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There's not really a lot to be expected from this department for a game like Mario Sports Mix. The graphics and the sound are both good enough, but neither of them is anything special. The Mario characters are all very recognizable, and their art style has been pretty standardized by now. As a result, they look more or less exactly like you'd expect them to look. They're not rendered in any way that is especially impressive, but there's nothing about them that looks all that disappointing either. Overall, the graphics are good enough, and there are no real surprises here.
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The audio is much the same as the graphics in terms of quality. The voice acting is the same "Let's go!" for Mario and "Bwahaha" for Bowser that we've been hearing for decades now, which isn't a bad thing, but again, it doesn't leave room for surprises here either. The music is also the same sort of familiar happy-go-lucky Mario-esque music we've been hearing for decades, and so again, this is something that's recognizable and predictable. There's nothing really wrong with the graphics or the audio in Mario Sports Mix, but there's nothing really special about them either. This is ultimately designed to be a party game, a Wii family game to get the kids together, and this isn't exactly the most important area for that kind of game, so it's alright for it to not be mind-blowing as long as it gets the job done, and it does.
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This is hardly Nintendo's first foray into making Mario-themed sports titles. In the past, they've had huge successes with games like Mario Strikers, Mario Golf, and Mario Tennis. All of those are fantastic, fun sports games. They've proven that this concept, Wii family games starring Mario and friends as various athletes, is a concept that they understand how to do well.
It's unfortunate, then, that Mario Sports Mix is such a failure. There are four sports you can choose to play: Volleyball, Hockey, Basketball, and Dodgeball. Each of them can be played as a 2 vs. 2 matchup or as a 3 vs. 3 matchup, and all of them can be played with 1-4 human players, with the computer controlling the rest. You can choose to play as all the favorite Mario characters, and because the game was developed with Square Enix, some more characters, such as a Moogle, are unlockable. There are also various gimmicky courses with quirky obstacles you can play on, some of which are better than others.
Playing alone is a truly terrible experience. For instance, control doesn't even switch automatically to computer-controlled characters when they get the ball or puck, which is unacceptable in any sports game, no matter how simplified. Even if there's no one around, however, they offer online play to save you from ever having to play alone, but even playing with a group of people falls well short of the mark. The simplification of the sports in question has always been the strength of the Mario sports titles, but this one goes too far. Every single one of the games consists of passing and shooting/throwing/dodging, and that's about it, to the point that all four of them end up feeling relatively interchangeable, despite being very different sports.
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Each of the four sports in Mario Sports Mix has an accompanying "party game." Dodgeball is still pretty much dodgeball, except instead of throwing balls at each other, there are cannons shooting bob-ombs into the stage, and everyone is dodging for their lives. As nothing here has changed, it's still pretty sub-par. For basketball, you grab low hanging fruits and throw them into Petey Piranha's mouth, which might not be an incredible experience, but it's a lot more fun than the actual basketball game. The hockey party game is called Smash Skate. Four players skate around a circular stage and try to smash each other off the edges. Again, this is far from the best thing you can play with a group of players, but it's pretty fun.
The volleyball party game, however, is actually a lot of fun. Balls of four different colors come flying at you from the other side of the court, and each of the four players must receive the balls of their color. Occasionally they send a rainbow multi-colored ball that anyone can receive. Each ball corresponds to a note in a melody, and as long as all four players are keeping the combo going, a song will play. The songs are various famous Nintendo melodies, and because the game was developed with Square Enix, some of their melodies are present as well. I had particular fun with the Chocobo song. Even bad games need to succeed somewhere, but one good party game and two that are only slightly better than mediocre do not make up for the bad gameplay that's present everywhere else on this disc.
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One of the biggest problems with Wii controls is the motion sensitivity of the remote. When third-party developers make games for the system, it seems to be a common problem that a lot of the time, they're not sure how much they should utilize that feature. As a result, in these third party games, it sometimes feels underused or overused, and it can hamper the experience of the game more than help it. Luckily, Nintendo tends not to make this mistake when developing games for their own system. After all, it's their hardware. No one knows it better than they do, so surely they can't go wrong with it.
Most of the time, anyway. Here, they go quite wrong. Controls in Mario Sports Mix consist almost exclusively of passing with the A button and doing everything else by shaking the remote. You shoot, bodycheck, throw, block shots, dodge, serve, and smash, all by arbitrarily shaking the Wii remote. There are one or two other buttons that you press to use items or your special shots, but it's so few and far between that it's almost irrelevant. This is too much motion control, and not enough of anything else. The controls do at least respond properly when you shake the remote, which is a problem other titles do sometimes have getting right, but that doesn't excuse the fact that shaking the remote is pretty much all you get to do. It adds to the problem of the games already feeling more like slapped-together minigames than actual games.
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Mario Sports Mix honestly feels like Nintendo had a bunch of half-finished leftover sports ideas from the various good sports titles they've made over the years, and rather than finish any one of them, they decided to just put them all on one disc and hope the fact that there are four games in one would distract people from the fact that all four of those games are relatively awful.
Each of the four sports plays like a rushed attempt at a minigame, and the party games, while slightly better, are still mostly forgettable, and quite frankly, they aren't enough to make it okay that the supposed "main" gameplay is so overwhelmingly disappointing. For the $49.99 price tag this sports, there are plenty of great Wii family games out there, so if you're looking for something to play with your kids, there are better games to buy. Give this one a pass.
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Source: Author's own experience.
Mario Sports Mix product page, http://mariosportsmix.nintendo.com/