Mario Sport Mix

Dungarees for goalposts

Four sports - one amazing disc! It's an Olympic Mario-athon!" Or at least, that's how we imagine the TV ads will go.

Well, good luck with your advertising campaign, Nintendo, because you're going to need it - Mario's sporting endeavours hold as much appeal to the typical British sports fan as a whipped cream-coated Sepp Blatter.

We can't ever imagine the anvil-headed Neanderthals that sit near us during home games curtailing their post-match vandalism routine for a rousing four-player session of Mario Power Tennis.

But that's their loss. Never shall they know the illicit joy of a Poltergust-powered screamer arcing into the top corner of the net, or the forbidden thrill of a prehensile Yoshi tongue single-lickedly rescuing a round of volleyball.


Mario's sports titles are invariably gamers' games; creative, colourful worlds that take the framework of a sport, strip it bare of earthly tedium and plaster a thickcoating of Nintendo fan service over the top.

So we're not ashamed to admit that we were quietly excited about Mario Sports Mix, which takes four of the fastest, most dynamic sports around (volleyball, hockey, basketball, dodgeball) and replaces the nets with DK barrels and the pucks with coins.

It's got to be a home-run, surely? [That's baseball, moron - Sports Ed]. Sadly not - a host of balancing and organisational blunders means that Mario Sports Mix deflates expectations as deftly as a Bowser header.

Although Sports Mix spreads itself thinly, it manages to avoid feeling like a disparate collection of minigames - but only just, mind. All four sports are available from the start, and are tied together by a storyline so insubstantial it can be summed up in a sentence, so let's do that.

Four comets fall out of the sky, each with a different ball inside, the Toads hold a series of tournaments to commemorate the event. That is all.

Plot aside, the sports exist independently from one another, although their single-player modes all share a common structure, consisting of four tournaments of three rounds each. Court themes and gimmicks repeat across the spectrum of sports (such as Peach's Gardens, where shots have to be directed around an unpredictable sprinkler system), which not only makes Sports Mix feel like a cohesive package, but also halves the graphic artists' workload. Score!

All four disciplines also share a bizarre scoring mechanism in which coins collected in play are added to your score tally when you next bag a point. This encourages you to explore the full length of the court and take the occasional positional risk instead of ball-watching.


The benefit of keeping the sports separate is that you can safely ignore the games that don't float your boat, but when it comes to the Square Enix unlockables, a smidgeon of integration wouldn't have gone amiss.

To unlock, say, Cactuar (come on, as spoilers go, it's not like revealing the ending of The Sixth Sense) you have to win 60 games of any one sport. But to then unlock him in another game type you have to win another 60 games.

Let us tell you: it'd take a lot better than Craptuar to convince us to endure 60 games of dodgeball. Perhaps if it unlocked The Saturdays in your bedroom, we could stretch to 20. Alright, 30. Look, what we're trying to say is that unlocking all the characters is a colossal bore.

And it's even more tedious when you factor in that from start to finish, and across all four modes, the AI is catastrophically inept. Hockey is the worst offender, albeit marginally. Our first ever game entered half-time with the score tightly poised at 17-0 in our favour.

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