It's a shame that basketball and hockey are the two best offerings in this mix since they aren't all that fun. Volleyball is the most accurate representation of the real thing, though that's not exactly a winning formula. When the ball is hit to your side, a giant circle shows you where to stand. You then tap the ball to your teammate, wait for the return volley, and then spike it back to the other side. The process is repeated a half-dozen times until one team makes a mistake. And that's how the volleyball matches play out. There isn't a lot of skill because it's so obvious where you need to go next, and the game automatically ensures you hit the ball as long as you're in the right position. It's incredibly tedious to go through the set-volley-spike routine over and over again, and that predictability saps any chance of excitement.
Dodgeball brings a faster, more intense pace compared to volleyball, but it too is mired in problems. The goal in dodgeball is to hit your opponent with the ball and it's a dull ordeal in Mario Sports Mix. On the defensive side, if you tap the catch button at the right moment, you can avoid being hit. And that's pretty much the entire strategy. Stand still, face your opponent, and get your finger ready to catch that ball. Usually, you make a successful catch by employing this strategy, and then you turn into the offensive player and cross your fingers that your strike somehow connects. More likely than not, tedium turns the tide of battle to one player's side. The dull rhythm is boring, so you have to hope your opponent is lulled to sleep when you attack so you can deliver a clean blow. There are some team-up moves thrown in for variety, such as a jumping combo attack, but they all come to the same end. If you're quick with the catch button, it turns the match into a mundane trial of boredom.
Yoshi abides by the axiom that the best defense is sticking your tongue out.
To spice things up, there are special items and fancy courts in every sport. The items add a dose of unpredictability to the proceedings. Turtle shells and bombs can clear a path in a jiffy, and hoarding precious items and unleashing them at the perfect moment can shift the balance of power. Granted, the randomness of items does make victory feel cheap at times. Still, knocking your friend down with a well-placed banana peel can lead to a few laughs. There are also a variety of courts to unlock that add to the chaos. You may have to deal with a train running down the middle of a volleyball court or a swaying basketball hoop attached to a chandelier, and these events at least distract you from the banal action. The items and courts do inject some energy, and though they never raise the fun to what you would expect from a Mario sports game, they allow for some disposable entertainment for a little while.
Mario Sports Mix is rarely outright bad, but the whole experience is so utterly flat that it's hard to find the excitement. All of the sports control well and have their moments of fun, but they're ultimately so predictable that any sense of thrill is gone within the first few games. Mario sports games usually offer a goofy take on an established idea, but there's no such hook in his latest athletic attempt. This game lacks the depth of a more skillful sports outing and the joyful tug of anything-goes arcade action. Mario deserves a vacation for his hard work, but this is not the way to go about it.