The Problem with Modern Mario Sports Games

Opinion: When online multiplayer becomes the only priority, modern Mario sports games tend to suffer.

Published: March 17, 2022 1:00 PM /


Mario Golf Super Rush characters running

There are plenty of reasons to be excited about Mario Strikers: Battle League. Aside from it being the first Mario soccer game since 2007’s Mario Strikers Charged for the Nintendo Wii and Next Level Games once again heading development, it promises to retain the weird edgy energy the last two games were known and loved for. Mario and his friends are sporting attitude and aggression, decked out in power armor and gleefully knocking one another into electric fences.

However, I can’t help but feel a little trepidation towards Mario Strikers: Battle League and that’s entirely down to Nintendo’s recent track record with its Mario sports spin-offs, specifically, Mario Tennis Aces and Mario Golf: Super Rush. That’s not to say they’re bad games (well, Super Rush is, depending on who you ask), but Nintendo approached their respective developments in the exact same way with a heavy focus on online multiplayer.

This was always the obvious decision. Nobody picks up a Mario sports game for a single-player adventure. It’s so you can enjoy it with friends and family, just like real sports. The exclusion of online play would be quite frankly ridiculous in this day and age. The problem with the recent tennis and golf games, however, is that it seems like the online multiplayer became the only priority, which in turn hampered their offline offerings.

Are Mario Sports Games Shallow?

Mario Tennis Aces Petey Piranha boss fight adventure mode
Mario Tennis Aces' adventure mode is goofy fun, but you can easily beat in a couple of afternoon sessions.

Let’s start with the tennis game. Beyond the online tournaments and multiplayer, what else is there to do in Mario Tennis Aces? Granted, it does offer a decently lengthy and unique adventure mode. While Mario is the only playable character, it isn’t solely comprised of tennis matches and shakes things up with arcade-like minigames and boss battles. It’s also wrapped up in a delightfully goofy story about a demonic tennis racket that possesses people. Once you’ve exhausted that, though, the only other content worth your time is the online tournaments.

The offline tournaments, of which there are only three, where you play against CPU opponents serve absolutely no purpose. The only reward you get for winning may as well be a gold sticker saying, "You did it." Compare this to the GameCube title Mario Power Tennis, where winning gold trophies earned you a cute and unique victory animation and more playable characters. Even the Wii U tennis game had unlockable characters, but Mario Tennis Aces gives you nothing, probably because additional characters were saved for the free post-launch updates. But even if the single-player tournaments were no longer a focus, could Nintendo really not afford some prizes for winning them, like new courts or minigames?

There aren’t even that many extra modes beyond standard tennis matches. There are only three co-op challenges, but they’re all incredibly basic and only worth playing to unlock alternate colors for certain characters. Plus, two of them force you to use the inconsistent motion controls, making them less fun and satisfying to play.

Even the standard multiplayer, both online and offline, is surprisingly limited in terms of play time. Rather than give players full freedom for the kind of match they want, like the number of games and sets, it only has strict options: a full tournament match, a tiebreaker, a standard two-set match, or a single match split into six games. Mario Tennis Aces is fundamentally a good game, and both the online tournaments and adventure mode are a lot of fun; it’s just a shame that everything else didn’t get as much attention during development and feel like after thoughts designed only to be ticked off a checklist.

Mario Golf: Super Rush suffered even more of a content problem, launching with only six golf courses, four of which you had to unlock. While this did mean there was content to strive for, being stuck with only two to start with wasn’t a good look (it did get five more in subsequent updates). The only other unlockables were more golf clubs, with new characters once again being free DLC. It did come with two unique modes – Speed Golf and Battle Golf – that try to offer radically different experiences, and later Target Golf in an update. Although for some reason, Battle Golf can only take place in one specific arena, which seems oddly limiting.

Its adventure mode is also much more of a mixed bag, trading a linear series of minigames and traditional matches for an open-world RPG-like golf adventure, which many criticized for being an utter slog to get through. It completely lacks the fun, crazy scenario of Mario Tennis Aces’ adventure mode and only has three boss battles, half of what Aces has.

Nintendo’s strategy appears to have been to get the games out ASAP, providing relatively bare-bones products that it could then add to with updates. And while none of the games’ DLC required payment, it’s arguably emblematic of a problem that permeates modern game design as a whole, where games only become worth their $50 or $60 price tag after post-launch updates add things that otherwise should have been in the game to begin with.

Hat Trick

Mario Strikers Battle League Wario online multiplayer lobby
Not everyone is going to dedicate themselves to dominating the online leaderboards.

Nintendo’s track record suggests that Mario Strikers: Battle League will wind up having very similar issues, ultimately rendering it a shallow experience if you lack a decent internet connection or can’t afford to pay for Nintendo’s online service. Some might say people in those positions should just not buy the game, but that hardly seems fair. Why should a lack of internet prevent a casual Mario or soccer fan from enjoying the new game?

Battle League having little engaging content offline would also be disappointing when you look back at what its Wii predecessor had. Road to the Strikers Cup was a meaty and surprisingly challenging mode that saw you commit to a single team and participate in multiple tournaments to take home the gold and unlock the three hidden captains, with fun color commentary scattered throughout. And while the Striker Challenges could be even more intense, they rewarded you with cool cheats for casual play, like disabling items or increasing tackle power. Considering what Mario Tennis Aces and Mario Golf: Super Rush offered, these sorts of modes and fun extras are unlikely to return.

If Nintendo is going to prioritize the online multiplayer over everything else again, it can easily rectify these concerns by simply adding new content besides playable characters and locations in the updates. Additional offline tournaments and optional challenges that come with substantial rewards would be greatly welcomed and help round out the game. But even if it has plans to pad the game out, a lack of meaningful content from launch could doom those plans.

Just look at Mario Golf: Super Rush. Unlike Mario Tennis Aces, which reviewed consistently well, its reception was more mixed, with one of the biggest complaints being how little content it had upon release. Whereas Aces was supported for about two years, Nintendo gave up on the golf game after only five months, probably because too many people had dropped off because the base game wasn’t enough to keep them invested. I’d hate to see Mario Strikers: Battle League meet a similar fate, and the best way to do that is pack enough into the game so it’s worth the price of admission even without the online play.

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| Former Staff Writer

Avid Nintendo fan and Vita apologist. Favourite genres include RPGs, rhythm games, and visual novels. Favourite game of all time is Xenoblade Chronicles.… More about Michael