25 years down the line, and we're starting to wonder if Mario was ever a plumber after all. After all, when you look at the things he can do, he seems like some sort of super-human God in disguise, or something. Over the past few years, he's done everything, becoming an artist, a dancer, a footballer, a professional driver, a tennis player, a golfer, and, of course, a Princess rescuing hero, amongst countless others, often with next to no practice at all. This time around, instead of simply adding another string to his bow, Mario adds another four, in this compilation of Mario themed sports games.
And, far from simply diluting the package, each of the games in Mario Sports Mix is a well thought ought, and fun to play addition to a robust bundle of sports games. Letting you choose from Basketball, Ice Hockey, Dodgeball and Volleyball, with a host of the Mushroom Kingdom's finest characters to play as, there's certainly plenty of variety on offer - in every which way.
Delving into the Ice Hockey first, we were pleasantly surprised to find that you can play each of the game's modes in multiplayer - meaning, if you ever find yourself struggling to win against the computer, you can take two friends in with you to help even the balance. As a game that works best in multiplayer, that's a smart, and much welcomed decision, although it is a bit disappointing that if you all want to play on the same team, you can have a maximum of three players. Split into single match and tournament modes, the tournaments are where you'll spend most of your time, as you take on three teams of steadily increasing skill, in an attempt to win the cup, and unlock a new character for use when playing that sport.
All of the sports let you use either the Wii Remote and Nunchuck - or, if you don't have a nunchuck, the Wii Remote sideways. Using the Nunchuck + Wiimote combo will let you use motion controls for the sports, but the holding-it-sideways method is our preferred control scheme. As you may expect from a Mario game, the controls are nice and simple, no matter how you choose to play. With the controller held sideways, 1 passes, 2 shoots, and, well, that's about all you'll need to know.
In fact (and this is a complain we very rarely level against any game), if anything, Mario Sports Mix is too easy. With a group of friends, it's not too hard to entirely outplay the AI, and, for the first tournament, we regularly found ourselves winning 30-0, across all sports. Things do get harder the more you play, but a gentler learning curve, that starts out being a bit trickier wouldn't have hurt the game that much.
There's an emphasis here on easy, fun, accessible gameplay to match the simplicity of the controls - much like practically every other Mario game that's come before it. For example, unlike in other, more realistic sports games, you don't need to put power behind a pass - the game automatically puts enough on it, so it'll get to where it needs to go. Similarly, aiming is simply a case of pushing the +Control Pad left or right to move a giant arrow that appears in front of the goal, meaning it's always obvious where your shot's going to go.
Quickly getting the hang of it, you'll be passing around the pitch in no time, and slotting things in behind the useless Shy Guy goalies before they've even had time to move. Scoring from in your own half isn't uncommon - and that's without even using the powerups.
There's a range of power-ups on offer for you to deploy against the opposition in certain courts, most of which have been lifted from Mario Kart. Whether you're chucking a shell at your opponents, throwing a bomb, or turning the ball into a mini mushroom, the power-ups are as easy to use as they are to collect (which you do by simply skating over a square with a question mark on it). Similarly, skating over coin icons adds extra points to your shots - if you score a goal while holding a coin, it'll be worth double; score holding three coins, and it'll be worth four points, etc.
The other games play out in a similarly zany way, retaining the same power-ups, and over the top action. Basketball, for example, is another highlight of the game, almost entirely due to the insanity of the moves you can pull off. Regularly, you can leap in the air, pass from teammate to teammate, traverse the entire course, and dunk it in the basket without your feet touching the ground. Luigi has a habit for dunking himself through the basket too, which makes it all the funnier when he leaps in the air to grab a pass that never comes, and ends up simply basketing himself.
Volleyball, too, is better than the version that comes bundled with Kinect Sports, as here you can actually aim your shots, to take advantage of your opponents' rubbish positioning. The controls are similarly simple and straighforward, which lets you spend more time enjoying playing the game, and positioning your character properly, rather than worrying about which button you have to press when. Again, each character has their own "special" way of playing - a favourite of ours was to leap up as Wario when the other team were about to spike it over the net, as Wario blocks the shot with his ample posterior.
The worst of the bunch, by far, is Dodgeball, due mostly to the game's decision to not explain the rules for any game, and the computer team's ability to catch practically every shot you throw at them - but even then, it's not that bad. Scoring any points is simply a question of relying on the computer team to mess up catching it - and then waiting for them to do it twice more, as each player has a health bar that allows them to take three hits. Thankfully, when you're eliminated, you're never eliminated from the entire game, as you take your place on the sidelines, and can wait for a pass to take your chance to bounce a ball off the opposition's head to get back in. Admittedly, it can be quite fun standing on the halfway line, waiting for Toad to try and throw the ball at you, only to instantly catch it, and bounce it off his head, but Dodgeball's still the weakest of the bunch.
The arenas, as with most Mario sports games, play a large part in the game, as many of them completely change the way you play. Whether it's a game of hockey, where fountains routinely spring in front of the goal, stopping the pucks from getting in, or basketball on a field which actually moves from one end to the other, independently of the baskets, meaning if you time it right, you can slam dunk for 3 points, theres a mix of interesting, and slightly frustrating (if youre on the losing end) adjustments.
With an emphasis on multiplayer fun, a difficulty level and control schemes that mean anyone should be able to pick up and play, and the same over the top emphasis on chaotic power-ups, morphing arenas, and insane special moves that youll recognise if youve played other Mario Sports games, Mario Sports Mix comes highly recommended unless, of course, youve got no-one to play it with.