I have a confession to make. I am not very good at any sport that involves a ball. I can't dribble and run at the same time and I can't serve a ball to make it fly over the net to save my life. I know. It's sad. But, thanks to video games, sports instantly become a lot easier and more manageable. Except, I don't really like sports games since I'd rather play the actual sport than play a simulation of it on my television. Despite how bad I am at sports, they are a lot more fun when you play them in real life. So what do I do?
Luckily, my conundrum is easily solved when I play a Mario sports game. Over the past decade, the moustachioed plumber has become the ideal host of a wide variety of sports titles and he plays them all without tearing his overalls or breaking a sweat. Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour and Mario Power Tennis simplified these sports and added the classic Mario universe flair that made them so much more relatable and fun than those dry golf simulators on other consoles. Mario Hoops 3 on 3 also made playing basketball an entertaining portable experience you could play with anyone over Wi-Fi. Sure, these games didn't accurately represent their sport, the variables that went into the gameplay were not as accurate as they should have been, and the technicality was removed to make the games easier for anyone to play. But that's what made them fun multiplayer games.
Years later, Nintendo and Square Enix team up again to give us a compilation of sports titles to keep us busy. Instead of releasing a standalone title for each sport in Mario Sports Mix, we get four sports in one game: basketball, dodgeball, hockey, and volleyball. Like other Mario titles, you can choose to play Tournament or Exhibition mode by yourself or with up to three others. As you win each round in Tournament mode, you move on until you complete that tournament's cup and then unlock more cups, stages, and characters. Each classic Mario character you can play as either excels in special traits like speed, power, or technique. Sadly, my favorite Boo isn't a playable character.
All the sports you'll play are very basic and remove all the complexity of the sport. You can play each sport 2 on 2 or 3 on 3, either with friends or with computer controlled players. Like most Mario sports games, the more people you play with the more fun the game is. The single-player tournaments are okay, but the game's AI is very easy to beat even in expert mode, so there really isn't much of a challenge there. Tournaments have secret routes you can access that lead you to fight more opponents and give you the chance to unlock more stages and characters. Square Enix made sure to include some characters from its Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest games so be ready to see some familiar faces. How does a Slime serve a ball? With its head of course.
If you've played a Mario sports game in the past, you won't be surprised by the amount of gimmicks and items that are involved in this game. As you play each game, you can step on coin panels that power up your shots or give you items for you to attack your opponents with. For example, the purpose of dodgeball is to reduce your opponent's health meter and make them leave the court. If you throw a Koopa shell at him, he will then be vulnerable to getting hit by a ball. You can choose to turn off these items too if you want to play a more straightforward game. The various stages you will play in also have their own set of surprises that give the game its signature Mario flair. Some of these gimmicks can totally change the outcome of a game, so they are a bit cheap if you're trying to have a serious match with someone. Imagine trying to spike a ball over the net when a fireball comes out of nowhere and burns your butt. Not fair. Thankfully, there is at least one stage that lacks any tricks.
Because you're playing a Wii game, you know motion controls are included. Most of the controls involve using your Nunchuk and pressing buttons on the Wii remote, but a bigger portion of the controls involve shaking your Wii remote to jump, dunk, or throw balls in dodgeball. Volleyball involves a lot of motion controls to spike, block, and serve the ball for example, and in hockey, you check your opponents by wagging your remote. These motion controls are responsive, but I only wish there had been an option to simply play the game without these gestures.
Aside from the game's main modes, there is also a Party Mode that modifies each sport and provides short minigames using that sport's specific controls. Hockey becomes Smash Skate, a game where you need to attack your opponents with your sticks to throw them off a giant floating iceberg. My favorite one is Harmony Hustle, a rhythm game that has you volleying balls in the correct order to play classic Mario melodies. Regardless of the game you pick, you're bound to have some fun if you're playing with others, of course.
And that is how you should play Mario Sports Mix - with other people. Luckily the game has a nice Wi-Fi feature that lets you play with anyone without needing to exchange friend codes. For those of you that love racking up your score, the game also tracks your progress and increases your points the more you win. If you're looking for another Mario sports title that blends the fun of the Mario universe with the ease of playing a sports game, you should definitely give this game a try. None of the sports are accurate and some gimmicks may throw a wrench in your strategy, but that's how Mario sports games are. Hopefully you have some siblings or other friends that are there to play with you since like any real life sport, this game is a lot more fun with other people.
Mario Sports Mix is available now at US retailers nationwide for Wii. I purchased the game when it came out in Japan in November. I played the game both alone and with one other person. I also went on many Wi-Fi matches and unlocked several hidden characters since then.