From the moment I started up the game, I noticed it has a very Mario Kart Wii-like feel – everything from the title screen’s appearance and theme song to the initial menu navigation seemed familiar. The simplistic approach may not wow you or draw you in, but it serves as a neat reminder that this game’s right at home with the rest of the Wii family. I haven’t had the chance to try online features out yet, and probably won’t get too many opportunities since campus Internet doesn’t play well with the Wii’s Wi-fi connection, but if these similarities are any indication we should see a similar framework here.
But enough about all that nonsense: let’s talk about the sports.
I started out with basketball since it seemed the least complicated of the games. It plays like a very simplified version of the game, which I suppose you might expect from a Mario sports title. So far I’ve only used the Wii Remote and Nunchuk combination, which forces you to use waggle controls to jump and shoot the ball as well as block incoming shots when playing defense, but I didn’t run into any response issues so far. If you’d prefer a motion-less option, the same actions use button presses when playing without the Nunchuk.
The controls work just fine from what I’ve tried so far, though there are a few tricks you can use that I haven’t really learned yet. Shake controls don’t make it any harder to aim or time your shots – in fact, there’s really not much to making baskets whatsoever. Almost every shot I attempted that wasn’t blocked by an oncoming player made it easily to its destination. Playing defense isn’t quite so easy thanks to somewhat unwieldy blocking and stealing functions, and so far I feel as though the game’s a bit unbalanced in favor of the offensive team. I’ll have to play a bit more to get the full picture, though.
Next I tried volleyball. I was a big fan of Mario Tennis back in the day, so I expected a similar experience here, if one that’s a bit watered-down. As it turns out, it works largely the same way in theory, but of course you can juggle the ball between your players for up to three hits before you’re required to volley it over to the opposing side. You can also somewhat accurately aim your hits by guiding a targeting cursor around your opponents. Of course, they can do the same to you, but as long as you’re standing within the target area you can land a successful save.
Learning how to make effective use of the aiming mechanic for spikes is a little tricky at first since generally we think of using the Control Stick or D-pad to move our characters, but once you get it down the game’s actually quite a lot of fun. The only thing keeping it from being quite the game that Mario Tennis was is the speed – the game in general feels a bit slower not only due to the score system but also to the velocity at which the game ball travels. Still, volleyball is a really strong component of this game and the one I probably feel the most compelled to revisit at this point.
I was really looking forward to dodgeball, given my fond memories of playing in gym class back in elementary and middle school. I remembered it as a hectic, no-holds-barred contest where you’d be lucky if you escaped without getting tagged out, much less walking away without a single bump or bruise. It’s much the same here, only you don’t have to worry about physical pain. (Maybe we should have used softer balls back then.)
Unfortunately a lot of the chaos came from the fact that there are so many functions mapped to the Wii Remote that it was difficult to figure out how to get my character to do what I wanted. On offense you can perform three different types of attacks depending on whether you’re standing still, “charging” towards the center line, or “jumping” towards the center line, but even then the instructions for “charging” and “jumping” are too similar to distinguish (I’m looking at the manual right now, and it says verbatim: “run to center line to charge” and “run to center line to auto jump”). Not the kind of confusion I find very fun. Again, I’ll have to keep playing to see whether I can get the hang of it.
After Mario Strikers I was a bit surprised that I found the hockey portion of this game to actually be the weakest. It had a lot to do with the counter-intuitive passing mechanics – even after you pass to your CPU controlled partner you have to press another button to switch characters. Bad camera angles that follow the player instead of the puck also made it really hard to keep track of the game. I also found the checking mechanic to be a bit weak, much like the defensive gameplay in basketball. Nothing special to say about the game otherwise, but maybe that’s my bias for the soccer games speaking for me.
If you’re a longtime gamer planning to get this game, one recommendation I’d make is to start off on Hard (three-star) difficulty. When I tried out basketball I gave the CPUs Normal-level AI and I positively smashed them, while setting the other sports to Hard offered just enough challenge to keep me interested. Bear in mind that I’ve only played for about an hour so far (that’s about fifteen minutes per sport) and haven’t tried multiplayer yet so these are very rough first thoughts and more face time with the game may leave me with a very different impression in the end.
All in all though, the game’s far from perfect, but it seems like it’s got a decent experience to offer. I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who loves playing together on Wii, particularly families with young children, but if you love busting out Wii Sports at parties this game’s probably for you, too.