I like my Mario Sports games portable and story-heavy, so when I realized that famed developer Camelot Software Planning (of Mario Golf: Advance Tour and Mario Tennis: Power Tour fame) was involved in the new 3DS title Mario Sports Superstars, I was nothing short of elated. Admittedly, I was a little hesitant when I realized the game’s scattershot approach to arcade sports, but, I elected to hope for the best and proceed with cautious optimism. What I found was a bit of a mixed bag.
First, the bad news: unlike the seminal portable Mario Sports titles of the GBA-era, Superstars does away with all but the barest of RPG elements. There’s no story to speak of, and character development only occurs on the most basic of levels, such as unlocking better stats for your preferred players. Further, some of the included sports fare better than others.
With a few exceptions, gameplay in each of the Sports Superstars games breaks into two categories, the single event quick-play or the broader tournament. After a quick primer regarding controls, the former selection, obviously, launches you immediately into a one-off match, while the latter sees you work your way up the ranks. Either way, I was impressed to find that each included game goes out of its way to support the pick-up-and-play nature of the 3DS handheld environment by encouraging multiple play styles.
In the Super Mario Strikers-inspired Soccer, for example, you can choose your star players from the classic roster of Mushroom Kingdom heroes (and ne’er-do-wells), each with varying degrees of power and finesse. You then fill out your player roster with more cookie-cutter denizens like Goombas or Toads before taking to the field. All the earmarks of arcade soccer are there—steals, shots, penalties, and the like—as well as the trademark Mario Sports special shot, physics-defying plays that are treating with all the glory and bombast befitting a first-party Nintendo sporting experience.
Baseball, too, plays solidly enough, with pitching handled via an intuitive stop wheel mechanic and batting relying on a trio of separate swing types and an adjustable hit-box. The game makes it easy to advance (and steal) bases, and, since this is a Mario affair, you can also fill a special power meter for additional over-the-top action. Still, it came as no surprise to me that the game modes that shined the brightest were the ones with the strongest pedigree, specifically Tennis and Golf.
Tennis boasts single and doubles matches/tourneys across numerous court surfaces, each with their own ratings for bounce and speed. The controls offer a nice amount of flexibility, with swing types mapped to both the touchscreen and face buttons. While serving, you can lob (A->B) or pull a drop shot (B->A), and additional button suggestions will appear when you return the ball from one of the highlighted Power Spots on the court. However, you can play a perfectly competent game by just continually hammering the X button for a regular, old “simple shot.” It ain’t flashy, but it’s effective.
Golf integrates differing character play styles and multiple courses as well, not to mention the traditional Mario Golf easy/manual swing mechanic, which assists newbies to the series while also rewarding those with more skill and patience with increased ball control. You can adjust your club selection, toggle through multiple views to plan your attack, and even read the green for more effective putting. Personally, though, one of my favorite features is the ability to fast-forward after a shot—both yours and your opponents—so you can get back to the all-important task of setting up your next.
Mario Sports Superstars‘ final event option is its most unique and original endeavor yet: Horse Racing. Not only can you choose your character, you also get to select a horse that (hopefully) compliments your riding style. During the race, the B button is used to get a temporary burst of speed while A lets you jump over obstacles, all the while collecting carrots to restore stamina and stars to fill the requisite meter for a blinding Star Dash. There’s even a Stable mode that lets you raise and care for your own unique horses. Unfortunately, despite its promise, I simply couldn’t get into this portion of the game. Rather than a more hands-on Pocket Card Jockey—which I adored—it felt more like a clunkier Mario Kart experience.
But these five game events alone aren’t all that MSS has to offer; there’s also robust support for the new game-specific amiibo cards. Sold in blind packs, physical cards can be used to unlock Star Characters, more robust iterations of the existing character roster (not to mention a couple of bonus characters). You can also use these real-world cards to unlock the virtual card packs otherwise only accessible by spending the coins earned in-game. The cards themselves can also be used in the special Road to Superstar mode, a Breakout-style mini-game where three strategically positioned cards are used as paddles to break blocks and squash enemies.
All in all, I’d stop short of calling Mario Sports Superstars a must-own. On the one hand, its offers a genuinely impressive array of content, especially for a portable title, but on the other, your enjoyment will depend heavily on your history with the individual sports—as much in the real world as in the Mushroom Kingdom. In my case, I would’ve preferred a more robust single-player experience at the expense of a few of the game types, however, if you’re an arcade sports-lover in the market for a new portable title, I think you’ll be happy with what Mario and the team have in store.
Review materials provided by: Nintendo of America