Mario is playing basketball.
When I first heard how Mario Hoops 3-on-3 was controlled, I wasn’t sure if this game would be any fun. Would you really need to tap the screen repeatedly in order to get around the court? Could Square-Enix, better known for RPGs, develop this type of game well? However, my fears were allayed after having the opportunity to actually play the game.
Mario Hoops’ camera faces down the court like many 3D basketball games, rather than from the side like most 2D games. This view makes the most sense given the stylus controls. Dribbling, passing, and shooting motions make more sense this way. Running is controlled via the D-pad. Dribbling is performed by tapping the screen, mimicking a real basketball. However, this is only required to dribble faster in order to set up for more spectacular shots and prevent opposing players from stealing the ball. Your characters dribble by default without any input. Once you understand the controls, actions like passing become very intuitive; drag the stylus in the direction of the player you wish to pass to. Shooting is performed by dragging the stylus upward. NBA Jam-style steals (i.e. no fouls) are performed by dragging down with the stylus while in front of an opposing player while drags in the other three main directions will direct your player to block in that direction. The L button is used to switch between team members.
If you are still apprehensive about the game’s control, don’t worry. A Nintendo representative told me that two other control schemes will be added before the game’s release: a left-handed version of the stylus controls, and non-stylus controls. Thus, you will be able to play the game in a more standard manner if you wish.
The game’s scoring system is nothing like traditional basketball, and is instead based on style and collection of coins. A standard shot nets 20 points, while fancier shots result in more points (up to a maximum of 120). These fancier shots can be performed by repeatedly tapping while up at the basket. These moves earn coins, which are added to the total score. More coins, as well as the obligatory Mario power-ups are scattered around the court in Super Mario Kart-style question blocks, which are activated by dribbling on top of them. Items such as mushrooms, shells, and banana peels have the basic attributes as they do in the Mario Kart games.
The E3 demo featured wireless multiplayer. As the name of the game suggests, each team has three players, chosen from a standard list of Mario sports game characters.
Mario Hoops is definitely a Mario take on the game of basketball, similar to the other sports games like Mario Tennis. Thus, if you are looking for a traditional sports game, look elsewhere. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a wacky sports-derived game featuring the M-capped plumber and company, this game is another fun addition to the Mario sports collection.