|Dev: Square Enix|
|Release: February 7, 2011|
|Screen Resolution: 480p|
by Joshua Wirtanen
Anyone who has ever picked up a Nintendo title probably knows that if you take any relatively entertaining activity and put it in the hands of Mario and his friends, the result will be an incredibly addictive gaming experience. First, there was kart racing. Later, golf and tennis were added to the list of Mushroom Kingdom extra-curricular activities. Mario and the gang even had their own take on soccer with Super Mario Strikers and Mario Strikers Charged.
Mario and friends take their next step toward total domination of the sports world this February, with Mario Sports Mix. This is a four-games-in-one package that includes hockey, basketball, volleyball, and dodgeball. Of course this is the Mushroom Kingdom, and, as always, Mario has his own house rules.
Hockey provides wacky, frantic, penalty-free action, and it sounds like Mario's version of hockey makes for much higher-scoring matches than the ones that normally occur in the real sport. To keep up the Mario theme, a gold coin replaces the puck, and Shy Guys make adorable goalies with their cute little white masks. There is no shortage of places to play, and depending on the type of terrain, characters will wear ice skates or rollerblades. E3 gameplay footage shows that hockey can even be played on the beach in the Mushroom Kingdom, an idea that I find strangely appealing.
Mario-style basketball may have been attempted long ago by Square Enix with the uninspiring Mario Hoops 3-on-3, but this time it looks like the formula has been worked more carefully and successfully. The official trailer shows Mario slam dunking a flaming basketball, which we're hoping is a sly wink to the NBA Jam games. If even the tiniest bit of NBA Jam magic rubs off on Mario's version of basketball, this is a guaranteed instant classic.
This version of volleyball seems to be all about the spike, controlled by moving a blue circle around your opponent's side of the court. Winning depends on learning when to spike, when to fake, and when to perform a special move.
Dodgeball takes quite a few liberties with the rules of the sport, which is probably necessary to make it match the quality of the other sports on this mix. Players who have been knocked out of bounds can still attack opponents, and can even be brought back into the match by knocking opposing players out of it. Since these dodgeballs are so easy to catch, this sport requires strategic use of special moves.
Of course, every sport includes the Mario stamp of wackiness, and powerups abound. There are question-mark boxes that will appear on the court during all four sports, and players may be rewarded with power stars, banana peels, red and green shells, as well as many other classic goodies. Just like in other Mario-themed sports games, these powerups are often game-changers. Even the greatest players will scream curses at the well-aimed turtle shell.
And to make this package even more entertaining, there are all sorts of mini-games included on this disc. Harmony Hustle is a volleyball mini-game where players try to hit volleyballs to the rhythm of Mario and Final Fantasy tunes while dodging spike balls. Dodge or Die has players run from Bob-ombs fired from cannons. Smash Skate sounds almost like a mini version of Super Smash Bros. played on skates. And these are just a few of the many mini-games included in Mario Sports Mix.
Mario is backed by his friends and foes, allowing players to select Mario, Luigi, Peach, Toad, Yoshi, and Bowser, just to name a few. And since the game is being developed by Square Enix, there are a few bonus characters from the Final Fantasy universe added to the roster. Confirmed playable characters include the ninja, black mage, and white mage classes, as well as Cactuar and even a Moogle. Of course, you can always just play as a cartoonish version of yourself by importing your Mii data.
Players don't have to worry about playing alone. There will be two-vs-two available for every sport, which can be played at home or online. So whether you prefer shouting at your friends sitting on the couch next to you, or challenging foes over an internet connection, Mario Sports Mix should satisfy all your multiplayer needs.
Sure, tackling four sports at once is a daunting task. An all-too-common downside of multi-sports packages is that individual sports often suffer for the sake of the whole, since each individual game doesn't always get the love it would if it were the only game on the disc. However, with two of the largest names in video games (Nintendo and Square Enix) behind this one, Mario Sports Mix promises that all four sports will have the polish and level of detail required to make each an unforgettable experience. We're expecting this one to steal hundreds of hours of our lives, and we're perfectly okay with that.
CCC Freelance Writer