Mario and friends play various sports

Mario Sports Superstars is an ambitious compilation from Nintendo, cramming five sports games onto a single 3DS cartridge. But with a wider focus on a variety of activities, does this collection of athletic competitions still boast the expected Nintendo charm?

Nintendo has published some pretty great sports games in the past, ranging from golf to tennis, soccer and beyond. Mario Sports Superstars draws on each of those individual series -- be it Super Mario Strikers or Super Mario Golf, etc. -- and streamlines them to work as a compilation. In the collection, you can play soccer, tennis, golf, baseball and, new to the Mario Sports roster, horse racing.

Obviously, that's a whole bunch of content to squeeze into a single game, which is largely why the whole package comes off feeling a bit lackluster. To be clear, there's nothing I would categorize as "bad" about any of the games included in Superstars but, when you've played their fully fleshed-out counterparts, it's hard not to be a little underwhelmed by these slimmed-down versions.

Mario Sports Superstars' biggest weak point is its lack of presentation and what I referred to earlier as "Nintendo charm." The game is still as bright and colorful as you would expect out of a Mario title, but a lot of the fun pomp and circumstance that usually goes along with these kinds of games is absent.

This is most evident in the decision to host the events out of more realistic settings. Many of the arena names certainly sound like they're set in the Mushroom Kingdom but, once you jump into the games, you'll find that none of the fun fantasy vibe is present. The golf courses pretty much look like what you would find in a straight golf game. The tennis courts, baseball fields, and soccer pitches look like your average sports complexes found in the real world. I can't help but feel like something as small as having the games set in more traditional Mario-themed environments would have gone a long way to put a bit more pep in its step.

Aesthetics aside, the various sports at least play well, even if they are as straightforward as the package they're wrapped in. Once you boot up Superstars, you're dropped into a main menu that allows you to select which game you want to play. From there, you'll pick if you want to play single player or multiplayer, choose your character, tweak a couple of options and then you're off to the competition.

Your only play options are to take on single matches or jump into a tournament. Unless I'm completely missing something, I thought it was pretty odd that a tournament structure mixing and matching the games wasn't an option. Again, that feels like a small addition that would have gone a long way to mix things up a bit, following your chosen character across a "story mode" as they tackle the various sports.

Tournaments allow you to unlock some upgraded characters and earn extra in-game coins but, otherwise, they're not all that different from sitting down and playing a few exhibitions instead; where you can also earn more in-game coins. Said coins are spent on card packs that occasionally unlock extra accessories for the roster of characters in the various games. You might get a special soccer ball for Peach or a baseball bat for Yoshi, for instance, that allow you to do a bit of customizing without having an impact on stats.

As for the individual games, they're fine on their own but, again, previous solo sports outings from the Mario line have kind of spoiled me. In golf, for instance, you're able to take on four 9-hole courses, and that's pretty much the end of it. The game controls exactly like Super Mario Golf World Tour, only minus the coins and power-ups peppered throughout the course. Those little touches are why folks play a Mario sports game over, say, PGA Tour. So their absence made me think, "this is fine on its own but, man, I'd rather just turn on World Tour and get the full experience."

That feeling persisted across all of Superstar's offerings. Every game offers just enough depth to keep you playing for a couple of hours, but there are no real hooks that made me feel like I wanted to keep coming back for more.

My favorite sport in the lot was horse racing, and that's likely because I have nothing else to compare it to from previous Mario Spots outings. I thought it would be just a Mario Kart reskin, but was happy to discover it offers a unique take on racing mechanics. Racing in a pack, for example, allows your horse to keep moving quickly without using up all of their stamina. Rather than trying to break away from the competition, the object of the game is to stay in the mix and make your big move at just the right moment.

Horse racing was also the only sport to offer anything outside of the basic modes and tutorial challenges. There's a "Stable" feature that lets you brush, pet and feed your horse, walk it around various locales in a first-person view, as well as collect a whole bunch of cosmetic items to customize your favorite steed. It's a small addition, and not super deep, but adding something similar to each sport would have helped give the overall package longer legs.

In short, the sports are all well-made and decent fun, but there's a lack of depth and variety that I've come to expect from these types of games.

Thankfully, there's at least an online option to make things a bit more interesting. While I had trouble finding opponents from time to time, the game stayed stable whenever I finally got matched up with an online opponent. And along with playing randos, you can also square off against folks on your friends list or anyone sitting in the same room who also has a copy of the game.

If you're just looking for a decent collection of sports games to pick up and play on the go, Mario Sports Superstars isn't a bad bet, though I feel like a lot of small things are missing that could have made this a more compelling single player package. If you've got a friend who is also picking up the game, though, I imagine you'll have a heck of a lot more fun than those of us who tend to game solo.

Overall, Mario Sports Superstars isn't a homerun, but neither is it a strikeout.

This review is based on a downloaded copy of the game provided by the publisher.

7 / 10 stars
Rating: movie reviewed rating

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