It seems gamers just can't escape the successful blend of Mario and sport if you're playing a Nintendo console. Ever since the original Mario Kart debuted on the Super Nintendo all those years ago, Nintendo's sports offerings have grown to include everything from racing, golf, baseball, soccer and of course, basketball. Mario Hoops 3-on-3 is the latest in Nintendo's sports games series.
Overall, Hoops is pretty fun to play. It has simple game mechanics that are easy to pick up and is an enjoyable basketball game. Despite that, it shouldn't be taken as a 'serious' basketball simulation as it aims to please younger gamers -- or anyone who loves Nintendo's mascots. If you prefer a more lifelike basketball experience, stick to NBA Live or NBA 2K6.
Before each game, you'll need to choose three team members from four different styles: all-round (Mario, Luigi, Yoshi), technical (Peach, Daisy, Waluigi), powerful (Donkey Kong, Wario) and speedy (Diddy Kong, Bowser Jr). Players familiar with Mario Kart will no doubt be used to having characters with different strengths and weaknesses.
While it's easy to get the hang of, Hoops uses the stylus extensively for all offensive and defensive plays, and the directional pad (or X, Y, A, B buttons if you're a lefty) to move the characters. A quick stroke up the screen will shoot the ball and dribbling is simply a matter of tapping the screen. Each character has a special shot that can be used by moving the stylus in a particular way. Want to pull of Mario's special fireball shot? Simply draw an "M" on the bottom screen with your stylus and he'll do the rest. It's a nice addition that mixes up the gameplay a bit.
For gamers in a hurry, you can jump into a quick match straight away (providing you know the controls), and is great for those who want a quick-fix of their DS on-the-go. The four game modes available are challenges, exhibition, tourney and matchup.
Challenge mode is recommended to start off with, and helps you learn the basics to the game. Players have a range of skills to master and this mode walks you through a range of defensive and offensive moves you can pull-off in Hoops. Exhibition is a quick game between you and the CPU. Pick 3 players and away you go.Tourney is, naturally, a tournament between you and the CPU.
Matchup is the multiplayer mode with support for two to four players, and includes exhibition matches, dribble race and coin hunter. Dribble race involves dribbling the ball on questions marks positioned on the court to score coins. The first player to collect 100 coins and cross the finish line wins. Coin hunter is timed-based and the player with the most coins at the end is the winner.
Unfortunately Hoops has no on-line play support. It seems a bit odd given that it's a Nintendo game, and one that is well suited to multiplayer. It's a bit of a bummer that it's lacking and would've helped the long-term value of buying Hoops. It might be explained because development was done by Square Enix, rather than by Nintendo. But ultimately, this means Hoops is let down when it comes to its long-term replay value.
The graphics in Hoops are typical fare for a Nintendo title: bright, colourful and animated. The on-court action is displayed in 3D on the top screen, with the court layout, player's positions and score on the bottom screen. Nintendo's characters are reproduced accurately and although it's not the most visually striking DS games to date, it does the job. Sports games are rarely known for their graphical prowess, no less with Nintendo sports games.
In-game sound effects and music are also typical for Ninty. Happy, cheerful tunes suit the style of the game and the sound effects are equally sweet and un-offensive. No taunts or foul-talk on this court!
Hoops isn't Nintendo's finest game to date, but it's not a bad game either. If you're looking for a fun, light-hearted sports game for all-ages, then Hoops is worth a try, just don't expect a serious basketball simulation.