Review by Dr-Poque
"Did Namco and Nintendo team up for a grand slam or strikeout?"
Mario has been on a rigorous weight-loss program over the past couple years, playing tennis, golf, basketball, and going snowboarding. Until now, however, those games were either developed internally or by a second party (Camelot Software Planning), or published and developed by Electronic Arts (NBA Street v.3 and SSX on Tour). Mario Superstar Baseball is the first Mario sports title to be developed by an independent third party and published by Nintendo. Apparently, Nintendo was pleased with Namco's effort, as they have since allowed Square Enix to use characters from the Mushroom Kingdom in the upcoming DS game, Mario 3-on-3 Basketball. But what do we think about the game?
Like any other Mario sports title, Mario Superstar Baseball provides a fun, casual take on America's favorite pastime. There is no pinch hitting or running, a two-dimensional strike zone, and the controls are very simple. Game modes include playing a single exhibition game, or playing the Challenge, Toy Field, or Practice modes. The Toy Field is a fun turn-based game for 4 players (AI opponents will make up the difference if you don't have 4) in which one player bats, one pitches, and two are in the outfield. You get a number of coins depending on the quality of your hit, and whoever fields the ball bats next. The batter hits again if no one is able to field the ball, and the pitcher bats next if they strike the hitter out. Practice mode is filled with tutorials for various techniques in the categories of pitching, batting, fielding, or running. You can also choose Free Play in Practice mode to practice any techniques you want without having to go through the tutorial for it.
While the Toy Field mode is a lot of fun as a multiplayer affair, and the Practice mode is certainly helpful, the Challenge mode is certainly what makes Mario Superstar Baseball worth buying. Like some of the other Mario sports titles, it infuses RPG elements into the sport, turning the game into more of a quest than a baseball season. The story goes that everyone is enjoying a friendly game of baseball when Bowser sends out a challenge, which falls from the sky onto the infield at Mario Stadium. After reading the challenge, everyone becomes bitter rivals as they set out to start their own teams to defeat Bowser. This may not make sense, because the goal of the game is to then have everyone join back together on your team to beat Bowser, but you shouldn't really be expecting a great story from a baseball game anyway. So you start out as Mario, Peach, Yoshi, Donkey Kong, or Wario on a quest to defeat all the other teams and begin your own baseball dynasty. The game has four levels of difficulty, and the number of innings per game depends on which level you are on. From the start, you may travel to other stadiums (with the exception of Bowser) to compete against your new rivals. You will receive scout missions throughout each game, such as Get a Hit! or Strike em Out!, which will impress members of the other team if completed. Once you have impressed the competition enough, and have beat them enough times, they will surrender and join your team, replacing the colored variations of supporting characters you begin with (Mario's team begins with Luigi, Monty Mole, three Nokis, and three Piantas). Once you have defeated enough teams and picked up enough players, you will gain access to Bowser's Castle, where the championship game takes place. In between games, you can earn coins by competing in five different mini-games (each one tests a different skill) or defeating Boswer Jr. in various scenario challenges (you always start in the 9th inning with a goal of winning the game). You can then spend the coins on various items, which either improve team performance for one game or unlock special moves for individual players, at the shop. Another RPG aspect of the game is completing a set of objectives, like Belt a Grand Slam! for Mario or Become team captain and earn 900 coins for Wario, for each player in order for them to become Superstars. By forming a team of superstars and defeating Bowser for the championship, you can earn various unlockables, such as Bowser as a team captain, the Special mode of difficulty, and other characters for exhibition mode.
So now that you know about the different modes of Mario Superstar Baseball, you're probably wondering if the actual baseball games are any fun. The answer is yes, but they are definitely far from perfect. Pitching and hitting is simple and fun, and fielding controls are pretty simple as well. Base running, however, can be very frustrating. Runners go on contact in every situation, and don't stop halfway on balls hit in the air, resulting in frequent double plays that you don't have any control over; tagging up is often difficult because runners won't start moving until almost 3 seconds after you hit the correct button; and although it is beneficial to you, it's still a flaw in the game that anytime you are caught in a pickle, you will be safe if you retreat to the previous base. Also, the fun factor caused by obstacles on the field varies greatly depending on the difficulty level. On the Mushroom difficulty level, for example, the Piranha Plant at Yoshi Park will turn a fly out into a triple for you, which is fantastic. However, on the Special difficulty, it will do the exact opposite, which is not fantastic. Overall though, the game is still to a lot of fun to play.
As far as audio and visuals go, Mario Superstar Baseball has it all. Obviously, the graphics are supposed to look cartoonish, but the characters are all very well animated and the cutscenes are especially beautiful. The music is all very catchy as well. You will find yourself whistling along to the music and the start of each game, and the We Love Baseball! song is an instant classic. Most of the sound effects are also good, but some of the player's noises get pretty annoying in a short amount of time (particularly the Nokis, Piantas, and Shy Guys). Overall though, Namco did a great job of meeting the high standards set by Camelot's graphics and cutscenes in the other Mario sports titles.
Mario Superstar Baseball provides a fun and fresh baseball experience. It is definitely aimed toward the more casual gamer, so if you want a realistic baseball game, EA's MVP Baseball 2005 is still your best bet. However, baseball in the Mushroom Kingdom is plenty of fun, as the challenge mode is very deep, the Toy Field is a great multiplayer mode, and the game is great for pick up and play sessions, unlike any other baseball game on the market.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 09/19/06
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