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Mario sports games have varied wildly in quality and content over the years. Some are barebones but stand on their gameplay well enough, like Mario Tennis 64; others have pushed the plumber in new directions, like the aggressively stylized Mario Strikers games. More recently we’ve seen improvements via added functionality and pure polish, courtesy of Mario Golf: World Tour. I’ve spent hours enjoying several of these games, and while they never leave the same kind of lasting impressions that the core Mario titles do, I can’t help but get excited when they come along.

Mario Sports Superstars brings five of these varied sports together, which seems like a more than complete package with a lot of promise on the surface. While I enjoyed my time with some of these sports, others failed to meet expectations, and its when you view them as separate entities that they come off as barebones and unable to live up to the hall of fame standard past titles have met.

On the Green

I was happy to see that all the time I put into previous Mario Golf games transferred over nicely to Superstars. While there are no new features added to the gameplay, it still proved an enjoyable approximation of the real game of golf. That said, it may be the mode where the stripped-down nature of Superstars is felt most. There are only four courses and each of them is limited to nine holes. If you’re after some of the more outlandish designs and elements from, say, the GameCube’s Toadstool Tour, you might be disappointed – but for a quick round it’s a definite hole-in-one.

Immediately, I noticed that almost all of Golf’s assets were lifted from 2014’s World Tour, and despite having a good time with the four courses and different modes offered (Stroke Play and a Ring Challenge mini-game), the fact that I was playing a game that felt overly familiar was somewhat disappointing. Instead, it would have been interesting to see features included, like the ability to customize Miis or the option to enter full, online competitions — instead of being limited to smaller matches with other players. If Nintendo was willing to take such a large portion of content from a previous entry, it’s unfortunate that so much of what made that package complete was left behind.

In the end, I realized my favoritism for Golf was due to my love for the game’s kinship with the original title it was so closely modeled after. While my experience was enjoyable, it definitely could have been enhanced with some small, yet thoughtful, additions.

Courtside commentary

Tennis feels most similar to Mario Tennis Open on the 3DS, and it utilizes those assets to bring four courts, tournaments and Ring Challenges to the game. If all of that sounds familiar, there’s no need for you to scroll down: every sport in Superstars follows this setup. It’s a shame more variety isn’t offered within each sport, but at least the Golf and Tennis gameplay proved as solid and enjoyable as Mario’s previous sports spinoffs — a testament to Camelot’s assistance in the development process.

Chance shots are back once again, adding just a bit of flash to what would otherwise be straightforward Tennis. Occasionally, based on how well-timed your own shots and returns are, colored spotlights will appear where you can get an extra boost to your standard selection of volleys. These have been around since Tennis Open, but they still elevate the action and reward proper positioning and quick reflexes. It’s still a stripped-down affair though, so after a tournament or two it might be best to head to something different.

The kingdom’s game

Fortunately Soccer, while nothing close to the adrenaline-fueled Strikers games, has still got some kick to it. Nintendo’s decided to go full teams of 11 this time around, with players choosing a captain, sub-captain, a full squad to back them and a goalie. The squads are made of Toads, Shy Guys or other Mushroom mainstays (though you can’t mix and match), and goalies are a choice between Boom Boom or Pom Pom. While there’s fun to be had here, all too often tournament games seemed to drag. The back and forth of the game is present, but the intricacy that comes via ball control, precision passing and shooting has sadly been red carded.

The arcade-like nature is enhanced ever so slightly by powered up shots that can happen once the ball begins to glow, but that window of opportunity always feels random. The shots themselves vary from character to character, with Mario’s dropping off in power suddenly and serving best from a longer range, while Yoshi’s bicycle kick was better as a sudden, up close strike to surprise the keeper. Experimenting with this was fun, though not enough to make Soccer more than an occasional distraction.

Swinging for the fences

Mario Sports Superstars’ take on Baseball is definitely a sidestep from past installments, but if you look past the lack of depth there are a few redeeming features that can provide an enjoyable experience. Pitching can be exciting, tasking players with understanding the opposing batter’s stance and knowing the correct pitch trajectories to counter them. It even allows you to make conscious decisions, such as intentionally walking power hitters. I really suggest getting good at pitching, because fielding is where not only Baseball, but all of Mario Sports Superstars, is at its weakest. When automated it ends up feeling more like a cutscene than active gameplay, preventing me from influencing where a ball is thrown. I felt the need to go to the game menu and switch to manual fielding just so I could feel like I was getting more interaction with the game.

Batting is fairly straightforward, and I appreciated the game allowing me to set my lineup. Home runs always feel good and with proper planning you can make even grand slams much more likely. As for rounding the bases, that’s a bit less manageable. Once the ball is hit the camera stays on it, and while there’s a map on hand it can sometimes be difficult to judge if it’s a good time to advance. It’s in these moments where some finer control options would have benefited the most.

A day at the races

At last we come to the slightly out of place Horse Racing. Mario’s played plenty of sports in his day, but rather than bring back basketball, hockey, volleyball or even dodgeball we instead get something tangentially related to the Equestrian events seen in the last two Summer Olympics games. While it’s a bit slower paced and requires some thought when it comes to navigating tracks, the sport actually manages to stand out thanks to what I initially assumed would be faults. I was pleasantly surprised with how it holds its own, unique identity, even if it doesn’t always reach a full gallop.

Steeds vary in both appearances and stats, which prompts you to spend time figuring out which one is best suitable for the course. Once you’ve selected one, though, races are fairly straightforward. Movement is handled as you’d imagine: B spurs your horse into dashing at the expense of a stamina meter; A allows you to jump over obstacles; and X can activate a super dash once a separate meter is filled. While it may be tempting to hold to the inside of the track, the game actually encourages more dynamic movement thanks to the placement of items that both replenish stamina and fuel the super dash. It also handles the ever-present racing problem of rubber banding in a way that feels natural, which is something of a rarity. By remaining as a tight pack of racers, something called “the Herd Effect” will activate, increasing the amount and rate of natural stamina recovery for all present. Take off too far ahead, and eventually the herd will catch up thanks to their ability to dash more often.

As interesting as it sounds, even this mode eventually runs its course. One element, however, was added to this sport that really gives you reason to spend extra time playing it. You can visit a stable to tend to and dress your horse, a feature that reminded me somewhat of a lite version of Nintendogs. You can even take a stroll around the farm (and eventually the tracks) to pick up new items and feed for your horse to help boost performance during races. After some playing around with the feature, I knew I wasn’t exactly into it myself, but the fact that there’s a means to supplement the core gameplay is more than I can say for the other four sports. Trapped by the same limitations on tracks and modes to play with outside of this, Horse Racing shows some promise and novelty that makes for a respectable third place.

All-star amiibo

Alongside the game, a new series of amiibo cards has been released, with a subsection of the game made specifically for them. By scanning in Mario Sports Superstars amiibo cards, you can not only add them to an in-game collection, but also use them in the Road to Superstar mini-game.

It plays similar to Breakout, with three of your cards (which you arrange) along the bottom of the screen used to reflect their corresponding balls at Mario style blocks and enemies. If you make it through to the end and take out a boss, you unlock a Superstar version of those characters for the sport their card represents. These have increased stats where it counts for the corresponding activity, granting access to things like longer drives in Golf, or faster running in Horse Racing.

I can’t help but enjoy the idea of collecting these cards, and the mode itself is fun in spite of its simplicity. One of my most enjoyable memories from childhood was collecting baseball cards, so seeing that hobby represented in a similar fashion makes for a fun reminder of the joy these sports can bring outside of the stadium.

These aren’t the only cards in Superstars’ hand, though. The game also boasts a digital-only collection of over three hundred cards that you can purchase via in game coins. They come in packs of either three or ten random cards, with doubles separated and available to be traded in for three guaranteed new cards once you have a hundred duplicates. Acquiring these has been one of my favorite parts of the Mario Sports Superstars experience, though I know in due time I’ll be pulling doubles more and more often. Still, by being tied to easily earned in-game currency, the idea of it being random doesn’t bother me much.

Closing ceremony

Mario Sports Superstars isn’t perfect, nor is it the best title to represent the potential behind Mario spinoffs. It’s a playable collection of five, separate games with minimal content that looks to hold overall quantity over individual quality. The variety is where the game’s compilation naturally shines, letting you flow from game to game to make sessions feel more complete. When it comes to overall range, Mario Sports Superstars doesn’t lose.

While there are better Mario game options for almost all the modes represented here, this collection offers something special to the younger crowd of players. It can be difficult finding a favorite sport for those in their youth; when I was a child, what I played was often determined by what others were playing, or what seemed fun at the time — and I’m certain other kids go through the same thing nowadays. Superstars easily gives younger players a variety of sports to experience, providing them with a better way to find activities that suit them on a more personal level.

While it lacks polish, depth, and not all of its sports are created equal, there are still some features to like about the compilation. As a sampling of what the wider world of Mario spinoffs has to offer, Mario Sports Superstars is a solid pickup. Its playstyle can inspire rookies to follow their passions while working as an introduction to the world of sports.

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  • Golf and Tennis are both mechanically great
  • Horse Racing has some good ideas
  • Card collecting is always addicting
  • A variety of sports is available, but…
  • … there’s not a lot to do in each sport
  • Soccer and Baseball are ultimately lacking
  • The best of this game can be found in other games
  • Many assets reused from said other games

System: Nintendo 3DS

Release date: March 24, 2017

Categories: Sports

Publisher: Nintendo

Developers: Camelot Software Planning, Bandai Namco Entertainment

Written by Ricky Berg

When he isn’t writing for Nintendo Wire, Ricky’s anticipating the next Kirby, Fire Emblem, or if the stars ever align, Mother 3 to be released. Till then he’ll have the warm comfort of Super Smash Bros. to keep him going.