Mario Sports Mix
Anyone coming planning on picking up Mario Sports Mix on February 7 knows exactly what they are getting into when they pop that game into their Wii. Fun and familiar characters, power-ups, and lax representation of real world sports, it's all in the title. Building on the original Mario Golf and Mario Tennis, and now we can add Volleyball, Dodgeball, and Hockey (with Basketball making a return) to the already large mix of sports.
At a recent event, in which journalists from both coasts competed to be crowned the best Mario Sports player in the nation (I was eliminated in the quarter finals, for those curious), we were given substantial time to play around with each sport. While this is a mix, Nintendo promises that each sport would be substantial enough to warrant it's own purchase. Playing through these games, I can see a point to what they are saying, however, I think the four pack combo is a better deal than an individual purchase.
Anyway, with some hands-on, it's clear that developer Square Enix aimes to keep Mario Sports Mix casual friendly, although I wouldn't say each game is immediately easy to pick and understand. Every game uses the wiimote and nunchuck control scheme, and everything can be broken down into a button press or a waggle. A seems to be the general “pass” button, B is for items, A + B is for character specific special moves, and waggle does all the strikes and scores. Volleyball and Basketball have a couple other moves to make things a little bit complicated, but generally every sport plays similar.
That's not entirely true. Being a Mario Sports title, expect the power ups, abilities, and level specific challenges to mix things up. For example, one of the dodgeball courts takes place on a raft in the jungle, and the playing field slides up and down the court, limiting the size of each sizes field. Another would be the hockey court in the middle of a desert train track. Between hitting the hockey puck (which is, natch, a coin), occasionally a train will run through the center of the court, splitting it up and spewing banana peels. Sometimes the court will even rotate around, spinning characters across the court. It's chaotic and fun.
Generally, the levels run the gamut from traditional starter courts with few gimmicks, to ones taking place on the beach, between Mario Kart race tracks, on a wooden raft, in Luigi's Mansion, in the middle of a flashy Vegas-inspired arena, and while they all share certain characteristics, they do lots to mix things up. For each sport there will be three tournaments, and each tournament has three courts..
Sports-wise, I found hockey to be the most fun. Basketball was too much of the back-and-forth scoring that is traditional for that game, Dodgeball seemed to have a lot of promise, and Volleyball was at once complicated and slow. There was a timing element with that mode that I couldn't quite get down, but I still had fun with it, if that means anything. Like I said, there is some shared characteristics between the sports, such as coin collecting to increase point totals or items. Also, remember that you'll need to switch between players, as Mario Sports Mix doesn't generally auto-shift for you. The computer is capable, but if you let them stay in charge, especially in a 3v3 match, you can feel left out.
Additionally, each of the sports support either 2v2 or 3v3, and uncharacteristic for a Wii game, supports online play. Only four players can join in either way, but it's a nice addition for a Nintendo title. I was unable to see how it plays online, so be a little concerned if you think this might be the Nintendo online title people are waiting for.
Character-wise, it's Mario! Everything familiar and comfortable with the Mario universe is here, but there are some surprises. In one of the minigames (of which there is one type for each sport), you can bump volleyballs that play the Chocobo theme from Final Fantasy. Also, some of the secret characters (to protect those who care about spoilers) are Final Fantasy related, and the title screen indicates that something from Dragon Quest could show up. Finger's crossed it's something related to the Slime.
In the end, I found Mario Sports Mix to be an enjoyable entry in one of my favorite arcade-style sports games. There doesn't seem to be a terrible challenge here, but the fan service and lighthearted approach to sports should appeal to both Nintendo's casual and hardcore crowd.