Remember when Mario sports games were something special? The handheld versions of Mario Golf and Mario Tennis were some of the best sports games on the Game Boy & Game Boy Advance. Part of the reason for their success was that they contained extensive RPG elements that allowed gamers to become invested in character development and the quest to win the championships. In an age where every other game in existence, from Call of Duty to Forza Horizon, has seemingly added RPG-type progression and skill trees, it’s disheartening that Nintendo has chosen to abandon any type of complexity for quick throwaway experiences. That’s not to say that Mario Sports Superstars on the 3DS is a bad game, in fact all five sports included on the Game Card are fun and feature that famous Nintendo pick-up-and-play DNA. It simply lacks the depth and cohesiveness that could have elevated it to greatness.
At first glance, Mario Sports Superstars appears to be a game loaded with content. Indeed, it features five full sports games, each with its own single player championship mode as well as local and online competitive options. Golf, tennis, baseball, soccer, and horse racing are all part of the package. While it’s true that each game has its own set of championship tournaments to work through, they are significantly reduced from what you’d find in a standalone game. For example, Mario Golf and Mario Tennis are already available as individual games on the 3DS and each has way more courses and options to choose from, especially Golf where there’s even DLC that can add more content to the game.
The first game I played in the collection was Tennis, since I’ve played pretty much every iteration of Mario Tennis to date and it would quickly inform me how much new content is present here. Unfortunately there’s not much in terms of new stuff, and in fact I was quite surprised to see how much the game has been streamlined. Besides the obvious lack of RPG elements that haven’t been present in these games for years now, there aren’t a lot of options for gamers to choose from. Gone are the Gimmick Courses from previous Mario Tennis games and in fact if the Mario characters weren’t present, the game would appear to just be a generic tennis title. The courts lack the Mushroom Kingdom feel to them that used to be so present in the franchise. There are three different cups to play through, with some unlockable stuff along the way. One nice thing is that the bottom screen displays the controls, which are color-coded to the same icons that appear below your character when he or she is about to hit the ball. This can help land the right shot to score a point. While I completely enjoyed my time with Tennis, with its precise controls and great graphics, it was a shell of what a full-fledged version of the game would normally contain. Perhaps this should be expected, though, as Nintendo isn’t about to give away the farm when it probably wants to continue on with individual titles in the Mario Sports line in the future.
Horse Racing was next on my to-do list as it’s a completely new addition that hasn’t been seen before. The first cup is comprised of three tracks, and you have a wide swath of characters and horses to choose from. This reminded me of the Mario Kart games, where each horse had its own set of statistics, ranging from stamina to acceleration to speed. There’s more to this game than meets the eye, as you’ll need to continuously press buttons to make the horse gallop forward. There’s a gauge showing its stamina, so you’ll want to be careful not to exhaust the horse too much or you’ll end up walking for a while as everyone else passes you up. You can also make the horse jump over obstacles or to reach special power-ups. Some of these are just out of reach, so at the height of your horse’s jump you can actually make your character leap up and grab them. Once you’ve gained enough you can activate a special turbo mode that allows your horse to vault forward without slowing down (sort of like the mushroom in Mario Kart).
This is the one game that did have some extra depth to it with an actual pet simulator aspect to it. You can adopt a horse and take care of it. This involves feeding it, brushing it, washing it, and walking it. The horse will eventually build up trust with you and will perform better in the races.
My favorite Mario sports game has always been Mario Golf, which is a bit strange since I’m not much of a golfer in real life and actually prefer tennis. Still, I’ve always found the variety in the courses and the strategies involved with club selection, wind direction, and terrain kept me more interested in the sport. The version included here is great and does the job well, but again the content is light with 27 holes available to play across three environments, with some stuff that’s locked behind completing the various Cups.
Baseball and Soccer are both enjoyable to play, but didn’t hold my interest as long as the other three games did. Baseball is probably the worst of the bunch, with very shallow gameplay and limited options. Soccer is fun, but after playing the over-the-top Super Mario Strikers, this version seems rather slow and plodding. It gets the job done, but there’s nothing really special here.
That’s perhaps the biggest problem with Mario Sports Superstars – it lacks that special ingredient that makes most Nintendo games magical. It’s almost as if the five games were created with existing assets and code from prior games and then slapped onto a Game Card as part of a collection. In some ways it almost feels like the games serve as teasers for their full-fledged counterparts. Don’t get me wrong, these aren’t demos and do offer hours of enjoyment, but there’s definitely a lack of content in each game that is disappointing.
That being said, this isn’t a bad game by any stretch of the imagination. The controls in all five sports are solid and everything works as you’d expect. The graphics are actually very good for a 3DS game, and in an era where so many games skimp on the 3D effect, it’s nice to see this game takes full advantage of the system’s stereoscopic 3D. All of the characters look and sound as they should, although Daisy sounds like a vapid high school cheerleader when she loses rounds in tennis. Horse Racing and Soccer probably look the best of the bunch, which isn’t surprising as they’re the two sports that probably aren’t simply reusing assets.
When all is said and done, Mario Sports Superstars is a competent collection of sports games. It doesn’t really achieve anything new or spectacular, but the games play well and offer up some fun, for a limited time. I think many gamers will easily blast through the single player modes fairly quickly in each sport, leaving them to play through them again or play online. One of the great things about Mario Sports titles on consoles is that usually you can get a bunch of friends together on the couch and have a great time playing the games. With this game each player would need to own a 3DS and purchase a copy of the game. It’s unfortunate that download play isn’t supported here, especially when games like Mario Party and Mario Kart allow it. Imagine how fun this game could have been if it included an RPG element that allowed you to nurture your own character across all five sports, competing in tournaments, leveling up and learning new skills. As it stands, Mario Sports Superstars is worth considering for casual sport fans and kids. Most seasoned gamers will quickly blow through the content with little reason to come back other than to kill time, which for some will be worth the price of admission.
Mario Sports Superstars Review
- Graphics - 8/108/10
- Sound - 7.5/107.5/10
- Gameplay - 7/107/10
- Lasting Appeal - 4/104/10
Final Thoughts: WORTH CONSIDERING
Solid gameplay, great graphics, and a nice variety of sports games to play make Mario Sports Superstars worth considering. The lack of depth and complexity in the individual sports and nothing really tying them all together make for a short and fleeting experience. Bring back the RPG elements, please!