Nintendo's iconic cast of Super Mario characters haven't been strangers to sports spin-offs throughout the years. Whether lacing up cleats for a soccer match in Super Mario Strikers, teeing up for 18 holes in Mario Golf, or drawing first blood with devastating "ultra smash" in a round of Mario Tennis, there have been absolutely no shortage of sports titles starring the plucky plumber and his ragtag group of friends. Now Nintendo is set to launch a compendium for the company's 3DS featuring a total of five sports in one game. If the title of this review didn't already give it away, it's known as Mario Sports Superstars.
The game features a few favorites from Nintendo's past (such as the aforementioned tennis, soccer, and golf), but it also reintroduces the Mushroom Kingdom mainstays to baseball and places them in a brand new sporting venture: horse racing. There's certainly no shortage of variety in Mario Sports Superstars, and these games are quite fun to hop into and play through. While the variety is great for gamers looking to take in a match or two, the execution of these modes makes the end product feel lacking in contrast to dedicated games that have more resources to execute on a sole sport.
Truth be told, the quality of each sport fluctuates. As a result, I've broken down the games into distinct sections in order to best highlight their appeal in Mario Sports Superstars.
As one of the most popular sports in the world, soccer has been a major focus for Mario and friends in the past. This particular attempt on 3DS, however, leaves quite a bit to be desired. Users are able to pick two mainstays from the core roster, with a handful of sidekick options rounding out the rest of the team. The gameplay that follows is mildly entertaining, with some genuine challenge emerging in the later rounds of the 'tournament' option. It's a fun option that's ultimately mudded down by its basic execution.
Passing isn't as precise as it should be, the character movements are clunky, and the the lack of tactical options while on the field makes it a rather tedious endeavor. Soccer in Sports Superstars essentially boils down to passing and shooting with very little setup, which makes it feel like more like a tacked on piece in this collection.
Hailed as America's favorite pastime, baseball finally returns to the world of Super Mario following a nine-year absence. While it is one-fifth of the complete Mario Sports Superstars package, it is easily one of the more enjoyable games in the lineup. The possible pitches are limited and quasi-readable for anyone at bat, but the uncertainty of a hit means that players will find themselves trading off between easy outs and home runs with a little more randomness. It ultimately comes down to the timing of a hit as well, but baseball is quick, easy, and enjoyable for anyone willing to step up to the plate.
As a well explored sport for the plumber and his companions, this is easily one of the most polished features of the title, gaining immediate influence from Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash. While that Wii U game severely lacked features, this iteration is surrounded with additional gameplay options and a larger roster of playable mascots. With the core mechanics in place (albeit less aesthetically pleasing as a result of the 3DS's hardware), it's easy to see that experience with this particular sport has paid off.
Nintendo has never attached the face of the company to horse racing in the past, but a collection of this sort provided a good opportunity to explore the sport without banking on its ability to sell as a solo outing. As is the case with other games in Mario Sports Superstars, horse racing feels very light and lacks any real depth. Still, its uniqueness makes it a standout in this game, offering players a very different take on the derby. The ability to earn and unlock additional horses is also an engaging premise, and putting together the correct combination of rider and horse to secure a win is an interesting mechanic that plays out well enough.
Falling in with the existing line of Mario Golf titles, this spot in Sports Superstars is a little more polished than some of the others. Hopping into a few rounds of golf or suiting up for a tournament is easy, and the all too familiar announcer makes his triumphant return to spout out treasured quips like "Bogey" to lodge in the craniums of under-performing players. As has been the theme thus far, golf is another basic rendition of an existing Nintendo off-shoot that doesn't stack up to Mario Golf: World Tour. The locations don't vary all that drastically and the tournament mode is short-lived, but the core mechanics behind the series have made the transition and work well enough to be enjoyable.
Mario Sports Superstars offers a wide array of Super Mario-centric sports to choose from and it's enough to make it seem like a worthwhile addition to anyone's library of Nintendo 3DS games. The ability to collect trading cards in-game also links all of the outings together and gives users a greater goal of unlocking new equipment and rounding out their digital card album. Outside of this, what fans need to know before committing to this collection is that the experience featured within feels incredibly barebones.
It's obvious that these are meant to be bite-sized variants of various Mario Sports titles, and in that regard the game succeeds. Indeed, anyone looking for a menagerie of sporting options on the go will find this software to be a worthwhile venture. Still, every outing will inevitably draw comparisons to solo sports titles that came before them, and in that light they really don't stack up. Those looking for definitive Mario sport experiences are best to stick to dedicated games.
Mario Sports Superstars is truly a jack of many trades, but a master of none.
Mario Sports Superstars is available exclusively for the Nintendo 3DS on March 24, 2017. Game Rant was provided with a physical copy of Mario Sports Superstars on the Nintendo 3DS for this review.