You know, seeing the names Nintendo and Square-Enix on the same title screen still gives me a little thrill of the surreal. So vehement was Nintendo's assertion that it would never ever consider working with Square ever again (EVER) back in the mid-Nineties that I still do a mental double-check every time a new collaboration turns up. What's more, I'm almost certain that this is the first and only time since Super Mario RPG that the developer has been trusted with an actual Nintendo licence (even if it is only Mario Sports), which makes it all the more difficult for my outdated mindset to accept. A DS basketball game seems like a strange thing for Square-Enix to want to develop, too. How the hell is it going to shoehorn obscure Final Fantasy references into that?
On the Final Fantasy references front at least, it has done fairly well, managing to cram five rather over-powered characters into the unlockables (thereby solving the age-old question of whether Moogles can play ball). The Nintendo feel is also present and correct - everything's very bright and cheery, all the characters you'd expect are there, and the items, super-shots and playing-court hazards add the customary Mario Sports level of chaos. It's intuitive, too; the d-pad moves your chosen team member around the court and dribbling is done with the stylus, which is very neat indeed, although the constant tapping does give you a rather sore hand after a while.
Also in keeping with Mario sports tradition, Hoops 3-on-3 is about as similar to actual basketball as a Scottish under-12s Sunday league is to Real Madrid. It's the same game, in that it involves sometimes putting basketballs into nets, but that's where the likeness ends. When you're in possession, the aim is to collect as many coins as possible by dribbling over the boxes drawn on the floor, which have an annoying habit of moving around at will, and keeping the ball away from the opposition with nifty dodging and clever dribbling. If the ball gets stolen or the timer runs out, you lose your coins, so the idea is to 'cash in' by scoring a basket. The trick here is trying to keep hold of the ball for as long as possible as opposed to scoring as often as possible - indeed, some of the more irritating environmental hazards make it extremely difficult to score at all.