GamersPlay

A Shallow Sampling

If you’ve followed Mario’s career, you know he and his
friends are multi-talented. Aside from their world-saving skills, Nintendo’s
cast of characters set aside time for friendly competition in things like life-size
board games, go-karting, and sports. With Mario Sports Superstars, Nintendo
lumps five activities together into one package. Unfortunately, while they are
all fun to play, none of them offer depth or compelling reasons to continue
playing after the whistle sounds.

The game bundles soccer, baseball, tennis, golf, and horse
racing together. They all provide pick-up-and-play gameplay that makes them accessible
to players of any skill level. I enjoyed how quickly I was able to jump into a
game and play competently against the beginner-level A.I. opponents, even
pulling off special shots in my first soccer match. However, the novelty wears
off fast, as you can only play essentially the same match so many times before
craving more.

Each sport features solid mechanics that makes competing initially
exciting. Golf and soccer are great to jump into, but my favorite sports were
tennis and baseball. Those two sports not only feature the soundest mechanics,
but they easily lend themselves to arcade-style action. Sadly, even those sports
end up being little more than diversions. After just a few matches, the
addictive loop of improvement slows dramatically as your skills plateau.

With minimal stat-tracking, a lack of a progression system,
and no long-term play options like seasons or tours, I don’t feel compelled to
return to any of the modes outside of the allure of the simplistic gameplay and
working to find the best characters for my playstyle. Luckily, that aspect does
add some interesting wrinkles into the mix.

When selecting your characters, you must take into account
their individual attributes. A balanced character like Yoshi might be a good
foundation for your team, but you probably want to include a power hitter like
Donkey Kong in your batting order in baseball, or a speed-demon like Baby Luigi
as a forward in soccer. For baseball and soccer, you fill in the rest of your
team with generic characters including Toads, Shy Guys, or Magikoopas. I
enjoyed being able to draft a baseball team full of characters, each with
different strengths to craft the perfect lineup. I wish that the other sports supported
a similar layer of strategy, but they don’t.

Horse racing stands out as the oddball of the group. With
double jumps, boost pads, and obstacle-laden courses, horse racing is by far
the most arcade-focused of an already loose and casual collection. Despite its
wacky approach and dissonance with the other sports, I was surprised by how
much I like horse racing thanks to its fast-paced loop of avoiding trees and
hedges while collecting stars and carrots for energy. There is even an offshoot
Stable mode where you can bond with your horse. I wasn’t particularly drawn to
Stable, but between caring for your horse, customizing it, and searching for
items on walks, it’s strange that this sub-mode of horse racing has more layers
to it than any one sport included in Mario Sports Superstars.

You can play each of the five sports in exhibition or
tournament. Exhibition allows you to customize your experience by tweaking some
of the rules to your liking for one-off matches, while tournament lines you up
against three consecutive opponents in a bracket-style tournament with
standardized rules. You can also take the competition online, which works well
if you can find players – splitting the player-base between five modes with
custom search parameters seems to have hindered the pool of competitors in
matchmaking.

As you play though the different modes in Mario Sports
Superstars, you earn coins, which are used to purchase packs of cards. These
cards unlock hidden characters and courses, but they mostly serve to fill out
your fairly inconsequential collection.

Also hidden beneath the menus is a Breakout-clone that uses
Amiibo cards called Road to Superstar. In this mode, you lay out up to three paddles
spawned from Amiibo cards – regular Amiibos do not work – that return balls to
destroy bricks and take out enemies. The mode is surprisingly challenging, but
if you’ve played the classic Breakout game, it’s nothing new.

Mario Sports Superstars delivers five fun, surface-level
sports experiences in one package. Individually, these sports would be unable
to stand on their own. However, as a compilation, the variety helps compensate
for the lack of depth. Still, the more I played, the more this package felt
like a collection of minigames than a value-packed compilation.

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