The Mario sports games are some of those perennial things that you can count on reappearing every year or so. You may not get every single one of them every year, but you’re guaranteed to see at least one in any given year. It’s with some surprise, then, that we see the release of Mario Sports Superstars, a compilation of five sports games all rolled into one. Go grab the soccer ball, tennis ball, baseball, golf ball, and horse..err…ball, and meet me down at the pitch green court course diamond for the review.
The really big surprising thing about Mario Sports Superstars is how you’re getting five full games for the price of one. Not minigames–full games. Each of these games–horse racing aside–was once a big, single title game. For example, we have a Wii U review of the excellent Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash over here and the 3DS review of Mario Tennis Open here.
All five games in this collection have a few things in common. Firstly, you’re given the choice of single player tournament, single player exhibition, or multiplayer match, as well as some help and tutorials, and some training minigames. The single player exhibition allows you to set up custom rules for each game while the tournament sees you playing through a series of cups against predefined opponents. The multiplayer mode enables you to engage in a local match (no download play, so both 3DS consoles must have the full game), a game against friends, or a game against someone online. Since there were so few people online, I was unable to playtest this feature. The in-game tutorials cover the basics of each sport, but the help sections are where you will find the best guides and information about how to get the best from the games.
The first game in this collection is Soccer, which we once knew as Super Mario Strikers on the GameCube, or Mario Strikers Charged on the Wii. The game is a full 11-a-side affair that adopts the usual rules of soccer and adapts them for the Mario universe. In this case, you get access to a number of power ups that inject that little bit of Mario into what is otherwise FIFA. You get to choose your captain and vice captain, and each character has a slightly different way of playing. Mario, for example, is a balanced player, while Rosalina is a power character. Your eight teammates are chosen from a selection of Mario-universe bit-characters such as toads, magikoopas, and goombas, and you have the choice of Boom Boom or Pom Pom as your goalie. Practice mode gives you a choice of Ring Challenge, where you have to place the football through a set of rings to score points, and Free Training where you can practice against just an opposition goalie.
Then there is baseball, which was once Mario Sluggers. If you’re familiar with baseball games, this one should be nothing new to you. I personally found this game my least favourite, mostly because I can never predict that batting window timeously enough to actually make the bat connect with the ball. I present to you the travails of an ageing gamer, because my much younger son had no trouble with it. The training modes here are Ring Challenge, where you have to whack the ball through floating rings on the baseball field, Batting Practice, and Pitching Practice, which are precisely what they sound like.
The next game is tennis, which is closer to the 3DS version than the Wii U version. Like other Mario Tennis games, you can make the standard lobs, volleys, and power shots, and if you’ve played a Mario Tennis game before, you’ll be right at home with this one. Chance Shots and Jump Shots from the prior two games make a welcome return for this one, and I felt very at home on the court here. There were a limited number of courts here, and nothing new to Mario Tennis players. Ring Challenge returns for this game’s practice mode, accompanied by Rally Challenge, where you have to try keeping a rally going as long as possible without knocking any Bowser panels on the floor of the opposite court. This mode is great for teaching ball control, because that’s one skill you’ll desperately need in higher level matches.
The fourth game in the collection is golf, and it’s once again almost identical to older iterations of Mario Golf. I found the control scheme both simpler and a little more complicated than, say, Everybody’s Golf for the PlayStation Vita. Learning to control the spin took a lot more effort than usual. Like most of the games in this collection, you can control things with the buttons or with the touch screen. Unlike most of the games, Golf is one of the few where the touch screen is a superior control mechanism. There are four training games in Golf: Ring Challenge again, Shot Practice (for teeing off), Approach Practice (for getting close to the hole), and Putting Practice.
The last game, and by far the most unusual, is horse riding, and I ended up spending the majority of the time in this game. I have a theory about this, actually, which is that Nintendo actually set out to make a horse racing simulator, but someone further up believed it wouldn’t sell as well without four other sports games to bolster it. The fact that the other sports games have all been done before to one degree or another supports my theory, but I’ve got no further proof. The horse racing section is far more fleshed out than the other sports, too. You get to name and walk your horse, care for it, groom it, pet it, and dress it up. You do not have the same control over, say, your soccer team. And it’s fun in the same way that Pokémon Amie is in the Pokémon games. In addition, the more you bond with your horse, the better it’ll do in races. This isn’t too important early on, but the later races can be tough, and you’ll need every advantage you can get. Think Mario Kart with horses and you’ve got an idea of how this plays out. One interesting difference is how the game penalizes players who pull out in front and stay there. Players who stick together run faster and use less stamina, and this is called the Herd Effect. It really only behooves you (see what I did there?) to pull out to the front toward the end of the race. The training modes for horse racing are Ring Challenge and Free Training, which allows you to run any course without opponents and understand the difficult parts of the course.
New to Mario Sports Superstars are collections of amiibo cards, much like the ones in Happy Home Designer. I was not provided a set of these cards for review, and they’re still unavailable in stores, so I can’t tell you precisely how they work, but they add characters, costumes, and perks to your teams. Once you’ve managed to level a character up to Superstar status, using an amiibo card can also start a sub-game called Road to Superstar, which is presumably a set of trials. I’ll update this review with more info when I get my hands on a set. There are also in-game versions of these cards that you can exchange for coins that you earn by playing, or earn by scanning in standard amiibo. Beyond the simple collection mechanic, I didn’t see another use for the virtual collection album.
So how do the sports play, both individually and as a collection? Well, it’s a fairly mixed bag, and which sports you enjoy more can be a big deciding factor here. The training minigames are great fun, too, and can help a lot with honing your skills. Most of the tournaments aren’t short affairs, so plan some time if you decide on going through an entire one. I found some measure of rubber-banding in the AI, especially at lower levels, probably to keep matches interesting. For example, in a game of golf, you might find that if you’re playing worse than usual, your opponent will mess up a few shots too. There are few downsides to this collection. Each sport is a solid iteration of the game and they’re all fairly fun. I didn’t run into any control issues, and the game really goes to great lengths to explain the rules and make sure you understand how to play.
Overall, I can’t fault this collection except in the lack of anything truly new and exciting in the older sports games, and if you’ve been a fan of the any of the Mario sport titles, this would be the definitive version to own. I liked that Nintendo has held nothing back here, giving you a full set of five sports games in a single title, but in the same breath, they’ve given nothing new except the horse racing. I imagine that the multiplayer aspect would be its strongest point, and I look forward to finding more players online to challenge! Bring it!