Nintendo's hybrid home/handheld console, the Switch has finally been released. Its handheld predecessor, the 3DS has had a long and largely successful life. It never quite reached the heights of the original DS, but it has a large library of mostly excellent games and has provided both myself (and now my daughter) with hours of entertainment. The fate of the 3DS in the post-Switch world is debatable.
Nintendo continues to state that the machine is not going anywhere and that there are a number of 'exciting' new games planned for the system. However, recent releases on the 3DS would seem to indicate otherwise. Dragon Quest
and Fire Emblem
aside, in 2017 the machine has become the home to scaled down ports of Wii U games and smaller releases, with just a handful of first- and second-party developed games on the horizon.
However, the twilight years of a console sometimes offer some of the very best experiences as by this stage developers have fully mastered the system. They also understand their audience and are able to create something that pushes the hardware and offers something, if not unique, then at least highly polished. Mario Sports Superstars
is not that game.
Although the 3DS has hardly been host to a great number of excellent sports games, Camelot's Tennis and Golf games have been rather good. Each release has proved that it is possible to create a deep but very accessible sports game that can be enjoyable in short bursts or for longer play, thus perfect for the handheld format.
At first glance, Mario Sports Superstars
should be a guaranteed hit. It is created by experienced developers with a proven track record for creating successful sports games and filling a hole in the 3DS' library, particularly now that EA has long since abandoned the format. In addition to the aforementioned Tennis and Golf, Mario Sports Superstars
adds Football, Baseball and Horse Racing to the mix.
Whilst I was not expecting each game to offer the depth of other sports releases such as FIFA
or MLB The Show
I was at least hoping, perhaps naively, they would match Camelot's earlier releases. Sadly the developer has stripped back each game so much that it is rather difficult to feel engaged, with most of the sports feeling rather dull to play, largely because everything feels so rote.
Football sees the usual cast of Mario characters compete in a full 11 vs 11 match, complete with extra time and penalties (if needed). The player first selects a captain and vice-captain, with the rest of the squad filled out by Toads, Koopa Troopers and other friends and enemies of the Mushroom Kingdom.
Games can last five, seven, 10 or 15 minutes for each half, although anything over five minutes and the repetitive nature of the gameplay becomes extremely apparent. There is some strategy involved in that the player can choose formations and the captain and vice-captain also have attributes that impact on gameplay.
Mario, for example, is 'balanced' whereas Peach offers more 'technique.' During each match a power meter builds which, when activated, utilises a power shot that is almost guaranteed to find the back of the net. Although this is not quite as game breaking as I had feared, other aspects cause more problems. The game features no penalties for committing fouls. Players can be repeatedly hacked down with no fear of reprisals and whilst this is not such a problem in single-player, online it could make the game unplayable. This does indeed appear to be the case, at least in the games that I played.
The game also features another significant problem for football games, the 'sweet spot.' By shooting at the goal in a certain area the player is guaranteed a goal. This more than anything rather sours the experience and on lower level difficulty games removes any sense of challenge. Football also has a problem with difficulty spikes. In tournament mode earlier matches are incredibly easy and then, for the final match, the opposition is suddenly kicking the ball around with pinpoint accuracy. In earlier games I had seen AI controlled players stand still, seemingly paralysed. Online the game is more fun, although the technical problems are still very
apparent. Consequently, 'football' is probably, at least on a technical level, the weakest of the games on offer.
The other games fare better, with Tennis and Golf both proving to be a great deal of fun. Although they lack the depth of previous releases, they at least feel functional and don't drag as much as 'Football.'