In the GameCube era Mario seemed to be appearing in a sports game every six months. With his recent adventures in Super Mario Galaxy 2 and New Super Mario Bros. Wii though, Mario hasn't really had time to get involved in too many sporting activities in the past few years (other than the Sega-developed Mario & Sonic games). Mario Sports Mix hopes to make up for this by chucking four sports into one game.
Basketball is essentially a big-screen version of Mario Slam Basketball for DS. The controls have been simplified from the DS game as you can no longer control how your character bounces the ball (which you could do by tapping the screen in the DS game) and there are no more coin panels on the floor for extra points but it's a little too easy to score.
Hockey is also easy enough to get to grips with whether you're playing it on ice or on other surfaces. You press A to pass, flick the Remote to shoot and you can aim your shot by moving the Control Stick. At first this can make things a little difficult as the Control Stick also moves your character but when you get used to it you appreciate having extra control over your shots.
Volleyball is the weakest game of the four. You'll be doing very little here, other than flicking the Remote and pressing the A button. That said, it does share hockey's shot-aiming feature which does make you actually feel like you're playing the game and not simply flicking the Remote to slap a ball wherever the game decides it should go.
Dodgeball is fun though. Naturally, the aim is to smack your opponents with the ball to lower their energy bar, while avoiding hits yourself. If a character runs out of energy, they're out of the game and have to stand on the sidelines until they can catch a loose ball and hit someone with it to bring them back into the game. When the timer runs out (or when you've eliminated all three opponents before then) the team with the highest total energy left wins. It's a good laugh, even if the slight delay between hitting your opponent and them reacting makes it less satisfying than it should be.
There's a variety of different arenas, and these are unlocked as you play through the numerous tournaments. Each one offers its own interesting twist on things and forces you to rethink your strategy as you play. For example, one of the hockey stages places large cones in front of the goal, requiring you to break those first with the puck before you can get a shot in. There are also loads of Mario references dotted around, like the Mario Kart racers that drive round the court in one arena, or Lakitu popping up to drop the puck during face-offs in hockey.
It all sounds promising but the difficulty curve is so low that the first two tournaments in each sport are mind-numbingly dull to play through. We appreciate games starting off quite easy to appeal to players of all ages, but we won the Mushroom Cup basketball tournament with scores of 108-0, 97-0 and 102-0. Even the final tournament, the Star Cup, is nowhere near as difficult as its equivalent in the likes of Mario Strikers Charged Football and Mario Slam Basketball. This leaves anyone playing solo with a fairly empty experience.
Of course, games like this are really all about the multiplayer and whether you're playing locally with four people or taking part in online matches (which were more or less lag-free in the games we played) it's certainly a much more entertaining experience. It's still not without its niggles, though. The lack of variation in the voice samples gets very annoying.