Five Mario sports games in one
Just in time for the warmer spring weather, Mario and friends are hitting the outdoors for more friendly competition. Similar to Wii’s Mario Sports Mix, Mario Sports Superstars for 3DS is a compilation of multiple sports in one package. You get five sports in all: soccer, tennis, baseball, golfing, and horse racing.
All five sports, with the exception of horse racing, have been featured in stand-alone Mario games over the years. This makes Mario Sports Superstars a greatest hits collection of sorts, though as I’ll explain these are somewhat simplified versions. Overall, it’s a nice compilation, however your millage will vary depending on how many Mario sports games you already own.
Soccer has its roots in the Mario Strikers series, though the version here is presented quite differently. Whereas Strikers features arcade-style gameplay and 5-vs-5 matches, Mario Sports Superstars opts for a more authentic simulation experience.
Platform(s): Nintendo 3DS
Matches are traditional 11-vs-11, comprised of a team captain, an assistant captain, a goalie, and AI supporting characters like Toads or Koopa Troopas. There’s a nice selection of 18 captains to choose from, all familiar faces from the Mushroom Kingdom. You have regulars like Mario, Luigi, and Peach, along with fun inclusions such as Birdo, Bowser Jr., and Baby Mario.
As for the gameplay, Soccer mostly stays true to its real-life counterpart. You pass between players as you work your way through the opposition, then charge up shots on the goal. Regular rules such as fouls and out of bounds are also present, resulting in penalty kicks, throw-ins or corner kicks.
There is one significant feature from the Mario Strikers series retained though: Special Shots. As you play, your ball will charge up and begin to sparkle, indicating your captains can unleash their potent Special Shot. These result in wildly unpredictable, hard-to-block shots that can take unnatural trajectories, or travel at hyper-fast speeds. It’s great to see these included, as they add a fun Mario twist to this otherwise straight-forward soccer sim.
From a gameplay perspective, Tennis is nearly a carbon copy of that found in Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash and Mario Tennis Open. On the court you can perform many types of shots, including lobs, flat shots, slices, drop shots, topspins, and simple shots. Everything controls just as well as the previous games, so it’s great to see such a smooth translation.
Chance shots, my favourite recent addition to the series, also return. These let you perform more powerful versions of the aforementioned shots by standing in randomly appearing coloured circles on the court. The effects are pretty cool. For example, taking a shot within a blue circle will give the ball extreme curve and a sparkling trail. Standing in a red circle massively amps up the topspin and adds a flaming streak behind it. Whereas soccer clearly strives for authenticity, tennis retains that wacky Mario flair.
One downside though is how limited the options are in comparison to the previous Mario Tennis 3DS game. For starters, gone are the rule-bending Special Games featured in Mario Tennis Open. Also, while that game had eight different courts to choose from, Mario Sports Superstars only gives you one.
What is included in this newest iteration of tennis is the ability to play one-on-one singles matches, two-vs-two paired matches, and compete in four different tournaments. It’s an adequate amount of content, but if you already own a recent Mario Tennis game there’s not much here you haven’t already seen.
Baseball pits two teams of nine against each other for 3-9 innings of play. The gameplay draws heavily from the Mario Baseball series, and has you alternate between controlling the pitcher and the batter.
As the pitcher, you’re able to throw using various styles, such as a fastball, slider, or curveball. You can also direct where you want the ball to land, be it the strike or ball zone. For each pitch type, you need to stop a spinner at the correct time, otherwise the ball will travel off course.
On offense, you have the option of power swings, or weaker base hit contact swings. You can also select from a number of strategies, such as stealing bases or bunting.
While I had moderate fun pitching and batting in Baseball, it’s a bit disappointing that your outfield controls are so limited. For the most part, after each hit you sit there and watch your AI-controlled teammates do all the work. There’s so much more to baseball than pitching/hitting, but for whatever reason this version strips everything else away.
Like Tennis, Golfing is virtually identical to the previous 3DS game in the series, Mario Golf: World Tour. Not only are the controls and user-interface exactly the same, but even the character animations are directly lifted from the game. As such, Golfing can essentially be viewed as stand-alone DLC.
The good news is that World Tour was a phenomenal golfing game, and that quality is retained here. Selecting clubs and hitting drives is still enjoyable, and putting for the hole remains an exciting as ever. You also have to factor in the wind speed and direction, which can dramatically affect the movement of the ball.
On the down side, there are only four 9-hole courses to play through, and that’s not a lot of variety. For comparison, World Tour featured 16 courses, ten of which contained 18-holes, while the remainder had 9-holes. That’s a pretty big difference in content. I recognize that Mario Sports Superstars offers more bite-sized experiences, but you can breeze through the four courses in just a couple of hours.
To my surprise, Horse Racing offered the deepest and best experience overall. This sport seems inspired by the recent Equestrian event featured in the Rio 2016 Mario & Sonic game.
There are 12 race tracks included in Horse Racing, spanning mountainous areas, woodlands, and scenic countrysides filled with fall leaves. As well, there are dozens of different horses you can ride, each specializing in certain strengths like technique, speed, and power. Compared to the other sports, there’s a lot more options here to select from.
The racing itself is also quite interesting. Your horses can dash, but their speed boosting is limited by their stamina. Stamina regenerates naturally over time, however it’ll replenish faster the closer you are to the group—a phenomenon known as the herd effect. Thus, the farther you spring ahead of the pack the more your stamina recovery is penalized.
Offsetting this somewhat are power-ups scattered around the race tracks. First, you have carrots, which gives your horse a moderate stamina boost. Secondly, collecting stars will fill up your Star Dash meter, and this can be used for a huge speed burst. Race tracks also feature speed pads and shortcut paths, à la Mario Kart.
In addition to racing, this sport also features a fully fleshed out simulation mode where you can groom and outfit your horses. If you’re played Nintendogs or Pokémon Sun/Mon, interacting with your horse is very similar. You can pet and feed your long-faced friends using your stylus on the 3DS’ touch screen. Horses can also be outfitted with accessories, such as new saddles, hats, and bridles. You can even assume control of your horse in first-person, and go outside to play in the field or practice races.
I really wasn’t expecting Horse Racing to offer this much content, or be this fun to play, so it was certainly a welcome inclusion.
One really great aspect of Mario Sports Superstars is that every sport can be played single-player or multiplayer. For multiplayer, you have three options: play locally with friends (each person needs 3DS and copy of the game), play online with friends, or play online with anyone.
Connecting with friends and other players around the world online was very easy. You just pick your sport, select online multiplayer, and the game will automatically pair you up with other players. The only thing I wish Nintendo added here was the ability to vote on what field/course/race track to play on next. Instead, the game picks one at random for you.
Mario Sports Superstars is also compatible with the new line of amiibo Mario Sports Superstars Cards. These come in blind packs of five, and each card unlocks a “Superstar” version of one character for one sport. Superstar characters have increased stats, which give you a clear advantage when playing their sport.
You can also unlock a Superstar character by playing as them and beating four Cups in each individual sport. This can take a bit of time, so if you want to skip this grinding you can do so with the amiibo cards.
Mario Sports Superstars is a fine collection of some of Mario’s best sports games. The versions included here are somewhat paired down, so if you’re only interested in one or two of the sports, you’re better off getting their dedicated games. As a whole though, the five sports give you plenty of variety, and it’s a snap to move between sports.
Had Nintendo included a career or story mode, it would have gone a long way to making this feel like a more cohesive package. With that said, I had fun playing the individual sports, with horse racing being the clear stand out.
+ Good variety of sports
+ Horse racing is a pleasant surprise
+ Controls well
+ Easy menu system to navigate
+ Good select of modes: single-player, local multiplayer, online play
– No story or career mode
– Some sports are scaled back versions of past games
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 3.5/5