Just like Bo Jackson, Michael Jordan and Deion Sanders, Mario's never really been a one-sport kind of guy. Historically, he's limited himself to four, with the occasional extracurricular dalliance: baseball, soccer, tennis and golf.
That leaves the field open for plenty of expansion -- an expansion that comes in four similar-but-different flavors with Mario Sports Mix. This title collects four sports with similar styles and strategies -- basketball, hockey, volleyball and dodgeball. If you've ever played a Mario sports game before, the formula should be as familiar as your cartoon white-gloved hand: Familiar sports twisted up with bizarre, trap-laden playing fields and power-up staples like stars, turtle shells and Bob-ombs.
We've seen Mushroom Kingdom versions of a couple of these games before -- Mario and the gang did the 3-on-3 basketball thing on the DS, and hockey made a brief but entertaining appearance in Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games -- but these are more streamlined versions. Even players who scream and run the opposite direction at the mention of sports videogames will be able to pour in the points without much difficulty.
That said, it's also possible, if you're particularly slick-fingered with your Wii-waggles and button pushes, to pull off some fairly complex combo-sets, especially in dodgeball, where coordinating attacks with multiple teammates on the back and sidelines is the key to catching Wario and Peach off guard. Collectible gold coins that pop up on the playing field can either amp your power (in dodgeball and volleyball) or the number of points you score (hockey and basketball). Kind of a nice way to ensure that what looks like an early blowout could still become a competitive match.
This is, without question, a game meant to be played against other humans (in groups of 2-4), In single-player mode, the CPU is absolutely atrocious, especially in the basketball and hockey games. On the ice -- or whatever unusual surface your unlockable rink du jour happens to be sporting -- destructible obstacles substitute for an actual goalie, which means it takes nothing to run the score up into the high double-digits. Not exactly NHL-worthy stuff.
And me? I'm still waiting for Mario and the gang to take on football.