We get it: Mario is kind of a big deal. He’s cute, cuddly and, more importantly, sells enough video games to nearly single-handedly keep any video game company alive. Which is why it’s no surprise Nintendo is going back to the well once again with their 13th Mario title of the Wii’s life cycle, Mario Sports Mix. More surprising is that Ninty handed the keys to the Mushroom Kingdom over to Final Fantasy developer Square Enix, which opted to plop Mario & co. into a four-sport head-to-head competition—basketball, hockey, volleyball, and dodgeball. If you thought you were in for a jolly good time with everyone’s favorite Italian plumber...well, we didjust mention that Square Enix was making a Mario game, right? What could possibly go wrong? The answer: They created the weakest Mario offering for the Wii yet. By far.

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PLOT
We’re not exactly sure why a plot was even shoehorned into the game, but try Square Enix did. The single-player is primarily driven by the Tournament Mode, which is structured similarly to tournaments in Nintendo’s previous Mario Kart titles. Competing in the Mushroom, Flower, and Star Cup levels will help you acquire various crystal trophies that were dropped following the crash of a meteor outside of Princess Peach’s castle. We’re not sure how a meteor becomes the impetus behind a sports game...then again, we’re not sure why the Toads wear those funny little hats in warm weather either. Just go with it.

GAMEPLAY
If you’re familiar with Mario Hoops 3-on-3 on the Nintendo DS, Mario Sports Mix takes a similar approach to simplifying not only basketball, but all of the sports included in the package. The result is a generally easy game to play and an even easier game to master. Anyone can pick up the controller and almost immediately do well, as all of the game’s actions have been mapped to two buttons. In the basketball “mini-game” (and a “mini-game” is certainly the look and feel of things), you can shoot or pass when you’re on offense, and jump or steal when on defense. That’s it, really. There are also power-ups that you can use to help steal the ball or nearly guarantee a basket goes in, but, frankly, we rarely ever needed to use them—even on the Expert difficulty, the CPU was just not that good of an adversary.

With that said, while it was fun to give each of the sports a go-round, there really isn’t much challenge here to keep yourself interested over a prolonged period of time. There are unlockables, like new characters and stages, to uncover through the game’s single-player tournaments, but we suggest finding three friends to play with, cracking open a bottle of Jack, and take shots after every “That’s-a fantastico!” Mario utters. That’s the only way you’ll have fun playing this game. (And, of course, drink responsibly, kids!)

THE GOODS
In short, there’s just not enough here to recommend going out and buying this one. Only four sports are included in the game and none of them stands out as fun or addicting in the least bit. It’s as if Square Enix didn’t have enough time to put effort into each, so they compiled half-baked versions of all of them, slapped on a few Mario characters and called it a day. As mentioned before, there are some goodies like additional Final Fantasy and Mario characters to help entice some to play through the lengthy tournaments, which are quite repetitive really, and some mini-games separate from the actual sports themselves, the rest of the game is thinner than Princess Peach on an anorexic kick. While the game walks like a Mario title, looks like a Mario title, and unmistakably talks like one, it's really one in name only.

DOWNSIDES
The AI is...well, it's broken. The game gets boring fast, and there's barely a reason to come back. You name it, this game gets it wrong, which is surprising (and sad) to say for a game featuring Nintendo’s mascot. Outside of a quick hour-long friendly competition, the game fails to extend the fun, as it takes the magic and excitement from previous Mario sports titles and dumbs it down to the lowest common denominator. Perhaps actually getting in-house talent to work on the game will make things better, or maybe there should be more of a focus on one specific sport rather than cramming in a compilation of them that feel like rushed party games. Whatever the case may be, there is a good Mario sports title (or four) to be made out of this, but Mario Sports Mix isn’t it.

UPSHOT
The game looks great (for a Wii title) and brings the characters to life, with new dialogue we’ve never heard from them. Also, four-player capability means that if you’ve got three other Wiimotes available, Mario Sports Mix can at least get a party started with a simple game that everyone can get into, without the strange AI that seems to love smashing itself into the boards in hockey or dribbling into the corner during a basketball game. Nevertheless, we can only hope that the 14th time will be the charm for Mario on the Wii and that his next appearance washes this bad taste out of our mouth. Mario-a no likey!

 

This game was reviewed on the Nintendo Wii.