Review by Suprak the Stud

"Mario Rounds the Bases in Style"

Mario is taking a break from his career as a plumber/princess rescuer/tennis star/golf pro/doctor (I'm still curious as to which university awarded Mario his doctorate…) to settle down with the gang and play some baseball. Like many of the other Mario sports titles on the market, Mario Superstar Baseball is surprisingly well done. While Nintendo is certainly milking the Mario namesake to manufacture dozens of Mario themed games, at least the slew of games arriving are all fairly high quality. Although this game appears to be targeting the more casual crowd of gamers with rather simple controls and cartoonish presentation, the game itself is actually rather deep once you become acclimated to the overall scheme of the game.

As in nearly every other iteration of a game set in the Mushroom Kingdom, Bowser is once again up to his old hi-jinks. His ploy this time? To engulf the Mushroom Kingdom in the chaos only experienced during tournament baseball. OH THE HUMANITY! Well, after having his shell handed to him by Mario on such a frequent basis I suppose even Bowser needed some time off. While the premise itself is kind of questionable, there certainly is a certain amount of appeal to customizing the roster of your baseball team with all your favorite Mario characters, if you happen to be a fan of both baseball and Mario games. A major plus is the sheer variety of characters present, as Nintendo decided to include a rather large amount of playable characters that possess a less prominent role in their games of origin. Complementing the expected crop of Mario, Luigi, Peach and the like, you can also fill your roster with individuals such as Hammer Brothers, Monty Mole, and Dixie Kong. In addition to simply being cool, these characters add a lot of variety to the gameplay as differences exist amongst all of them. Not only do the stats such as batting, pitching, etc, vary from player to player, some characters possess certain in game skills others do not. For example, both Dixie and Diddy can scale the back wall to catch a ball while Bowser and Petey Piranha can occasionally knock the defense off the bag while they're running the bases. Additionally, some of the major characters possess special pitches or hits that can be used at critical junctures at the game. Although these moves require star points (which you can earn in the course of the game), using them typically pays off, allowing you to blow a fireball past the batter as Mario or transform the ball into a nearly uncatchable egg with a hit as Yoshi. All of these skills contribute to a certain amount to strategy to the gameplay, allowing you to customize your team in a way to optimize your fielding, pitching, and batting. Although it isn't really a serious sports game, this provides an unexpected level of depth which is hard to find in most other baseball games on the market.

The pitching and batting benefit not only from the originality of each of the characters but the straightforwardness in which these tasks can be accomplished. The velocity of your pitch and swing are controlled by how long you charge it up and both the character and the ball can be moved to better locate your pitch or swing. If this sounds easy to control, that's because it is. While many contemporary baseball games have adopted more advanced methods to control these aspects of the game, Mario Superstar Baseball adheres to a more conventional style. Fortunately, it is pulled off very nicely and fits the more lackadaisical nature of the game. While more serious sports fans might be turned off by the simplicity of these controls, the game isn't really geared for the sports fanatic. The controls are really smooth and intuitive for the most part, and the simple control scheme allows you to complete the majority of tasks, from stealing to swinging to even diving “big play” catches, with ease. What really suffers from the simplification of the controls, however, is the fielding. The game will automatically assign a fielder for you after the ball is hit for you to control. While they frequently assign the individual who has the best opportunity to make a play, the game occasionally makes a mistake and you'll be forced to cut across the field to stop what should have been a routine out. On a couple of occasions, I'd literally have my third baseman watch the ball roll right by her/him while my left fielder would be forced to run in and make a play (apparently they were taking notes from the Alex Rodriguez book of fielding). Additionally, throwing to the bases also proves problematic. They directional pad seems more finicky than it should be in this game, and if you're not careful you can end up throwing the ball to second when you mean to throw to first. These kind of blips can prove rather frustrating, especially during a close game.

The game modes themselves are rather impressive. As anticipated, the head to head mode provides the most entertainment, allowing you and a friend (or the computer, if you have poor social skills) to force your teams of all-stars to compete. The large assortment of playable characters is complemented by a decent selection of ballparks, each with their own quirks and charms. Impressively, the story mode of the game is also very well put together. While you start with your base team (which is different for each of the different captions), you are able to recruit members of other teams by awing them with your superior play. If you manage to defeat their team and accomplish certain tasks which arise during the course of the game, such as getting a hit or scoring a run, you will manage to recruit them to your team and be able to insert other characters into your roster. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this mode is the ability to “level up” your players by accomplishing pre-determined goals. Ranging from easy (get a hit) to frustratingly difficult (hitting a music note with Toadette), these boosts not only improve your player's stats, but they add a great deal of replayability and depth to the story mode. The only improvement that could have been made was an elevated difficulty. While there are four different levels of difficulty, there really isn't enough of a difference between them. There is some initial difficulty while you're still mastering the controls and scheme of the game, once you learn the nuances of the controls the computer becomes rather easy to defeat. The A.I. isn't even that great on the highest difficulties, and by the time I reached those difficulties, I had already found strategies to ensure extra bases with nearly every hit and a method of pitching which frustrated the A.I. and led to easy outs.

The other game modes aren't nearly as enjoyable as the previous two. While “toy stadium” is a selectable feature, you probably won't find yourself playing it more than a couple of times. They also included a variety of mini-games, including a home-run derby and a race around the diamond for gems. These range in enjoyment from dull to incredibly dull and are only amusing if you find three other individuals to play along with you. However, the small selection of games hampers the enjoyment and the time would be better spent just playing the game itself (or finding a copy of Mario Party, which is better suited for that niche of gaming).

Little details end up making a huge difference in the quality of the game. While the graphics are crisp and bright, they really aren't that impressive compared to other Gamecube titles. However, the music is great and unique to each ball park. Additionally, each character has his or her own celebration dance, failure hissy fit, and the occasional sound bite. While these do tend to get old and annoying after you've played the game for a while, some are actually fairly amusing and contribute to the charm of the game itself. Other minor details, such as every character possessing a unique bat (Donkey Kong with a boxing glove for the win) and unlockable character bios, really help to further improve the quality of the game, despite the fact that they are only minor tweaks to the game itself. Even the team names are fairly clever and nuanced. The name depends not only on the captains, but on the individuals that comprise the team as well. For example, a team of Donkey Kong and the other Kongs in the game will earn you the moniker the “DK Kongs,” while a team without them might be the “DK Bananas” or “DK Barrels” depending on who is on the team. While this is only a minor touch (you probably won't even notice it until you've played the game for a little while), additions such as this and the aforementioned details all add to the polish of the game and make Mario Superstar Baseball not only enjoyable to play, but nicely designed as well.

The control and difficulty issues hold this game back from being truly great. However, the story mode is entertaining (and comprehensive) enough to keep you entertained and has enough unlockables to motivate you to play for at least 20-25 hours. Multiplayer is where the most fun is to be had, however, and there it is easy enough to pick up that even your friends will be able to get a hold of the controls within their first couple of games. While there are certainly better baseball games around, Mario Superstar Baseball is still entertaining enough to warrant a purchase. Besides, where else do you have the opportunity to bean Toad with a fastball?

+ Comprehensive story mode with innovative “leveling up” of your players
+ Plenty of fun to be had playing friends
+ Diverse assortment of characters, each with their own unique style
+ Decent selection of playable stadiums
+ Fluid controls for pitching and batting; simplicity allows for quick immersion in the game
+ Very polished, brimming with nice little touches which enhance quality of the game

- Poor defensive control scheme
- Far too easy once controls are mastered
- Lackluster mini-games and toy stadium mode

Watching in horror as even Toad can crush a home run off your pitching staff. Oh man, he is going to get beaned twice as hard his next time up…

THE VERDICT: 7.5/10.0

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 08/28/06

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