The amount of sports Mario and his bros have competed in over the years is absurd. He's like Bo Jackson, only more talented (and unlike Bo, someone our younger readers recognize). Back in 2006, Mario tried his hand at some 3-on-3 basketball on the DS. SquareEnix has taken that game and expanded on it, with a few new sports, for Mario Sports Mix. The problem is, the original game wasn't all that fun to begin with, and someone seems to have forgotten that over the last four years.
Mario Sports Mix is a compilation of four sports: basketball, hockey, volleyball, and dodgeball. There are three tournaments for each sport, and players can also do single-player and multiplayer exhibition modes. Now, traditionally, Mario sports games are various degrees of good. They find a nice balance between an actual sport game and the wackiness of a Mario game.
I will admit that it has the high polish that one would expect in a Nintendo sports game. The character animation is fluid and energetic. Each character animates and controls differently, has unique special moves, and oozes all the charm and whimsy that has made me like these games in the past. Yoshi runs in the air and grunts when he's going up for a dunk. Luigi pulls out a vacuum to steal the puck. There are even unlockable SquareEnix characters like a moogle and Black Mage. It's great
But then the game starts, and none of the sports feel like sports at all. Sports Mix comes off as a party game with a sports coat of paint. That actually would be fine if the game was built as a party game, but it isn't. In fact it has its own "Party Mode," which is a set of mini-games that you can play, completely segregated from the rest of the game experience. The four sports are pretty fun, for a couple minutes, but each one gets too tedious.
What made games like Super Mario Strikers and other games good was that they felt like full sports games. There were teams, stats, and a sense of progression. Most of that has been stripped away or dumbed down for Sports Mix, leaving a very rudimentary three-round tournament mode and some very basic stats.
The controls are set up to be very basic and intuitive, geared for an entire family. They work fine because shaking the Wii Remote pretty much does everything. All the games are easy to pick up and get into, which makes it easy to start multiplayer. But there isn't a lot of depth to any of it.
The items in the game are classic things like shells and bananas, and some of the courses have their own unique rules. Unfortunately the AI doesn't seem to know how to handle the weird courses where things like fountains block the goal and have to be turned off. I watched the opponents shoot at closed off goals and skate into barricades not knowing to wait for these things to change out.
Admittedly, Sports Mix gets a lot more fun with four people playing. Setting up an Alley Oop in basketball or faking out the defense and scoring in hockey is way more satisfying than scoring alone in single-player, but it still feels like a chaotic party mini-game instead of a sports title.