Over the years, Mario has starred in more sports games than most professional athletes. From tennis to basketball and even a small stint in soccer, our famed plumber is quite the sports connoisseur. His latest endeavor is a sort of compilation of several sports combined with Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest characters and developed by none other than Square Enix. Yeah, I shrugged my shoulders at that as well. What we end up with is a mediocre collection of events that lack the charm of previous Mario sports games, while also not quite being feature-rich enough to be classified as a mini-game compilation.
On the disc, we are given four sports: hockey, basketball, dodgeball and volleyball. Each one vaguely resembles its real-life counterpart with the same basic principles, but without any sense of depth. The volleyball is simply an exercise in finding the right spot and waggling the remote in order to return the ball. Dodgeball is about as exciting as watching paint dry, especially considering it takes multiple hits to knock down anyone on the other team. Basketball is a score fest with four simple commands and tons of dunking. Hockey ends up being the most enjoyable with some cool shooting and power plays, but it still lacks anything to keep you coming back for more.
The biggest problem Sports Mix falls into is that it never feels like an actual sports game, unlike previous efforts. Instead it feels like a collection of mini-games with sports paraphernalia. This is funny considering there is a party game mode within the title that has even less depth than the core game, making it almost pointless.
You have the option for two control schemes and they will cater to both the waggling and non-waggling crowd. You can opt to just use the Wii remote and sacrifice some functionality, gaining the benefit of not having to shake the controller for button presses. Then, you have the standard remote/nunchuk combo that requires you to shake in order to perform certain actions. Honestly, both work fine and you will never have an issue with getting the characters to do what you want them to do. One nagging problem is character switching. Unlike most sports games, when you pass the ball/puck/whatever, the game doesn’t automatically switch characters. This goes against all conventional ideas and creates a learning curve that drags down the pacing.
If you can believe it, Square Enix has managed to cram a story into the game. It’s not surprising that it involves four crystals that you must collect, much like the quintessential RPG clichés we have been playing for years. What is odd, is that it doesn’t fit into the context of the game at all, making it feel out of place and forced. What is cool (and still a bit odd) is the ability to play as characters from Square Enix’s other titles including Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy. This feature is surprisingly absent from any marketing material or even the game case itself.
Like any Mario sports title, there are power-ups that you can use to your advantage. These are the classic Mario items: shells, banana peels and such. Multi-player ends up being the highlight, as things really amp up when there are at least four human players on the field. There is also the ability to hop online and play against your friends or complete strangers. I always find it weird when reviewing a Wii game and talking about online like it is some sort of brand new invention. Thankfully, the experience was smooth for what it is and definitely the way I recommend playing if you pick up this title.
The game does open up later on when you get past the tedious early cups and tournaments. The problem is that most players will have given up long before then, if they even bother with the single player at all. Again, this is a title that is geared towards a more couch co-op experience, and that is where it works best. Considering the AI is either ridiculously stupid or insanely difficult depending on how far along you are, the game never balances itself out. Unless you intend on playing this strictly with friends I recommend passing on Mario’s latest sports endeavor. There are much better party games and mascot sports titles available for the system.