Mario Hoops 3-on-3

The Mario-themed sports titles have been a mainstay with Nintendo consoles for ages now. We have seen Mario Golf and Mario Tennis, with more recent additions such as soccer and baseball. Guess what? Now we can add basketball to that roster as Square-Enix brings us Mario Hoops 3-on-3 to the Nintendo DS. Will Mario’s foray into b-ball be as noteworthy as previous sports efforts, or will players ultimately cry foul?

Facts and Features

  • Play 3-on-3 basketball with characters from the Mario and Final Fantasy franchises.
  • Experience all new game play with touch screen controlled passing, dribbling, and best of all, slam-dunking basketball action.
  • Challenge friends wirelessly or try competing in a number of downloadable mini-games.

Enter The Court…
The Mario sports titles have usually been hit-or-miss games. Either we really enjoy them, or they make us feel like they are a complete waste of time. One of the aspects we most admire, however, is the arcade style of gameplay — where realism is not even considered, and outrageous cartoon inspired situations are not just encouraged, they are required. A good example of this would be in Mario Golf where one course was situated on a waterfall, with little outgrowths of land sprinkled up the cascade.

Mario Hoops 3-on-3 easily accomplishes the over the top action of previous Mario themed sports titles, and even manages to break some new ground along the way. First thing you will notice about Mario Hoops 3-on-3 is that it really pushes the Nintendo DS hardware. The top screen shows a forced 3D perspective where players always face their own basket, while the bottom screen shows a top down perspective of the game.

So how does Mario basketball compare to our American basketball? Well, let’s start with what they have in common, shall we? You play 3-on-3 basketball where players dribble the ball to their respective baskets. You can shoot and slam-dunk for points, with the winner being the one with the highest score.

The differences, however, are many, but to start out, the points you receive differ greatly. A shot at the American 3-point line will earn you 30 points. Any shot taken inside this line will give you 20 points, and a special shot will earn you 40 points, but more on that later. Remember the question mark blocks from the Mario games? They are here but are located randomly on the basketball floor. If you are on the offense, dribbling the ball on these blocks will earn you coins. These coins add one point to your score for every coin collected when you make a successful basket. If you are on the defense, you get items from just walking over them such as lightning bolts, and banana peels to use against your opponents. I guess it also goes without saying there are no fouls in the game, but I just wanted to throw that in.

Hoopin’ and Controllin’
Where Mario Hoops 3-on-3 really shines is with its control scheme. Basically, you control your character movement directly with the plus pad. But where it really gets interesting is how the touch screen is incorporated into the design. The touch screen is how you shoot, pass, and manipulate the ball throughout the game. For example, to dribble in any directions you simply tap on the left, top, right, or bottom portion of the touch screen. This makes it easy to evade a possible stealing of the ball by your opponent. Another similar aspect is how you must manually tap on the touch screen to redeem coins from the question mark blocks that we mentioned earlier. Passing the ball is accomplished by drawing a diagonal line to the team-mate you want to pass the ball to. To shoot or dunk the ball, you simply draw a line from the bottom of the screen to the top. How you shoot the ball is completely dependent on where your character is located. Filling out the rest of the control for playing offence is the special shots. Every character can perform a special shot by tapping a certain pattern on the screen twice in succession. But be careful when using these special shots, they are easily detectable, and therefore easily stopped by your opponent.

Speaking of your opponent, control is a bit different while playing defense. To steal the ball, you draw a line in the opposite direction of your opponent. When you walk over a question mark block, items will automatically appear. To use these items, simply draw a line in the direction of your target. All of this is accomplished perfectly, and it is the one of the best aspects of Mario Hoops 3-on-3.

Dunk it!

The design aspect of Mario Hoops 3-on-3 doesn’t aim to such a lofty goal as the control does. Good points include a sizable roster of characters from both the Mario and Final Fantasy games. Don’t be surprised when you see such notable characters as Princess Peach, Donkey Kong, and even a White Mage. In addition the game will automatically save your progress, and there are several downloadable multiplayer mini games.

The lists of shortcomings in the design are a little more substantial. For starters, the available modes of play are unfortunately small in number. You have a practice mode, a tourney or tournament mode, exhibition match, and finally, the multiplayer.

Playin’ Solo
The single player experience in Mario Hoops 3-on-3 is pretty standard; you basically have the tourney and exhibition modes. The exhibition mode is just what you would likely expect, pick the characters for both teams, and then pick the court where you would like to play. The tourney mode, however, is pretty standard. You simply pick the individual tournament you would like to complete. Oddly the first tournament you will play; the Mushroom tourney is extremely easy. So easy, that it seems as if the AI isn’t even on. After you finish one tourney, a new one will unlock each time until you have a total of 6 different tourneys. Thankfully, the difficulty does goes up, and the game does become challenging around the halfway mark. This leads to the experience feeling a little heavy handed. But after you finish a tournament you will be awarded with unlockable characters, courts, and even a bonus minigame.

Mad Multiplayer?
The multiplayer in particular is disappointing. If you envisioned playing a little Mario Hoops 3-on-3 with a friend you will have to have another copy of the game. The packaging does say it supports single card multiplayer, but “Single Card,” in this case, applies only for mini games. The mini-games can vary from a ball-dribbling race to a game that has players chucking items at each other. What makes the latter mini-game particularly interesting is that each player starts out with 50 coins each, getting hit by coins reduces that number greatly. The winner is the last player who still has coins. This mini-game is in full 3D, and uses the same graphic engine as the main game. Although these mini-games are a nice diversion; we fail to understand why Square-Enix couldn’t offer a demo download of the standard game, at least for a friendly game. This is really unfortunate since the multiplayer is the best facet of Mario Hoops 3-on-3.

Symphony of a Visual Court
We have seen some nice looking Nintendo DS games, but Mario Hoops 3-on-3 is a nice showpiece. You have 6 characters on-screen with no slowdown, or drop in animation. The super shots are unique for each character and add just a little more flare to an already graphically intensive game. Simply put, it is impossible for someone to say that Mario Hoops 3-on-3 isn’t a good-looking game, and if they do, they probably don’t know what they are talking about.

Few people would say they watch basketball for the audio, and Mario Hoops 3-on-3 definitely wouldn’t change their minds. The sound effects are perfect, and the little sound bites here and there fit in great. But the music gets old really, really fast. After getting to just the Fire Flower Tourney, we were already a bit sick of it.

… or Slam Your Way Out?
What truly makes a great game is being exceptional in almost every area. I was hoping that Mario Hoops 3-on-3 would meet this requirement, but unfortunately it comes up just a little short in a number of areas. The single player mode would feel less shallow if the game had an awesome multiplayer mode, but no Wi-Fi play coupled with the need for two copies to play a 3-on-3-basketball makes this multiplayer experience less than noteworthy. And sure, the downloadable minigames are a nice distraction, but they just don’t hold up well over multiple play sessions.

In the end, Mario Hoops 3-on-3 is a good game, but it is just short of being the great game that could have been. If you can look past these designs faults you will find an entertaining, and above all, a really enjoyable title. It may not be a slam dunk, but it isn’t a miss by any means.

— Stephen Smith