October 5, 2006

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Mario Hoops 3-on-3 (DS)
Square Enix, 2006

íCause when I think basketball, I think pudgy little Italian men.

I canít be certain but at the current rate of Mario-ization there will be a Mario Curling game released sometime this winter. Maybe theyíll bundle it with Mario Jarts. Not that Iím complaining as the Mario sports titles do bring video game sports right for the most part. They distill the essence of the game down to some sensible controls and then slather the Goomba and Giant Ape frou frou all over it, arcade the action up a bit and throw some exploding turtles into the mix. Lo and behold, everybody has fun. At least they have fun when Nintendo is keeping a firm hand on the developer that is.

Unfortunately the brilliant notion of Mario Hoops on the DS (complete with stylus-centric controls) has some dangerous shoals. Players will immediately notice that the stylus is not so hot at actually controlling your character. You tap to dribble, swipe sideways or diagonally to pass, up to shoot, down to block and add some flourishes to unleash special maneuvers. Assuming of course that you live in the world of pure theory that higher math and string theory call home, this works excellently. For the rest of us, on the material plane, the DS is just not accurate enough. Youíll be throwing passes when you wanna shoot and laying bricks when you wanna pass. Not that passing is that crucial, seeing as how your teamates are dumb as dirt. Not so for the opposing team, though, as the enemy AI seems to be zenith to your sideís tactical nadir. The dumb buddies and wonky controls alone donít break the game, though; what does is when you combine these flaws with the wacky environments that lob bomb balls or fire pits at you and make the latter parts of 3-on-3 a frustrating mess.

The Mario (and unlockable Final Fantasy characters)-ness of it all softens the blow a bit, so itís like a silly teddy bear with a brick inside. If only this could somehow be played on a touch-sensitive acrade table (like old-school Dig Dug) then it would be an unmistakable hit. Sadly Square Enix, known equally for their stellar RPGs (Final Fantasy 1-Infinity) as for their atrocious action games (Erghiez anyone?), just doesnít seem to be the best studio to pull this idea off. B

ó Glenn Given