immediately playable yet there remain more advanced techniques to learn.
There are obviously some shortcomings in this variety pack’s take on golf and tennis, with only 36 holes for golf and a single arena for tennis – although you can choose between hard, grass or clay as a surface, each having an impact on ball bounce and speed. It’s forgivable for sure, but a greater number of options in both would have been preferable.
Although most Brits would have you believe that baseball is simply rounders for adults, there’s far more to it. The sport has seen some exceptional video game adaptations over the years, most recently thanks to Sony and its MLB The Show franchise. There’s also a fairly constant stream of arcade game versions, with Super Mega Baseball being the current cream of the crop.
Mario Sports Superstars’ version of baseball falls somewhere between the two camps, offering plenty of pitching and batting options, and fielding tactics – but it falls short when it comes to modes. Again, it also lacks the character found in other Mario sports titles.
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Initially, horse riding has a Mario Kart vibe, but the limitations of the sport soon become apparent. Instead of the focus being on racing, the key is to up speed through building boost and maintaining stamina. This is achieved via a combination of collecting power-ups and staying among the pack, with numerous speed pads also found around each course.
The riding in terms of direction control feels floaty and imprecise, and a long way from the smooth lines and powersliding found in Mario Kart. Races here are more tactical than they are skillful, which makes for a different experience altogether, but not an especially enjoyable one.
There’s an additional Stable option within the Horse Racing menu, withpetting, accessorising and walking making for a Nintenhorses-like experience. Everything here is basic, but horse lovers may well enjoy this way to interact with the nags, and you can earn coins by finding crates dotted around the field.
Despite handheld graphics recently leaping forward dramatically with the launch of the Nintendo Switch, the chunky and colourful visuals on display in Mario Sports Superstars continue to impress. By targeting cute instead of realistic, the developers have been able to make the most of the 3DS’ meagre power. There’s also some lovely music used throughout, the kind you’ll be mindlessly whistling the day after playing.
Multi-player is the ideal way to play all five games, with options for local play with people in the same room, online play against friends, and online play against random opponents. Sports games are never as much fun against AI as they are against the sneakier, more devious minds of real people, and your long-term enjoyment will be determined by these modes.
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A reason to continue playing, even once you’ve won all the trophies in each sport, exists in the form of cards. By taking part in the sports you earn coins, and these can be used to buy card packs. With 324 cards to find, and no way of knowing what you’re going to get in each pack, it will take some time to collect them all.
Thankfully, you can buy packs that contain no doubles, although these special packs require you to trade 100 duplicate cards from your collection. Amiibo cards can also be used to get cards and Superstar characters (although the latter can be earned in-game by winning a Champion’s Cup).
As a collection it’s hard to fault the amount of content you get in Mario Sports Superstars. However, all five sports are lacking in key areas. Accept these for what they are and you’ll find it easy to pump numerous hours into this package, but go in with hopes of this 3DS title rekindling the glory days of Mario sports titles and, sadly, you’ll be disappointed.