Mario, his friends in the Mushroom Kingdom, and Donkey Kong are hitting the courts again in a Square Enix made sports game. Yep, Square Enix and this isn’t their first Mario sports title. Square Enix also developed Mario Hoops 3-on-3, a touchscreen basketball game for the Nintendo DS.
I started with basketball in Mario Sports Mix, one of the four sports on in the Wii game. Just like other Mario sports games, the controls are easy to pick up. Once you have the ball you move with the analog stick, shake the remote up to jump and down to dunk. You can pass the ball by pressing A and switch characters with the C button. On defense, you can steal the ball and block a shot by jumping in the air to grab the ball. Yes, goaltending is OK.
While the first court you dunk on is a basic basketball stadium, Mario and his buddies soon step onto wacky arenas. One level has a sliding court which pushes all players closer to one basket and further from another. Koopa shells wash ashore in another early level and a later stage has sweet spots with point multipliers. Actually, you’ll see lots of koopa shells flying because players can grab random power-ups (bananas, shells, bombs, coins, and blue mini-mushrooms) by touching question mark blocks on the court. You can’t throw coins, but these are perhaps the most helpful item. Each coin in your pocket converts to a point when you send the ball through the hoop.
Volleyball has similar controls as basketball. Flick the remote up to bump the ball, down to spike it. You can aim where the volleyball hits by moving the analog stick. Against the computer, there isn’t much of a challenge. Once you’re in the air you just need to move the target in a corner away from both bots and you’ll score a point. This tactic doesn’t work against human opponents, so you’ll have to utilize a faking out. This mind game move keeps players guessing because you look like you’re about to spike the ball when Bowser Jr. (I prefer the speedy character type) gently bump the ball over the net. Each game in Mario Sports Mix has a fake out type move. In basketball, you can do a layup instead of dunking. When timed right you’ll dodge a mid-air Donkey Kong spinning punch and roll the ball into the net. Since the core of volleyball is bumping, setting, and spiking you shake the remote quite more than the other three games, which makes this sport better suited for the Wii remote control only option. All four games can be played NES style with the remote held sideways too.
Hockey was an interesting addition and probably has the most varied controls out of the group. You skate, either on ice or on asphalt, with the analog stick, hold Z plus move the analog stick to aim, and shake to shoot. In the first arena, both sides have a computer controlled Shy Guy goalie. He fits his name because he’s pretty shy about blocking the coin-shaped puck. The Shy Guy acts more like a moving bumper that throws the puck back than a goalie. Later levels remove the goalie all together. The second arena takes place on a Mario Kart racetrack where orange cones block the goal. Players are supposed to shoot at the cones to knock them down, but it’s easier to go around the cones and slap the puck inside the goal from the goalie line.
Dodgeball has more of a party game feel than the other sports. Unlike elementary school rules, each character has a life bar and can take a couple knocks to the noggin before they’re out. Both teams also have a colorful Yoshi on the sidelines who can recover a ball and even smack the other team from behind. Players can defend themselves by pressing A+B at the same time to catch a ball before it hits them. When you grab an item, like a bomb or koopa shell, you can throw the item instead to drain some life and knock your opponent down. Perhaps, the ultimate offense is the combo move, which has one player pass the ball to another player who lobs it in mid-air. This isn’t what makes the combo deadly. Once you are on the opponent’s side you can recover the ball and toss it again at pointblank range. There’s no penalty for crossing over to enemy territory, not even a dip in your life bar. While it seems a bit unfair, this is a sports game where a mini-mushroom man summons giant toadstools from the ground to distract and disorientate other players.
Mario Sports Mix has a handful of party games too. You can feed Petey Piranha in a basketball style game, check other players off the ice in smash skate, and catch balls to the tune of the Chocobo theme in Harmony Hustle as a nod to Final Fantasy. Square Enix also hid a bunch of their characters in Mario Sports Mix. You can unlock a moogle, cactuar, ninja, and two monochrome mages by playing through tournament mode. However, you only unlock characters for each sport. So, the moogle you just unlocked for basketball can’t be used in hockey unless you play through that game’s Mushroom Cup. In other words, prepare to deal with the pushover computer AI a lot if you want to use the not-so-secret Dragon Quest guest character. To run through tournaments faster, I stopped focusing on points. Hockey, for example, was faster when the game became keep away instead of the body and puck slamming sport. You didn’t have to run through all of the point scoring screens that way.
Fortunately, Mario Sports Mix includes an online mode where you and a friend at home can battle another group online. Multiplayer is where Mario Sports Mix comes together, but being a four game package all of the sports are a tad simpler than say Mario Tennis or Mario Strikers Charged.