Mario is quite possibly one of the most active video-games characters and is probably responsible for getting many youths into sports. Not content with promoting the Olympic Games and starring in various other sports themed video-games, Mario is also keeping active in Mario Sports Superstars.
Rather than release a video-game for an individual sport, Nintendo has decided to just include five of them in one single Nintendo 3DS title. With that in mind, Mario and various Mushroom Kingdom characters are pitted against each other to see who is the best in each sport.
As expected sports like tennis and football work well enough to entertain players for a sufficient amount of time. However, the real surprise comes in the form of horse racing and its horse training simulator. Whilst it’s possible to make use of guest horses for racing, the real fun comes from being able to use a stable to train one or more horses. The idea is to get familiar with a horse in order to eventually unlock its full potential for a better performance during races. This is accomplished by grooming it and taking it out for walks around the countryside. There are also accessories for the horses and other items to be found all over areas near the stable.
The racing itself is just as engaging and involves avoiding obstacles that slow down the horse, whilst gathering items to help it recover and earn one speed boost once enough items are collected. Whilst being at the top is important to win, it is also necessary to make the most out of the items available. Not only that, but staying with the pack will also provide the horse with a slight speed boost.
Whilst they both work fine enough, the weakest out of all five sports available are baseball and golf. Both are sports that require the player’s character to stay mostly stationary and so it ends up feeling like there isn’t much to do. There’s also the issue that baseball, like football, is a sport that only really seems to appeal to those that grew up watching/playing it. But where football at least gives players the option to move around and play with characters near the ball, baseball in this title merely consists of pressing a button with the right timing and watching the CPU controlled characters do the rest of the work. It feels more rewarding to manage to score a goal than hitting a home run when all it seems to require is hitting the ball at the right moment. Even the addition of different baseball strikes and a choice of basic strategies doesn’t help. It’s far more interesting to create strategies in football and making the best use of the team to win a match.
As for golf, it doesn’t have enough courses to warrant playing it for more than a handful of times. The locations available are also not varied enough to make it feel like each session is different from the previous session. Oddly enough, the simplified controls also mean that getting the golf balls in all the holes for each course doesn’t feel that rewarding.
At least both football and tennis provide a welcome distraction that compliments the excellent horse racing sport. In football, players form a team of characters and then take on other teams with the use of different strategies. As for tennis, it easily provides one of the most competitive experiences in all sports and the CPU opponents prove to be decent opponents – even if they seem to struggle when dealing with special abilities and items. Most sports in the title provide players with special “Supershots” abilities or items that are activated under certain conditions. In tennis, this is done by hitting the ball under power up item areas that randomly appear on the player’s side of the court.
Players can enter a tournament for every sport, but the real issue is that the only reward for most of them consists of unlocking a harder tournament. Whilst sports like tennis and even football at least make it interesting to enter these tournaments, due to their competitive nature, the same cannot be said of the others. Also, horse riding makes for an interesting tournament given the varied locations that the races take part in.
Every sport also has a multiplayer mode and this includes an online mode, which is a welcome addition given how much more appealing it is to play against human opponents. It’s commendable to see that even a complex sport such as horse racing has an online mode.
Completing sessions in each of the sports will earn players coins. These coins can then be used to purchase packs of randomly selected cards. The main issue here is that these cards don’t really add anything to the title beyond eventually collecting them all. There is a section in the title called “Road to Superstar” which could have made use of these cards. The idea is that players can train certain characters to eventually power them up to use them in the sports. But instead of making use of the cards purchased with in-game coins, it is only possible to take part by using amiibo physical cards.
At least physical copies of the title come with one amiibo card, but it means having to purchase more of these to power up other characters. In the past Nintendo has made efficient use of amiibos to unlock optional content or give items to help players. Here, the mandatory use of an amiibo card essentially blocks access to a whole section for those that don’t have one.
The title is simplified to make it easy to access all the sports and both the characters and backgrounds look great on the handheld’s screen. Perhaps the downside to providing five sports in one package is the apparent lack of focus. Previous Mario sports titles at least attempted to include a career/story mode.
Although each of the sports does well enough on its own to provide an adequate challenge for players, it’s clear that there isn’t a lot of content to entertain them for a long time. It certainly doesn’t help that some of the sports are more engaging than others. Mario Sports Superstars is a decent effort at trying to appeal to different players, but the inclusion of different sports ends up making it feel less complete when compared to other Mario sports titles.