For years. the Mario Sports games have made an art out of simplicity. Where other sports videogames try to recreate the game’s action through elaborate controls, Nintendo has been taking away as many controls as possible. Instead of a gamebook full of rules and two fistfuls of buttons to handle, Mario Sports games gave me a simple goal and a single button to push. The results — a series of stripped-down takes on tennis, golf, soccer and baseball — are all-ages friendly and surprisingly challenging.
So when I first saw Mario Sports Mix, I assumed it was a medley of past Mario Sports games — a four-for-one repackaging of Nintendo’s classic athletic adventures. But I don’t remember Mario playing dodgeball or volleyball. He has been affiliated with hockey in the past, but I’ve never seen the whole Mushroom Kingdom gang out on the ice. And while they’ve played basketball before, the tippity-tappity handheld Mario Hoops 3-on-3 is better forgotten.
Mario Sports Mix contains four new, original games in a single package. All of them feature characters moving around a playing field, shooting balls and hockey pucks into baskets and goals or at each other. And each of the games features the simplicity that has made the Mario Sports series so approachable.
“Basketball” — one of the games included in Mario Sports Mix — reduces everything to moving around and shooting. A thumbstick, a button and a wiggleable Wii Remote do all the basics. “Hockey” is almost identical, but with a touch more mayhem. (Score-boosting coins, banana peels and the occasional bomb pop out of the rink’s surface from time to time.) The thumbstick skates me around while the ‘A’ button passes the puck. A shake of the Wii Remote shoots it.
Motion sensitivity is a secondary feature in these Wii games.Shaking the controller is merely another button push that uses the forearm instead of the finger. No nuanced aiming or targeting is required. In “Volleyball,” I can change the direction of my shots slightly — moving them towards the right or left sides of the court. But as long as I keep running to where the game tells me the ball is going, and as long as I shake my Remote on time, I score.
Perhaps the most complicated game that Mario Sports Mix offers is “Dodgeball,” but only because balls are thrown from all sides of the court. Catching the ball and sending it flying back isn’t automatic, and does require some timing. But that’s as difficult as Mario Sports Mix gets. In this era of motion-control technology and unprecedented computing power, Mario Sports Mix makes the brave choice of simplifying, and the results satisfy.
THE GOOD: Every sport in Mario Sports Mix uses the same basic control scheme. That means that if you learn one game, you learn them all. No recalibration necessary.
THE BAD: As a Mario game, Sports Mix is skimpy with the bombs, turtle shells and other iconic objects of mayhem. Normally, these add enough chaos to keep the game’s results uncertain. Without these wildcards in full effect, Sports Mix is more predictable and a little less frenzied than Mario’s other athletic endeavors.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Mario Sports Mix is a slight suite of simplified sports classics.