Something just doesn't fit with Mario Slam Basketball on the Nintendo DS. Maybe it's the fact that it's a sports game produced by Square Enix and published by Nintendo or maybe it's the fact that you're playing a 3 on 3 basketball game in which the predominant control scheme is the stylus. Once you've got past the initial awkwardness you'll find a game that is remarkably simple and fun for a short period, but it's far from the classic handheld game you might be expecting from such a heavy hitting duo.
Training is a must and thankfully the game provides you with plenty. The controls are actually very simple, but unless you're told what to do you won't have a clue. When attacking and in possession of the ball you'll be drawing forward lines on the screen or tapping it. A straight line forward performs a throw at the basket or a dunk, depending on your position on the court, while holding down the stylus point before pushing forwards performs a special shot. All the time you control player movement with the d-pad.
The basics are simple then. Passing is equally easy, with a line drawn in the direction of the player being all that's needed to lob the ball to a team mate. Tap the screen to the top, bottom or a side to shield the ball from opponents and also bounce the ball on the various coin blocks that appear on the court. You see, you don't earn points for scoring baskets alone, but for all the coins you have at the time as well. 20 points for a dunk and 30 for a standard '3 pointer' are just the beginning, with coins often brining single baskets above the 100 point mark.
Defence is equally simple. A simple downward stroke on the screen will make your character grab for the ball, two upward strokes result in a jumping spin block (useful for stopping basket attempts) and holding the stylus on the screens puts up a barrier that the opposing players struggle to run past. Numerous other moves are there, for both defensive and offensive play, but they simply aren't needed during regular play. The super shots that require you to tap the screen in a certain pattern are nice to pull off, but not once during my first run through the entire tournament mode did I need to attempt one.
And once you've worked through the tournament mode, which will be ridiculously easy for all but the most novice DS players, that's pretty much it. A hard mode is unlocked to work your way through, numerous challenges are there for you to attempt and there's multiplayer support, but that's your lot. Multiplayer is actually a lot of fun but requires each player to have a copy of the game. Single card play limits you to uninspiring mini-games, meaning two-player 3 on 3 basketball isn't a likely occurrence.
The DS hasn't had the best of times with 3D visuals, particularly from developers outside of Nintendo, but Square Enix has done an admirable job here. Characters are big and nicely modelled, and the courts are themed around the various locations you'd expect to see in a Mario game - with some even sporting various hazards. For a DS title it's not shabby at all. Audio is typically Nintendo, although the main theme music feels a little out of place.
Despite my initial thoughts over how well stylus control would work for a basketball game, Mario Slam Basketball delivers an enjoyable game. It's not without its problems, is far too simple and lacking in features, but as sports games on the DS go, it's one of the best. It's by no means a classic Nintendo game but once you get past the initial awkwardness you'll probably enjoy your brief time on the court. Had the game included full multiplayer support with a single game card it would have been much easier to recommend.
VideoGamer.com Score6 Score out of 10
- Simple controls
- Smart 3D visuals
- Very easy
- No proper single card multiplayer