Volleyball relies rather too heavily on shaking the Wii controller – that's how you perform literally every move – but the other three sports have the right balance of button and motion actions. Slamming the controller down to dunk a basketball or flicking it to shoot a goal are particularly satisfying. You can play all of them with the Wii remote held sideways, but especially in Hockey, you'll appreciate the nunchuck analogue stick's extra precision over the remote's D-pad.
Of all the other Mario sports titles, this is perhaps most similar to Mario Smash Football – Basketball and Hockey are both short-form, aggressive team-games with a heavy emphasis on hammering the goal and smacking opponents around until they give up the ball rather than defensive strategy or planning. The sports are deceptively robust, but the game is hell bent on convincing you otherwise by stripping all the challenge out of the single-player tournaments.
In true Mario Sports tradition, you have to sit through the fist-eatingly boring Mushroom Cup before you're allowed to have any fun, during which game elements like items and coins are introduced at an insultingly slow pace and the AI opposition stands practically on the spot, holding on to the ball without doing anything for 10 seconds at a time. Only in the Flower Cup and beyond do the games begin to show their true colours.
With three Cups per sport, the single-player is certainly substantial, but incredibly stupid AI opponents don't do it justice. There's a lot of nuance to the controls, particularly in Baseball, but there's no need to use anything but the most basic techniques against such dim, predictable opposition. Team-mates are also astonishingly hapless, standing stock still in front of the goal after you pass them the puck. You can switch between players with the C-button, but because they position themselves so badly when you're not in control and the opposition is so useless, you can easily win games without ever switching right up until the last stages of the Star Cup.
Mario Sports Mix's real longevity lies in the multiplayer. Against human opponents, feinting and dodging become crucial techniques, and you don't have to put up with the stupidity of AI team-mates. All the sports are playable in two-versus-two teams, or as a team of two or three versus the computer. I didn't get to try out the online multiplayer pre-release, but tournament play with a human team-mate was about six times as fun as it was on my own with a couple of braindead Yoshis.
Though it was prudent of Square-Enix to realise that none of these games could sustain an entire Mario sports title in itself, that also tells you all you need to know about them – they're simple, fast and fun, but pretty insubstantial. Ridiculously dim AI and sluggish tournament pacing make the single-player a chore for the first hour or two, and though it wakes up a bit after that, it's the multiplayer that really justifies its existence. With four people, two-on-two, Basketball and Hockey are as good as any Mario sport since Tennis or Strikers.
As a whole package, this isn't quite up to the standard you'd hope for from Mario Sports, but it certainly doesn't damage the series' reputation.
7 / 10