The Mushroom Kingdom’s finest are back for another sport’s day, with Mario revisiting some of his more popular sports and even discovering a few new ones. Yet the five sports available don’t stop the game from feeling a bit light on content.
Superstars sees the return of two Mario sports veteran developers, Bandai Namco and Camelot. However, compared to games like Mario Tennis Open or Mario Golf: World Tour, Superstars feels incredibly bare bones. While the collection includes five sports instead of the usual one, it merely means each sport is a watered down version with no real championing spirit.
From the outset, Superstars feels smaller in scope. Sorely missed from the likes of Mario Power Tennis, the game lacks any kind of opening cutscene for any of its sports. While there is a single-player mode for each, it only offers basic AI matches and a simple tournament option. Each sport does feature the ring challenge mode too, but these are little more than a quick distraction. This is certainly a major problem for the game, particularly owing to its limited multiplayer options.
If Superstars’ multiplayer was up to par all these points would be null, since Mario sports games always draw the most fun when with a group of friends. However, the 3DS collection gets a red card here too. The DS revolutionised handheld multiplayer with the addition of Download Play, allowing multiple players to join in with just one copy of the game. Unlike Mario Tennis Open, Mario Kart 7, and even Mario & Sonic at the London Olympics, Superstars chooses not to include this exceptional feature. This really feels like a step backwards, blocking off the game’s local multiplayer features.
Superstars’ online options are a slight saviour though, each sport fully playable online. Nintendo certainly has a patchy record with online multiplayer, but the game is fully committed to letting players challenge friends and strangers alike. Just like recent Mario Kart games, the challenging strangers boosts your skill rating. These ratings are an excellent way to keep people playing, hard-core fans cherishing their high scores. Choosing ‘Playing With Friends’ functions exactly how you’d expect, the game giving you the option to either create a room or join a friend. Frustratingly, each sport’s online features are disconnected, forcing players to leave the room to try another game. Minor inconveniences aside though, the online generally does its job well.
What’s so upsetting about these limitations is that Superstars’ basic gameplay is pretty good. Camelot’s traditional Tennis and Golf are just as satisfying as ever, both recapturing the fun of their original games. This is hardly surprising though, both modes are clearly based on the engines of their previous 3DS appearances. New to the 3DS, Soccer and Baseball are certainly simplified from their Mario Strikers and Sluggers iterations, but both certainly control nicely and are fun to play. It’s just a shame that there’s not much to do with any of them. Tennis, Baseball and Soccer only have four stadiums each, Golf only offering four courses of nine holes.
Horse Racing is certainly the outlier here though, feeling much deeper than Superstars’ other paltry offerings. While it still only features twelve race tracks, it offers much deeper customisation than any other sport in the package. Nintendogs meets Mario Kart, Superstars lets players design and name their own horses with its own specific stats. As a Zelda fan, I instantly dubbed my steed Epona and began training. It’s interesting to note how much a horse’s mood changes the course of a race, as Epona was notably faster after being fed and watered.
It’s true that Mario Sports Superstars looks great graphically, but the game’s environments are all a little too bland. While the Mushroom Kingdom crew are as colourful as ever, the settings are all too plain for a Mario game. This is probably more down to preference, but part of the fun of these games is seeing the wacky surroundings of the Mushroom Kingdom. Horse Racing is particularly guilty of this, the madcap courses of Mario Kart 7 putting this game’s generic forests to shame. It’s also part of a much bigger problem in Superstars, since much of the Mushroom Kingdom’s charm is sorely missing. Compared to the crazy gameplay of Super Mario Strikers, this game’s basic soccer feels like Mario invaded a dull FIFA clone. Tennis and Golf break this mould slightly, but a lack of power-ups mean even Camelot couldn’t infuse much of Mario’s eccentricity into these simplified sports.
There are attempts to flesh out the game, but none are particularly engaging. Superstars’ amiibo support is rather lacklustre, using the new amiibo cards to unlock stronger versions of characters and a simple Breakout style minigame. While there are also in-game collectable cards, these seem to have little purpose beyond filling a virtual album with Superstars’ promotional art.
Mario Sports Superstars doesn’t quite manage a hole-in-one, its bare bones nature provoking harsh comparisons to other games in the series. The basic gameplay is certainly fun to play, but anyone looking for a deeper sporting experience would probably be better tracking down another Mario sports game. Place your bets elsewhere, Superstars is down for the count.