Mario Slam Basketball (Nintendo DS) Review

By Mike Mason 20.02.2007

Is there a sport that Mario hasn’t dipped his oar into yet? Football, tennis, golf, baseball; he’s covered most of the big ones, with the exception of rugby and hockey. What’s next, Mario Swimming? Mario Bowls? Mario Fishing? Who knows, but for now he’s taken to the courts in Mario Slam Basketball, and he’s brought along most of the Mushroom Kingdom. Plus some new friends from the land of Square, too…

At least with this sport, Mario had some experience before launching himself completely into a full game of it. Afterall, it’s not the first time he’s played a game of the old hoops, having inexplicably appeared in EA’s NBA Street V3 before. For Mario’s second appearance on the courts Nintendo are not behind the reins once again and have loaned their precious intellectual property to Square-Enix, who actually came up with the idea themselves and requested that they were allowed to make it – which explains the aforementioned Square characters. With the company offering a flow of DS games that doesn’t seem to be ending, Mario Slam Basketball allows Square-Enix another chance to renew and strengthen their ties with Nintendo, so let’s see how they manage it.

How do you go about creating a basketball game on DS? It’s an odd thought, but somehow basketball seems to be the sport best suited for a touch-based makeover. Aside the touch screen, the d-pad and a solitary shoulder button are the only inputs used, with the d-pad used for movement (if you’re a lefty, you use the face buttons rather than the d-pad) and the shoulder button used as a modifier to change what your touch screen strokes do (or use items, or change your current player without an accompanying touch motion). It’s a clever system, with just about everything you might want to do in basketball being implemented well in the touch screen controls. Want to pass to a team mate? Draw a diagonal line forward in their direction. Steal the ball off an opponent? Swipe downwards on the touch screen and your character will perform a similar movement with their arm to try to take away the prize, albeit with a scary looking radiation green glow around their hands that probably isn’t that healthy.

Indeed, there are few complaints to be directed at the controls. A lot of thought seems to have been put into them, with it becoming second nature and easy to control swiftly. There’s a learning curve, but thankfully it’s been taken into account that they might not be easy to use immediately and so a comprehensive tutorial mode (‘challenge mode’ as they call it) has been built in, which encourages you to complete each move a few times to make sure that you’ve got it. Of course, you can do the moves on the court without having learnt them in tutorial mode first, but you’d be advised to follow the game’s hint upon booting up for the first time – a ‘first timers’ icon appears next to challenge mode to try and coerce you into learning. The only real fault that can be found with the control method is that it occasionally mistakes shots and passes for each other (shots are performed by drawing a line straight up, while passes are diagonally up; it’s easy to veer too far in a direction with your stroke when in the middle of the action) which can be frustrating, particularly in crucial moments. Otherwise, some moves are difficult to execute, but everything can be mastered with a bit of practice. It would be interesting to see other sports games coming to DS using similar touch based controls. We’d definitely welcome them if they were as well done as here.

So now you know how to play with Mario’s balls, let’s have a good look at them. ‘Mario Slam Basketball is easily one of the best looking games on DS’ would sum it up rather well. It looks like a late Nintendo 64 title, which actually makes us bleary eyed and sad as we think about what Square could’ve done with the system had they supported it (at least Enix did!). The fantastic visuals are helped by the small play areas, of course, but there’s a lot of effort in them and some neat effects, especially on the special shots (activated by tapping out the characters’ initial twice without interruption, consisting of five times per initial – sounds annoying, but means you’re not scoring them too easily). We particularly liked Bowser Jr.’s graffiti based shot, wherein he chucks a load of multi-coloured paint around as he throws the ball at the net (the paint automatically disappears, so Mario won’t have to be running around after him with a FLUDD, thankfully).

There are a multitude of tournaments to play through over a variety of feature-filled courts, each with their own whimsical tunes playing happily in the background in a very satisfying manner. The earlier courts are basic and plain, presumably to get you into the swing of things, but as you go on you’ll be finding basketball to be a more extreme sport than you ever thought before, with encounters in Bowser’s castle chucking up red hot lava in the form of balls you don’t want to be caught dribbling about, and fields of ice that make you slip about all over the place (we thought it was excellent to make Luigi fall over and slide about on his face repeatedly, if we’re quite honest). Items play a big role in the game, as in any other Mario sports game, and it’s nice to see that there are court specific items as well. At least, the frequency of items differs from court to court; for example, on the ice court, those ice blocks with faces that don’t seem to care being thrown at people and freezing them appear far more often. It’s well worth playing through all of the courts, and thus tournaments, as with each tournament you complete successfully you will unlock a new character. There are a lot of them, too, with Mushroom Kingdom offerings including the likes of Boo and Shy Guy, while the Square-Enix characters include Ninja and Moogle. Lots of fun for Square-Enix and Nintendo fans alike, though perhaps it’s a bit unfair to be pitting ninjas against Italian plumbers.

You must be thinking by now after all this praise that there must be something wrong, even if it’s just a minor fault, with the game. You would be correct, unfortunately. There are two flaws with Mario Slam Basketball that make it difficult to wholeheartedly recommend – which isn’t to say it’s bad, far from it, but it makes it not as great as it may initially appear. Despite a clever control scheme, delightful presentation and more than enough unlockables to shake Lakitu’s stick at, two things mar the experience. Firstly: it’s a repetitive game. You can get away with ignoring the more complicated movements and staying simple, as the AI is stupid enough to get around with these alone. As the game goes on it gets smarter, luckily, but it’s still easy to follow a pattern of pass, pass, dribble (by tapping on the screen), shoot, over and over again until you’ve won. Lose the ball? Just chuck an item at the opponent and get it back, rinse and repeat. It isn’t helped by the fact that the courts are small, but mainly this wouldn’t be so bad were it not for the second mistake in development.

The points scoring scheme is the other offender. Did you think the system in Mario Smash Football was silly, with power shots giving more goals to the scorer? It’s worse. Baskets award you with 20 points a time, which is fair enough. What isn’t fair is that they’re awarded in the forms of coins – coins which can be collected as you dribble your ball around the court on question mark boxes. With each bounce on these areas, another coin appears in a ‘bank’ in the corner. If you’re hit, you lose some of these coins, but when you score the coins remaining in your ‘bank’ are added onto the base point value of 20. Therefore, if you’re tricky, you can be wangling upwards of 100 points per basket, while your opponent is getting 20 or so each time if you’re constantly following them and swiping them or lobbing items at them to make them drop their coins. Therefore, it’s possible to do the pattern listed above forever and win, as long as you’re making sure that you’ve dribbled a bit before shooting and you’ve kicked the coins out of the opponents’ pockets. We beat the AI once with a score of about 430 to 64. Something about that isn’t quite right.

It’s a good, great even, attempt at making a new game out of something that could be considered old hat, and Square-Enix should be proud of the control scheme that they have created; it breathes a lot of life into the genre. However, it doesn’t feel right to award it the highest accolades with the two issues mentioned above present, which essentially break the game if you’re wily enough. A sequel fixing up the problems though would be much appreciated – it’s a slam dunk of some description, but it doesn’t quite shatter the glass of the backboard as many hoped it would in its current form.

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

A fantastic effort to recreate basketball with touch controls. It looks, sounds and controls well, but it’s just too repetitive and broken with the points to fully recommend. Certainly worth a dribble about with just to experience the control scheme, though, and we’d love more touch-centred sports games. Make it so!

Also known as

Mario Hoops 3 on 3

Developer

Square Enix

Publisher

Nintendo

Genre

Sport

Players

4

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10 (21 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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