The last Mario sports game I ever played was Super Mario Sports Mix on the Wii. One of the reasons I fell out with them was due to a feeling they lacked content. I was hoping Super Mario Sports Mix would fix this, being four games in one, but I found each one of them had very few options compared to previous Mario sports games. Now, Super Mario Sports Mix was made by Square-Enix and Mario Sports Superstars is made by Bandai Namco & Camelot, so I wasn’t expecting the same exact treatment. Unfortunately, this game ended up feeling more bare-bones than Sports Mix, even with five sports instead of four. But, let us look at this 3DS game bit by bit and figure out how this game strikes out in parts, but also where it knocked the ball out of the park.
Mario Sports Superstars is made up of five separate sports ranging from the prerequisite tennis and golf to the rarely used baseball and football (soccer for those outside of Europe), and finally the entirely new equestrian riding. That last one is certainly rather bizarre and not something I ever expected to see Mario and friends taking part in. The gameplay is different for each of these sports so it makes sense to tackle them one by one.
The Mario spin on tennis comes in the form of special types of shots the player can pull off using certain button combinations when prompted. Players can also do this by using the touch-screen, in fact, every sport can be played by using the touch screen, but I only found it especially useful here in tennis. Something else shared across some of the sports is the power meter which builds up as the game goes on and allows the option to use super moves.
Golf is a fairly standard affair; hit a small bowl across various fields into a hole. Players can choose what club they can utilise and how hard they want to hit the ball. Like the special shots in tennis, players can add top or backspin to a ball in order to add some extra manipulation once the ball has hit the ground.
Moving on to baseball, players now have the option to pick two player characters and a team of minor characters. All of these are split into types like power, balance, technical, and speed. During a game players either bat or pitch, which functions quite differently to how I remembered it functioning in the previous Mario Baseball titles. Players can choose what type of pitch they want to use and have to time when to hit the A button to throw the ball. Perfect that time and players can get a powerful throw; mess it up and players will most likely be handing a ball or a base to their opponents. Batting is also just as simple; players get a set space where they can bat and give them the option of how hard they want to hit the ball. During the batting phase, they can also give commands to steal bases or bunt. That’s where most of your control ends, as fielders tend to work autonomously. I think you can manipulate where they throw the ball, but the game never tells you, and I’m unsure if I’m imagining it or not.
In football, each team has to kick their ball into their opponent’s goal. I found this sport to be the most uninteresting and tedious of the five. It’s not that it plays bad – in fact, all the sports play well – but I just don’t find it interesting. And while players have plenty of options for passing the ball around, the game didn’t tell me about them. This is certainly no Mario Strikers, that’s for sure.
Lastly, we have equestrian riding and it is here that, surprisingly, I had the most fun. That might’ve come down to this being a new sport, or because it reminded me of Mario Kart. Players race around a track using unique, individual, horses, all while gaining star points which allow for quick boosts of speed. Horses have stamina as well, so players will need to collect carrots to keep it up or fall into a ‘herd’ which allows the horse to gain stamina by being motivated by the other horses. Not sure why that works, but I’ll roll with it because this mode is just a lot of fun. In fact, I think it was my favourite sport amongst them. While it still feels a little barebones (a common trend with all these games), I think that if they released equestrian riding as a standalone experience, expanded the number of tracks, and maybe added in items to use, then we could see a fun, alternative racer to Mario Kart.
All of these sports come with standard tournament modes and exhibition matches. There are four tournaments of increasing difficulty, all of which consist of three matches. This is fine for the quicker sports like tennis and equestrian Riding but it dragged with football and baseball. This doesn’t help that, like Mario Sports Mix, each of these games are independent so players will have to unlock everything for each individual sport, and it’s all the same. There is only one extra mode to play, tucked away in the games training option, and that is the ring challenge. This mini-game involves hitting the ball (or riding a horse) through a set number of rings in a time limit. It’s a fun distraction, but it is the only one from the same games over and over again. That’s fine in multiplayer, but it can get a bit dull alone.
The game shares the same visual style across all five of its sports and anyone who is familiar with the previous 3DS sports titles knows what to expect. You won’t be getting anything stylised like Mario Strikers here; there’s no Mad Max body armour or amazing character themes. The music is ok and definitely works for the sports, but it’s pretty unmemorable overall. The menu layout is even worse though; it’s incredibly generic, unvaried, and completely forgettable. Mario Sports Superstars has eighteen captains from which to pick from, but there are no fun surprises on that front It’s the typical Mario cast and while there is some variation with the supporting cast it’s still very lacklustre. I would have rather had the likes of Bloopers or Monty Moles instead of different coloured Magikoopas or Toad dressed as a Flying Squirrel (the Penguin one can stay though. Also there is Spike, but we all like Spike).
The game actually sports some kind of collectable in the form of Mario sports cards. You may as well collect them as they are the only thing coins can be spent on. They are cute and are also where the amiibo functionality comes in. While I never used it personally, it seems the cards can give a boosted players as well as allow for the purchase of in-game packs for free. It is a nice enough feature but not worth it in my opinion. The game is not so difficult that the star characters really change anything.
One last mode I wanted to touch upon was the My Horse mode. Along with all the guest horses, players can rent for the equestrian riding, it is also possible to raise your own horses. You can brush them, take them on walks, dress them, and they, in turn, can get money or benefits for the actual race. It is a fun and very thought-out idea and more evidence that equestrian riding alone could make for an interesting future sports title for Mario and friends. But it does say a lot that riding is the only one of the five sports to get an additional mode like this. It really puts into perspective how empty this game actually is, especially as each sport only has four courses to play on that are only distinct visually. Even Mario Sports Mix had courses that changed up gameplay. Riding actually has a few more (of course) but visually there are only four settings. Think of it a bit like Super Mario Kart with its four versions of Donut Plains.
I am going, to be honest with you all. I was not very interested in writing this review in the end because I wasn’t very interested in talking about this game. While it mechanically plays very well, it suffers from a lack of variety. Yes, there are five separate sports, but once you’ve tried each of them once you’ve basically seen the whole game. The big exception to this is the riding which I kept going back to play because I found it very enjoyable. A bit more content and modes for this sport and it could easily stand on its own.
As for the other sports here, anyone who has played previous games in the series is better off sticking with them. There is nothing in the tennis section of this game you haven’t seen already in Mario Tennis Open (except the Ultra Smash move but that’s one move). Overall I think this is a game that would do a lot better on the Nintendo Switch where playing multiplayer would be a lot easier. This game does have online multiplayer but I feel the sports titles are always more enjoyable with friends locally. But on the 3DS I find that very difficult to do and the lack of variety in stages and modes brings down the single player as a whole. If you haven’t played a Mario sports game in a while and you find this cheap then definitely pick it up, but for those who bought the last few sports game, you’re only gonna find very little new here.