It is well known that during the summer period, all things entertainment gets dull. Game releases by publishers dry up and there is simply nothing new to play. And then there is Britain's obsession with the sun (not the paper - but the paper blows too). It shouldn't really surprise anyone that the number one game from the week before last was Cars. Yes, Cars, a game based on a crappy film. No wonder publishers here don't take us seriously. Even the French and Germans has New Super Mario Bros and Brain Age respectively on the top of their charts!
All hail Japan then for the release of a new game.
Legend has it that Mario Basketball 3-on-3 was not supposed to be yet-another-Mario spin-off. Instead Square-Enix, the developers of Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest series, was planning on a arcade style basketball game featuring characters from their IP portfolio.
However, upon noticing that their game has a certain Mario feel to it, they contacted Nintendo and offered a collaboration, which resulted in a game that features well known characters from both Nintendo and Square-Enix. A first as far as playable characters from both companies are concerned.
I will write about the controls first since the game features a pretty unique control mechanism. You will only need to use the D-pad, L trigger button and touch screen in order to control the game. D-pad is used for movement, touch screen to trigger dribble, pass, steal, block and shoot and the L button to switch characters. While you may think controlling via the touch screen is fiddly, it isn't. It works pretty well. There are also special movements that are specific to each characters.
As the title implies, this is a 3 on 3 version of basketball, but with a Mario world flavour. Which means, there are no such thing as fouls. It also means there are items scattered around the screens on question mark boxes where you can obtain well known Mario items such as red shell, which you can use to lob at your opponents.
When dribbling the ball over a question mark box, coins will be added to an inventory which will count towards the score. Points are worth 30 based on a three-pointer shot and 20 inside the line. It is possible to collect enough coins and obtain a maximum 130 point shot (which I did once). Coins can also scattered (ala Sonic) if opponents knocks you down. Game stops after each shot. After each score (or goal as the game calls them), coins are reset. Oh and games last 5 minutes over two periods.
As a default you start with characters from Nintendo's IP but as your progress you are able to unlock characters from Square-Enix's world. The first three to appear from Square-Enix's portfolio are White Mage, Ninja and Black Mage and you battle them on a Final Fantasy style flying gunship.
The graphics are simply wonderful. Games are played in well known Mario world and the graphical engine that Square Enix wrote works well. The Bowser Castle's level for example which has the court situated over boiling lava and has flame effects (or whatever it's called). Gameplay remains smooth throughout despite having six characters (sometimes more), items and all the other shenanigans that goes on.
The only negative I can think of is the AI is a bit patchy. For example when the ball goes wide, the characters, either from your team or the opponents, would sometimes not automatically retrieve it. It isn't as deep as your average NBA game where team mates from your time will help out in securing defense or trying to steal a ball and passing them to you. Friendly AI are non-existent in this game. You pretty much have to control EACH character individually through the L button.
I haven't had the chance to explore all the options yet (like the mini-games) so I won't comment on those. The lack of English options does not hamper the game much and it is easy to understand the options through trial and error. This title shouldn't be a problem to non-Japanese speaking importers.
Buy now from Play-Asia or Amazon UK