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A Mario Sports Primer – Away From Camelot
It feels only appropriate to open up this article with the kind of rousing sports metaphor that puts you into the moment and makes you feel like you’re there. But let’s remember what I told you all last time – I don’t know enough about sports to make that metaphor. I guess you could say I didn’t pass that ball successfully.
Wait, that’s close enough, right? Let’s get down to business, and that is talking about a new set of Mario sports titles – these being the ones developed by Next Level Games, Namco-Bandai and NOW Production, and finally, by Square Enix and Nintendo themselves.
This sounds like a lot to cover, but we’re gifted with two of the more dynamic titles in the entire Mario sports series, which I’ll cover at the end of this article. Rather than tackle these games in chronological order, we’ll go by developer. Let’s start with the two titles Square Enix was involved in: Mario Hoops 3-on-3 and Mario Sports Mix.
Mario Hoops is a solid but strange basketball title, focused around the use of the DS’s touchscreen to dribble, pass, and shoot while moving with the directional pad. You compete in tournaments, using a variety of your expected Mario characters, as well as five characters from the Final Fantasy series.
Unlike regular basketball, scoring is based around not only making shots, but collecting coins in true Mario fashion. Shots are not worth two or three points, but range from 20 to 40 points. Every time you make a successful shot, your coin total resets. Each yellow coin adds a point, and every red coin adds ten points. Coins are picked up by dribbling on certain parts of the court, and are dropped when you get hit.
The scoring system makes this a hard game to suggest for anyone seeking a traditional basketball game, but what did you expect? This isn’t a traditional sports game, but it’s relatively fun, and unlike the next game developed by Square Enix, it’s at least focused.
Mario Sports Mix on the Wii comes complete with four sports to play, basketball, dodgeball, volleyball, and hockey. Basketball is much like Mario Hoops, but with more traditional scoring. Dodgeball is… well, it’s pretty much dodgeball. There’s nothing overly inventive here, and I’ll readily admit that nothing about Mario Sports Mix was able to keep me interested.
Next up are the two titles from Namco-Bandai and NOW Production. Mario and his friends play America’s favourite pastime, baseball – and for one game, I feel like they managed a good take on the baseball formula. The 2005 Gamecube release, Mario Superstar Baseball, manages to mix the Mario franchise with baseball, and it does a good job.
Major Mario characters act as captains, while lesser characters act as sub-captains, with various enemies filling in the other spots on each team’s roster. As is typical with these games, characters have various abilities that can help you succeed in defeating teams, and eventually building up a formidable team to challenge Bowser.
Naturally, the game features several minigames to pass the time, and you’ll be spending time paying attention to scouting flags – a set of triggers you can shoot for in a game to recruit another character and make your team better. It, like many other Mario sports titles, doesn’t go for a realistic simulation of the sport, but rather a variation on it designed for casual play.
Mario Super Sluggers did very little to change that in 2008 when it was released on the Wii, and offered little improvement over Superstar Baseball, and regretfully, not including any sort of online play. It’s really just the same game – you’re better off playing Superstar Baseball.
Now let’s get to my favourite two games of this bunch, developed by Next Level Games, a Canadian company most recently responsible for Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon. Growing up, I never quite got the appeal of soccer/football, which I always saw as slow paced and not worth the time.
Mario Super Strikers proved to me in 2005 that realism wasn’t the way to attract me to a soccer video game. Rather, Super Strikers is hard hitting and incredibly fun to play against friends. Each game is short and sweet, rather than a drawn out affair.
Much like the baseball games, team captains are major Mario characters, while the rest of your team is filled in with various enemies, all with slightly different abilities, and oddly, a Kremling from the Donkey Kong Country series as every team’s goalie.
Common complaints lobbied at the game are a lack of single player modes, but let’s face it – this is the exact kind of game you should be playing with friends. The reaction in a room to a hard tackle or one of the various items reeking havoc is wonderful.
Speaking of wonderful, Mario Strikers Charged hits even harder and stands as one of my favourite sports games of all time. It’s certainly not an accurate soccer game, but it’s even more fun than Super Strikers, and while it’ll no longer be applicable on May 20, Charged benefited from exciting online play – adding a new option for playing multiplayer.
Charged feels like a more polished version of its predecessor, with a variety of different shots for both captains and team members to use, as well as special abilities for each of its captains (that include growing giant, stopping time, and creating thorny walls of vines).
Like Super Strikers, it’s a great game for playing against others, and anyone watching will enjoy as characters slam into each other and battle for the win. It’s as frantic as a sports game can get while still being coherent.
Next time, we’ll dip into the last division of the Mario sports titles – his various crossovers with Sonic in all sorts of Olympic sports shenanigans. We’ve talked about some of the high and low points of Mario sports over the past two articles, but we’re not done yet.