What's the most endearing aspect of Air Hockey? Is it the rapid pace? The frantic mix of offence and defence? The unique floatiness of the puck? The smell of Chuck-E-Cheese pizza baking in the background? No; like most pseudo-sports found in arcades and questionable bars, the magic of Air Hockey lies in the spirit of competition that it can instantly stir up between friends. It's immediately accessible — anyone can pick it up in a manner of seconds—and, that being the case, it's one of the most fun and addicting arcade sports ever invented.
Well anyway, none of that really matters because you won't be playing All-Star Air Hockey with friends, online or off. While its core mechanics are solid enough, its baffling lack of multiplayer of any kind renders it a rather lazy and incomplete package.
To the game's credit, the actual gameplay is pretty good. Not “wow!” good, of course, but good in a “yep, this pretty much feels like air hockey” sort of way. Sliding your stylus around the screen will move your mallet (yes, that's what the slidey thing is called) and hitting it against the puck will... err... hit the puck. That's about it as far as controls are concerned, though its simplicity has some unintended consequences. Essentially, your stylus is your mallet, meaning it will magically appear wherever you tap on the screen. This can make things too easy sometimes, as the game (and therefore, the AI opponent) clearly expects you to slide the mallet around the table, and you don't necessarily have to.
Of course the AI have their own unfair advantages as well. Most notably, they clearly have a huge leg-up when it comes to controlling the speed of the puck. The computer opponents have the ability to use their mallet to slow down the puck and move it about as they please. You, on the other hand, do not. Combine this with the fact that they are, in fact, AI and your chance of winning often feels like a crap shoot.
Once you get comfortable with your air hockey skills, you'll probably want to head off to tournament mode, where you can test your mallet-mashing bravado against the best in the world. And if you don't want to head to tournament mode, well then have fun in practice mode because it's your only other option. Tournament mode places you in, not surprisingly, a bracketed tournament against several other countries. None of the countries seem to have any real advantages over any other country, so your country of choice is rather inconsequential. You can beat the tournament in well under half an hour and after that you...um, well you play it again if you want to. Or you could play in practice mode some more. Fun.
There's not a whole lot to say about All Star Air Hockey. It's not bad enough to loath, it's not good enough to enjoy, and not expensive enough to make you really hate yourself for purchasing it. It is, simply put, a completely neutral gaming experience. The addition of multiplayer might have made it worth a look, but taken strictly as it is All-Star Air Hockey is really only recommended for gamers who simply can't go one more second without having air hockey on their DSi.