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Nintendo Wii Review: Mario Sports Mix

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No stranger to sports titles, the famed plumber Mario Mario along with his friends (and enemies) from the Mushroom Kingdom and beyond are now part of a new Wii release, Mario Sports Mix.  Consisting of four main games and several mini-games, Mario Sports Mix is certainly on the arcade side of the simulation-arcade sports spectrum and can provide hours of enjoyment, but maybe not as many hours as you’d like.

The four main sports included in the game are basketball, hockey, volleyball, and dodgeball.  Games across the sports are played in two-on-two or three-on-three format, with up to four people being able to play locally at once (Wi-Fi Connection play is also available).  The controls are exceptionally simple, but the tutorials for each sport make them appear way more difficult than they actually are.  And, wisely, the controls are similar from one sport to the next (shooting in hockey is the same as in basketball, as is passing). 

A great way to conceptualize Mario Sports Mix is as a mash-up between Mario Kart and a traditional sports title.  There are tournaments with unlockables, the games are fast, and you’re able to use turtle shells, bananas, and other Mario paraphernalia in your quest to become champion.  Rather than sitting in karts and going around a track though, you’re playing hockey…. or basketball… or dodgeball… or volleyball. 

As with Mario Kart, you’re able to select one of several playable characters (more get unlocked as you win) from the Mario universe (with a couple of other guys thrown in as well) or a Mii.  Each character has different strengths and weaknesses from being fast to being powerful to being accurate, etc.  Characters deliver short happy and sad utterances as they win or lose, and the entire endeavor certainly has a very Mario feel.  They also each have special moves in the various sports which prove virtually unblockable and which are therefore a rather poor addition to the title as they suck the competition right out of it when used.

It must also be noted that while the game is exceedingly enjoyable in short bursts, it isn’t as good as an entry in the Mario Kart franchise and you won’t be able to sit and play it for as many hours straight as you can any of the Kart titles.  There are multiple locations available for each sport and differing locations does affect the game—water washes up on Koopa Troopa Beach if you’re playing basketball there and the line you can’t cross in dodgeball shifts with sprinklers at Peach’s Castle—but there simply isn’t enough difference to keep things exciting for a long time.  When a new Mario Kart title is released I can sit there for a few weeks playing hours every day trying to improve my times, and not just earn the 1st place cup in every tournament at every speed, but get first place in every single race along the way.  That same depth of challenge simply isn’t present here with Sports Mix and for a game that feels so similar in so many other ways to a Mario Kart title, that’s unfortunate. 

The game does have a lot going for it though – I did spend hours with my four-and-a-half year-old playing all the sports and she loved every single minute of it.  Playing that way did add a certain degree of difficulty to the title as well since I couldn’t swap characters to be near the action at any given time and was forced to cover a whole lot more of the field than I would have in a single player game.  The title is also playable with Wii Remote and nunchuk and Wii Remote alone, which provides flexibility for those who simply aren’t into shaking things like a mad man. 

Beyond that, while the title often simplifies how the sports are played, it does have some odd—and decidedly excellent—inclusions from the sports that you wouldn’t necessarily think would be present.  The best example of this is the fact that if you check someone a little too hard or a few too many times in hockey, you will start a fight.  No one goes to the penalty box and there’s no blood, but Mario and Luigi could very easily end up throwing down on the ice.

In the end, what Mario Sports Mix is, is a good game – an enjoyable title with lots of different things to do and characters we all know and love to do them with.  Sports Mix has all the whimsy we have come to expect from a Mario game and it’s exceedingly easy to pick up and play.  What Mario Sports Mix isn’t, is as good a game or as deep a game as a Mario Kart title, and with that high bar already set in place, playing Sports Mix one can’t help but feel a twinge of disappointment.  With Mario Sports Mix, the mustachioed plumber finds himself something of a victim of his own success.  I wouldn’t say don’t buy it, I wouldn’t say that it’s not good – it is good, it just isn’t great.

Mario Sports Mix is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB for Mild Cartoon Violence.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.