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Review: Mario Sports Superstars

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The Sanchize of the franchise

CJ takes a long drag on his cigarette, slowly letting the smoke fill his already weakened lungs. He glances down at his whiskey sour, nearly empty. Exhaling with a small cough, he stirs the one remaining ice cube with his middle finger before touching it to his lips to get a taste of the watered-down Maker’s Mark. Still cold. He puts his cigarette out and finishes the drink in a single swig.

Setting the glass aside, he turns back to his computer screen and stares at the words “Review: Mario Sports Superstars,” the only words he has been able to type in nearly 40 minutes. He reaches to the end of his desk for his copy of the game. For the third time in the last hour, he reads the sales pitch on the back of the packaging, wondering if there was something, anything he had missed over the 20 hours he had spent with the game.

But he knows there is neither stone left unturned, no secret mode nor password that could make the game worth actually recommending. So he sets the case back down and pops his neck to the right. As he brings his fingers to the illuminated keyboard of his four-year-old MacBook, he mutters, “Let’s get this over with.”

Mario Sports Superstars (3DS) 
Developer: Bandai Namco, Camelot 
Publisher: Nintendo 
Released: March 24, 2017 (NA), March 10, 2017 (EU), March 11, 2017 (AU), March 30, 2017 (JP) 
MSRP: $39.99

On the surface, Mario Sports Superstars seems like a great addition to the exhaustive Nintendo 3DS library. Similar to Mario Sports Mix, an end of the life addition to the Wii, Superstars brings together four exciting sports plus baseball. But if you have warm memories of seeing Mario out on the pitch or hitting the links from previous titles, know this game doesn’t come close to matching the creative output that’s come before.

The five included activities – baseball, tennis, golf, soccer & horse racing – all benefit from years of previous games that laid the groundwork for how a Mario sports title should play. Tennis plays here exactly as it did in Mario Tennis Open, golf has the exact control setup from Mario Golf World Tour, and the other three share the same design philosophy that ease of play equals fun. I personally love how those previous games controlled, so the copy-paste job here was exactly what I wanted. There is some depth in soccer and baseball with controlling your team, but mastering those aspects of the controls isn’t required to competently play them.

Each sport is divided into the same sections: free play, tournaments, multiplayer and training. Multiplayer is both local and online, and you have a healthy set of options no matter how you play. You can choose short games or full-length and adjust the some of the rules. Actually playing online was mixed, and not just because it was difficult to find other people to connect to. Online is tied to each individual sport and there is no way for me to tell which one had the most people in it. In a game with five sports to choose from, I would have greatly preferred a centralized lobby. Golf was the only sport I played where I didn’t experience some sort of lag or stuttering issue with my connection, which absolutely broke the experience. Just imagine being at the plate, seeing a pitch come your way as the connection hiccups and you have no chance to swing before it’s ruled a strike. That’s what I had to deal with.

Tournaments make up the meat of the single-player experience. These are shortened versions of the full games you play to unlock new stadiums/courses/fields as well as new characters (hope you like Metal Mario and Pink Gold Peach) and difficulty settings.


For four of the sports there is a good difficulty curve with the tournaments. In baseball, for instance, opposing teams will only throw fastballs in the early rounds, saving the trickier pitches for later. Tennis is quite easy in the first few tournaments while later matches featured some truly amazing rallies. The only sport I struggled with early on was golf because it’s the only activity where you can’t prevent the other player from doing well and sinking those seemingly impossible 89-foot putts from the edge of the green.

But hey, I could get past that; I just had to step up my game. And once I was able to really nail my shots and sink those putts, I realized I didn’t care much for these courses. Maybe I am spoiled by the truly amazing links found in World Tour and its DLC, but the thin 36 holes here are dull. Not just in layout, but also environments.

There’s a complete lack of Mario charm throughout Superstars. There are no special Mario themed courses or stadiums, no cool Mario power-ups, nothing. There are power shots/pitches/swings, sure, but none of them are uniquely Mario. Even the advertisements, usually fun or clever, lack imagination and effort. Outside of the simple control scheme and character models ripped straight out of previous games, nothing here would tell you this is supposed to be a Mario sports game. I’m not one who usually complains about reused assets but this is pathetic. There are so many animations recycled from other games it often felt like I was playing a rerun.

At least with golf, and tennis with its whopping one stadium to choose from, the rerun is enjoyable. Yes, I had some fun with those sports, as well as baseball for an inning or two before I remembered what, and I use this term loosely, “sport” I was playing. Baseball lets you choose two featured characters for your team, filling out the rest of your roster with different colored Toads and baddies who excel in speed, power, technique or are all-around athletes. You get complete control of where you position your players, so there is strategy in making a winning team. I started out thinking a power pitcher like Rosalina would be best, but a technique player like Daisy provided me with more pitch options.


The controls for pitching and batting are easy peasy and you’re given three different options for fielding: auto, semi-auto, and manual. The AI for my outfielders wasn’t too stupid, but it often acted more slowly than I liked and missed several easy double plays, which is why I switched it to semi-auto as soon as I could before graduating to having full control of my team.

Then there is soccer. Unlike the superior Strikers series, soccer here is a full 11-on-11 game. You pick two featured characters to lead your team, eight clones to fill out the field and either Boom Boom or Pom Pom to play goalie. Soccer is the only sport in the compilation that feels buggy. In more than a few matches I saw players running in place with the ball right in front of them or watched as the ball balanced perfectly on the top of the goal. Those minuscule nuisances I could deal with, but the shamefully absentminded AI and other issues ruined what should have been an intense match.

I would need to grow another hand or two to count how many times I watched one of my teammates run right past a free ball with no attempt to get it. Counting how many times I positioned a player for an easy head-in goal only to have the system ruin the shot by switching me to another character and sending my perfectly placed player running down the field would require yet another hand. When I would switch players on purpose, only half the time would I actually end up somewhat near the ball. And despite what I said above about soccer having the most complex controls, some aspects of the sport are too simple. Stealing the ball requires no press of a button. All I needed to do was run in front of another player and 90% of the time I would get it.


That leaves me with horse racing, the one sport where it actually seemed like somebody was making an effort. The key to winning here is balancing your speed with your adorable horse’s stamina. You can make it go fast, but unless you’re collecting the carrots on the racetrack, your horse will run out of juice. Horses gain stamina back on their own, and if you keep yourself back in the pack it’ll recover much more quickly. You’re told that staying out in front isn’t the way to win the race, but it was actually the easiest way for me to take first place.

Like the other sports, the controls are simple. Pressing “b” makes your horse run faster while “a” makes it jump, which you need to do to avoid obstacles. There are no Mario Kart-style power-ups but there are stars you can collect to give your horse a super dash. Some techniques you’ll need to learn, like accelerating into a tight corner, will help with the later races but I stopped having fun with this long before I reached those.


At just three laps, the races here are far too long. Reducing it to two laps would tighten up the experience. There is the Stable Mode, a Nintendogs-like feature where you can take horses out for walks, dress them up, bond with them, pet, wash and feed them, and I did like that for a little while. The reward for putting time into my stable was my horse got better at racing, but as racing wasn’t exactly enjoyable, I really had nothing encouraging me to keep bonding with my horse after I had won all the tournaments.

So we have five sports that can be a little fun, but have all been done better, in most cases way better, before. But making a golf game better than World Tour or a baseball game better than Super Sluggers was never the intention here. Mario Sports Superstars exists solely to sell you new amiibo cards.

There are more than 90 of these cards to collect. One, a Metal Mario soccer card, was included with my game. I went out and bought a pack, scoring a Pink Gold Peach golf card and one card for each other sport. The cards here serve three purposes: 1. To unlock characters before you earn them in game, 2. To give you early access to star players which are just the standard characters with better stats, and 3. To play the Road to Superstar mode.

When I scanned the Metal Mario soccer card to my 3DS, I instantly unlocked Metal Mario for just soccer. It’s the same with the Pink Gold Peach golf card. If I want them in other sports, I have to earn them in game or score their cards in another pack. Star characters didn’t really seem like much of an improvement to me over regular characters, but superstar characters, which you earn by completing the Road to Superstar mode, were significantly better than my standard players.

I am truly flummoxed by Road to Superstar. Here is a game with five mostly competent sports, and the best idea the developers can come up with for this amiibo exclusive mode is an Arkanoid clone. You can play up to three amiibo cards at a time, using them as paddles as you try to break blocks and take out enemies. Last long enough and you’ll have a boss battle. Beat the boss and you’ve unlocked superstar characters for those cards. That’s it. With one card, it can be testing, but with three in a row creating an extra-large paddle, any hint of a challenge goes right out the window.

Mario Sports Superstars is like a coworker everybody hates because they do just enough work to not get fired. It’s not a good game, not by a long shot, but it does just enough right that I can’t in good conscience call it outright bad. What I can call it is a lazy experience, one developed solely for the purpose of selling what are basically Mario-branded Topps cards. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to pour myself another drink.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game purchased by the reviewer.]

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Mario Sports Superstars reviewed by CJ Andriessen

5

MEDIOCRE

An exercise in apathy, neither solid nor liquid. Not exactly bad, but not very good either. Just a bit "meh," really.
How we score:  The destructoid reviews guide

 
 
 

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CJ Andriessen
CJ AndriessenFeatures Editor   gamer profile

Just what the internet needs: yet another white guy writing about video games. Also, I backed that Bloodstained game. more + disclosures


 


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