This statement might come off like the apocryphal ranting of an alarmist lunatic, but it needs to be said: I think we've hit the limit of what can be done creatively with the mascot sports game genre. I know, I know! How is that even possible? There are still so many sports that pudgy plumbers, barrel-tossing gorillas and child-voiced dinosaurs have yet to partake of. American football! Rugby! Cricket! Water polo! Greco-Roman wrestling! TV 'rasslin'! SlamBall! Yes, the world of sport still seems very much open to Nintendo's plundering, but after playing through Mario Sports Mix, a B-sides collection of Mario-infected sports games and sports-infected mini-games tossed together with seemingly minimum effort, you will likely find yourself hard-pressed to muster much enthusiasm for any future entries in this genre.
Though dodgeball is ostensibly the worst of the bunch, all the other sports suffer from similarly lacking forethought and fun. Volleyball just has you endlessly running to a marked spot on the sand/blacktop/rotating thing that is sometimes on fire, and simply waggling the Wii remote to hit the ball, with the perpetual hope that someone on the other team will magically not make it to the marked circle on their side of the net in time. Basketball is more or less the same core experience you may have played in Mario Hoops, minus the stylus action. You pass, you steal, you shoot, and you dunk all over Waluigi's punk ass using fairly simplified controls that result in a lot of scoring, and not a great deal of defense--except against the toughest AI, in which case the inverse is true. Hockey is simultaneously the best and most disappointing of the games. The pace is quick and some of the scoring special moves are cool, but the hitting feels severely weak, and scoring is completely out of control on the earlier difficulty levels, and damn near impossible on the higher ones.
Hockey's problems actually speak to an issue with Mario Sports Mix's AI across the board, one that rears its head in especially ugly fashion during the game's assorted tournaments. On the opening difficulty levels, Mario Sports Mix is absurdly easy. I'm not talking on a normal kid's game level, either. A child would have a field day bowling over these stump-dumb meatheads, which makes the fact that you have to play through multiple matches in each tournament on these borderline brain-dead difficulties absolutely maddening. For one level--the one before the toughest--the AI puts up what one might call a reasonable, challenging fight. Then you go onto the toughest level, and all reason flies out the window as you get obliterated over and over.
Other pervasive problems rear their head as well. The pacing of basketball and hockey seem right, until the scoring starts happening. Every time you score a goal or a basket, the game resets to half-court/center-ice. That's normal for hockey, but the frequency of scoring--especially in games against the AI--means that a three-minute period can last up to 10-to-15 minutes if you or the computer continuously scores. At one point in an easy tournament match I just resorted to playing keep away for two-and-a-half minutes, after I'd already scored ten goals. In basketball, this constant resetting is nothing short of deadly to the pace of the game.
Similarly a problem across all included games is the obnoxious method of player switching. Passing a ball or puck to a computer-controlled teammate does not automatically switch control to that player--you have to press a button to manually make the switch. In multiplayer matches this is not much of a problem, since theoretically you have real teammates who do not require your constant babysitting, but when you have the computer on your side, this is awful. On lower settings, they never quite seem to know what to do with the ball or puck, and if you happen to be playing on one of the wackier stages, they rarely can figure out how to get around the bugged-out obstacles that pop up, which makes that extra step of having to manually switch control deeply annoying.
There are also four included mini-games, each loosely wrapped around the mechanics of one of the main sports. For instance, Feed Petey uses basketball as a base to create a game where up to four players run around, collecting low-hanging fruit of varying point values, and then run them up to a giant Petey plant to stuff down his gullet. That game contains a certain level of controlled-chaos that is mildly amusing in a multiplayer setting, but the pace of it isn't nearly exciting enough to amuse beyond a few playthroughs with friends. Other mini-games fare less favorably. Smash Skate revolves exclusively around knocking people off of a platform using hockey checks, which barely seem to register at times. Harmony Hustle is literally a game built around players running to marked spots on a field in correct time...to make awful, chintzy sounding notes from a classic video game tune.
Some of these problems are lessened when playing in multiplayer, which you can do offline or on (against coded friends or uncoded strangers), but even at the game's height of playability, Mario Sports Mix simply comes across like a bizarre copy of a copy. It's a fax-machine quality retread of such startling inanity that, at a point, you might actually find your fond memories of Mario sports games past overwritten by this blur of dispassionate mediocrity. We're a long way from the days of great games like Mario Tennis and Mario Golf, and with each progressively lamer franchise installment Nintendo thrusts upon us, that divide just continues to widen.