Mario Sports Superstars Review: Saving Par

Credit: Nintendo
Credit: Nintendo /

Mario Sports Superstars tours four familiar Mario sports and adds a fifth for a rounded sports collection. But success depends on depth as well as breadth.

Developers: Bandai Namco Entertainment, Camelot Software Planning

Publisher: Nintendo

Platform: Nintendo 3DS

Release Date: March 24, 2017

Camelot’s turnover of Mario golf and tennis titles over the years has been hit or miss. They’ve ranged from polished, exciting, replayable games such as Mario Golf: Advance Tour to the more recent head-hanger of Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash. They’ve experienced those highs and lows on both console and handheld, bringing the lessons learned from both forward to new titles…or not. Mario Sports Superstars represents Camelot’s first go at a compilation, bringing together the two sports they’re familiar with (golf and tennis), two they aren’t (baseball and soccer), and one that Mario hasn’t really attempted before (horse racing).

Concerning basic game structure, each sport operates identically. You have a single-player mode in which you can either play custom games of your chosen sport or work your way through three initial difficulty levels of a tournament and a fourth unlockable upon their completion. Multiplayer mode includes local and online play (no Direct Download, ludicrous for a game so obviously well-suited to it). All sports include the same set of playable Mario characters either as individuals or team captains, with two unlockable secret characters. Finally, there’s a training mode for each where you can learn more complex strategies for your chosen sport.

mario sports superstars
Credit: Nintendo /

As far as depth goes, that’s the extent of it. Apart from the unlockable fourth “area” from the Champion’s Cup and the two hidden characters, all progression in Mario Sports Superstars is dependent on the player honing his or her own skills and enjoying the gameplay for what it is. As a purely single-player game, you’ll have seen it all within about ten hours if you’re good enough at the individual games. A Pro mode for custom games may extend the skill cap somewhat, but the endgame relies primarily on online multiplayer catching on. While not inherently a bad thing in a sports title, there’s nonetheless a profound sense of “Now what?” once you’ve cleared all the Champion’s Cups.

So that leaves the gameplay of the individual sports to excite, and it’s obvious here what Camelot is comfortable with. Soccer, the first listed game, was easily the weakest of the batch. Unlike Mario Strikers, soccer in Mario Sports Superstars features more traditional 11v11 gameplay with two selectable team captains (all with different stat sets) and your choice of Mario minion teammates (visual differences only).

The basic soccer controls of running, dribbling, shooting, and Special Shots present typically enough, but the clumsy AI and uncomfortable viewpoint made good soccer playing a struggle for me. The player-controlled character will eventually switch automatically as the opponent’s play moves, but it’s rarely swift and often to an unexpected or illogical character. Manual swapping works, but often the game will auto-swap for you right after, or pick an undesirable target. Moving characters about the field alternatively felt smooth, then on rails. Visually, I could never see as much of the field as I wanted to at once, and swapping my gaze between the top and bottom screens distracted my play constantly. Perhaps with practice and strategy, soccer wouldn’t be so bad, but my time pushing through tournament mode was almost nothing but frustration.

mario sports superstars
Credit: Nintendo /

Baseball fares better. Here, you’ll select your entire team, both the two captains and seven more slots with minions boasting different stats, then place them in the positions of your choosing. You can play three, six, or nine innings, alternating between pitching and hitting, and either controlling the fielding yourself or allowing the AI (much improved over the soccer AI, mind) to throw the ball for you.

What do you get for winning all these sports you’re playing? …Packs of in-game, collectible sports cards that do nothing.

Each character is primarily defined by his or her pitching options, and you’ll need to get tricky with the fast and curve balls to trick the more perceptive batters you face. Hitting, meanwhile, presents a quick-thinking puzzle to decide if, where, and how to hit each new pitch thrown. That said, baseball’s one weakness was in its online component. While the psychological element of pitching and hitting against another intelligent human being was truly enjoyable, online lag in the middle of my own turn up at bat made it really darn difficult to read and hit a pitch properly.

Tennis, predictably, was the shining superstar of the game. Tennis can be played in doubles or singles, with or against AI or friends, and presents a surprising challenge in its singles tournament mode. Play mixes the basic back and forth of a tennis match with Chance Shots taken in special spots on the court to deliver tough-to-counter swings at opportune times. The variety of shots I could take paired with the character selection has me optimistic for online random matches, though that excitement may be limited to the kinds of people who revel in such tests of skill. And once again, occasional instances of lag while playing online completely ruined a handful of sets.

mario sports superstars
Credit: Nintendo /

Anyone who has played Mario Golf: World Tour will immediately pick up and be familiar with all aspects of golf in Mario Sports Superstars. You’d think with Camelot’s experience, it’d be a no-brainer for this to succeed, but I ended up with mixed feelings once I realized how similar this golf was to World Tour. The mechanics from World Tour weren’t broken, so I’m glad Camelot didn’t fix them. But they also just re-skinned several courses from it (and the original Mario Golf, I’m pretty sure) and slapped them into Mario Sports Superstars. It’s hard to complain about what essentially feels like DLC for World Tour, but I also wish there was more effort here to produce something we haven’t already seen before on the same system.

Finally, horse racing, which presents a decidedly casual approach after four far more complex competitions. Your horse runs automatically; you can use up its slowly refilling energy bar to make it run faster and collect stamina around the track to fill it, too. Collecting stars as you run will fill up a second gauge that can be spent at intervals for a huge burst of speed. Meanwhile, you must turn your horse appropriately and jump over obstacles. The explanation sounds a touch complicated, but in practice horse racing just felt like extremely dumbed-down kart racing. I didn’t get a chance to try online, but some odd AI rubberbanding made it easy to do nothing special at all until the final quarter of the third lap and win every time in single-player mode.

mario sports superstars
Credit: Nintendo /

Then there’s the mini-game attached to the horse racing where you pet, feed, and brush your horse on the touchscreen, then take it for walks to find accessories and raise its affection for you. The accessories are cute if that’s your thing, but they’re purely cosmetic. Higher affection horses, meanwhile, do better in races, and it will take a lot of time and repetitive walking over the same tracks, again and again, to max it out. Too bad for those who like the racing but hate petting mini-games.

Finally, what do you get for winning all these sports you’re playing? Coins. And you spend coins on packs of in-game, collectible sports cards that do…nothing. They do nothing. Well, you can unlock very minor cosmetic alterations for your characters or equipment, but it’s subtle to the point of non-existance. It may as well be nothing.

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Unrelated to these useless cards are the real-life amiibo cards you can scan in to unlock super-powered versions of their pictured characters via a “Brick Breaker” mini-game. The mechanics of the mini-game may have been enjoyable for what they were, but it’s absolutely ridiculous that you have to spend real life money outside of the initial game purchase for a random chance to unlock the top tier version of the character you want playing the sport you want. And forget about collecting them all unless you shell out for plenty of packs.

6. Mario Sports Superstars left me with a weird mess of feelings. Some aspects, such as the tennis, baseball, and some aspects of horseback riding and golf were genuinely enjoyable, if lacking in long-term replay value. Others, such as the golf course reskins, everything in soccer, the tedium of horse care, and the fact that the best versions of every character in every sports are locked behind paywalls left a sour taste in my mouth. Should you get this game? If you like Mario Sports in general, well, sure. But if you’re only looking at a single sport or just looking for more 3DS fun before you cave and purchase a Switch, Mario Sports Superstars is a title you can skip without regret.. Camelot/Bandai Namco. . Mario Sports Superstars

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.