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Mario Hoops 3-On-3 Review

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Developer: Square-Enix Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: September 18, 2006 Also On: None

Mario’s been the man on the tennis court and golf course, but he’s never walked onto the hardwood of one of America’s most popular sports: Basketball. Mario Hoops 3-On-3, a game that was interesting developed by Square-Enix, is a beautiful, impressive game on all fronts of presentation, unlockables, and the traditional Nintendo charm. Sadly, Mario and Co. get stuffed in the key element of any basketball game: the action on-court.

Square-Enix, as I said, worked wonders with the Mario style. Mario Hoops 3-On-3 is one of the most visually impressive DS games to date, if not the most advanced. All of the character models are very bright and detailed, animated as smoothly as possible on this hardware. The courts are detailed with crowds (although these crowds are very basic) and other visual treats like old-school set pieces, floating ghosts, and detailed, moving backgrounds. The dunk animations are quite extreme and would look appropriate for Dwayne Wade and T-Mac in an NBA Street video game.

The sound is as, well, “Nintendo” as you could ask for. You’ll hear familiar music and classic sound effects, some even taken from the NES and arcade classic, Donkey Kong. There are all sorts of voice clips that play throughout the game including some new ones that I’d never heard. For example, Mario exclaims “Fantastico!” after sinking a big basket.

The praise for Mario Hoops 3-On-3, sadly, can’t continue. There is something drastic that is missing from the gameplay found here, and it’s the fun, easy gameplay that Mario sports titles have become popular for. To say that Mario Hoops 3-On-3 isn’t entertaining in a small sense is definitely unfair, as the game features tons of recognizable and legendary characters, but it trips in some way for almost every playable aspect. About 80% of your control is done with the stylus and touch screen. This would be just fine if the stylus control was spot-on, which it isn’t. To shoot, the player must slide the stylus at a near-perfect angle upward, and to pass, the player slides the stylus at a near-perfect angle towards another player.

Sadly, this just doesn’t work well enough when you’re trying to move your player with the directional pad, dribble over the game’s power-up squares, or even go for a dunk. Stealing the ball is the only thing that I thought was simple to do, and everything else is too sluggish, it’s too sketchy. It’s too darn bad that they didn’t nail the control mechanics, because Mario Hoops 3-On-3 would have been a beast of a handheld game.

The action is slow for a basketball game, featuring all-new rules and tricks. There are two periods, each three minutes long, for players to compete. By collecting coins and items via the power-up squares found on the ground, players can earn coins that increase their score payout when they make a shot, or they can defend the basket with relative ease. Fair items like green turtle shells were fine, but some of the other items, like the homing-missile blue turtle shell, are absolutely absurd.

Also, when the ball is stolen or blocked, you lose some of the coins you’ve accumulated, and the number of coins you lose seems to be very random. Sometimes it’s three or four of the elusive gold pieces, and sometimes you’ll lose almost all of your stash. Blocking is inconsistent. Last of all, like other Mario sports titles, the difficulty curve is very steep. In the game’s different tournaments, I noticed that I had a much greater amount of trouble in the later games, to the point where the action wasn’t fun and was more of a chore to proceed through the tournaments.

The problems sadly don’t end there. Mario Hoops 3-On-3 has the worst A.I. I’ve ever seen in a sports title. I complained about the Xbox 360 sports titles NCAA Football 2007 and Madden NFL 2007 for the having some weak A.I., but Mario Hoops 3-On-3 takes the cake for the dumbest characters playing any sort of sport. There would be times I’d block a ball or even swat the ball away and my teammates would stand around shifting their weight between their feet and doing nothing to get the ball. They never went for blocks or steals, either. This was endlessly frustrating, as a nicely-timed block would often result in the opponent picking up the ball and scoring anyway. The next problem isn’t an A.I. flaw but rather a poor design flaw–when passing the ball, the receiver stops moving completely. This means that fast breaks or anything to speed up the action are virtually impossible to do.

Mario Hoops 3-On-3, like most Nintendo DS games these days, features Nintendo WiFi connections that allow you to play against others worldwide with a wireless internet connection. There are stat boards and friend lists as well, which are nice touches. Mario Hoops 3-On-3 is saved by an entertaining multiplayer experience, and if you can find a nearby friend or wireless connection to play online, you’ll really enjoy the competitive gameplay.

Overall, it’s unfortunate that such an alliance between Square-Enix and Nintendo created such an average and disappointing video game. Mario Hoops 3-On-3 isn’t the worst DS game out there, but it can’t run with the big dogs like Mario Tennis, Mario Golf, or any other basketball game for that matter. Better luck next time, guys.

Graphics: 9
Sound: 9
Gameplay: 4
Creativity: 7
Replay Value/Game Length: 7
Final: 6.5
Written by Cliff Review Guide