Review by bluej33

"A Solid Hit"

I don't know whose idea it was, but the person who decided to create sports games starring everyone's favorite plat forming plumber deserves some sort of an award. Truly, Mario has redefined what we think of sports games. Rather than a good sports game being one where the graphics are flawless and all the sport's elements are in place, a good sports game can now be defined as one where there's tons of stuff going on, all revolving around the basic principles of a sport. It's no surprise, really, that America's favorite pastime (baseball, for those of you that for whatever reason don't know) was made into a Mario sports game -- and a damn good one, at that.

Of course, a sports game isn't really a sports game if it's not a sports game. Wait…let me clarify that. I don't care how chaotic or good-looking a Mario sports game is; if the core elements of the sport that it's emulating (in this case, baseball) aren't clearly there, then I'm not going to enjoy the game. What I want is, essentially, a baseball game with some Mario elements thrown in, just to reassure me that this isn't actually baseball. And that's exactly what Mario Superstar Baseball is.

The baseball mechanic implemented in Mario Superstar Baseball is solid. All the baseball rules are clearly there and have a very definite, assertive presence. This, at least to me, is a good thing. This isn't a chaotic brawl fest, like Super Smash Bros. Melee; this is still a sports games. The thing is, those baseball mechanics are very much enhanced by some Mario universe elements that have been added in. The sports elements and Mario elements of this game really do exist in perfect harmony; there is no contestation, no struggling; rather, they both are there, and the combine wonderfully together.

Before you do anything in Mario Superstar Baseball, you've got to field a team. A prolific number of characters (more than thirty, actually) from the Mario world are available for you to choose from. There are Mario staples such as Luigi, Peach, Toad, and Bowser, as well as less orthodox players, such as Dry Bones and Shy Guy. Regardless, though, very character plays a role in the game. You choose nine players (the number of men on a baseball team, in case you're unaware), and assign each character to a position. Now, the position to which you assign each character actually is very important if you hope to win. Each character has a certain stat in four areas: hitting, throwing, fielding, and running. The idea is to match up a character's stats with a position that those stats would benefit. For example, if a character has a good pitching stat but a bad running stat, it would be a good idea to place that character on the pitching mound. On the other hand, a character with poor throwing but excellent speed and fielding would do well in the infield or outfield.

Fielding is interestingly done, but not particularly innovative in any way. When a ball is it, a cursor will appear where the ball will land (if it's a fly ball).If it's a grounder, you're just going to have to follow the ball for yourself. Control will automatically switch to the fielder closest to the ball. Once you've scooped up the ball, toss it to the base you think most advantageous. If it is an outfield single, toss it to second base to prevent the base runner from progressing. Throwing the ball around is actually one of the more annoying aspects of the game. You see, to throw, you need to hit the A button simultaneously with the direction on the Control Stick of the base you wish to throw the ball. For example, to throw the ball to first, you would hit A and Right on the Control Stick at the same time. The problem with this control scheme is that it's not always that accurate. Oftentimes, you will throw the ball to an unintended base, because the Control Stick isn't that good at picking up straight up, down, left or right directional pushes. In a pressure situation (when a base runner is caught between two bases, for example), it can sometimes be a critical and costly error to throw the ball to an unintended base, and it can get really annoying at times.

Pitching is handled in a similarly straightforward fashion, although it's much more responsive and rewarding than trying to throw out a base runner. Pitches are selected with simple button combinations, all involving the A button and a direction on the Control Stick. If you release the A button at exactly the right time, your pitch will receive a little boost of speed, making it more difficult to hit. If you throw a normal pitch (that is, just hit the A button), you can make the ball curve just by moving the direction you want it to go with the Control Stick. You can aim the direction of any pitch by positioning yourself on the pitching mound before you actually deliver the pitch. Pitching is well executed and nicely done; it's simple to get the hang of, yet there are a ton of intricacies to it.

Of course, the most fun of most baseball games lies with the hitting mechanic. And that in Mario Superstar Baseball does not fail to disappointment. Like pitching, it's simple to get the hang of, but there are a few things you can work on to make your hitting even more impressive (more on that later). You can move your batter around a little in relation to the plate; you can give yourself a bit of breathing room, or crowd the plate. Do whatever you think is going to benefit you most in the upcoming pitch. Like pitching, you can charge up your swing by holding A. However, merely holding A from the windup up to the delivery is not going to help you; if you hit a pitch off an over-charged swing, it'll just pop up. Instead, you want to time your charge so that your swing reaches maximum charge right as the ball is delivered. It takes a good bit of practice, and there's no sure-fire way to pull it off, because the timing of the swing really depends on the throw. Still, though, hitting is addictive and just as fun as it should be.

Like I emphasized earlier, though, Mario Superstar Baseball is a great game because it combines elements of both baseball and of the Mario universe in general. We've got the baseball, but what about the Mario? Well, in addition to the fact that all your players are from the Mario world, each course is also Mario themed. One is a very standard field where you can play if you want to practice your baseball skills themselves. However, if you really want to experience all that Mario Superstar Baseball has to offer, you're going to want to select another field; one example is Peach's garden-turned-baseball-diamond, where floating blocks can change the direction of a fly ball.

And yes, there is some of that classic chaos that is present in any Mario sports game. It's not ridiculous, but it's there, and that's what counts. It exists predominantly in the form of pitching and hitting. If you hold the R trigger button while either pitching or fielding, you can implement what is called a player's special move. This special move consumes points; these points can be consumed in a victory during a key match-up. For example, if Bowser is pitching and Mario is hitting, whoever “wins” this encounter will receive a point. The abilities that are implemented by the special move vary vastly, and depend entirely upon the character who has used them. For example, Bowser's special pitch turns the ball into a bullet which will to a flip on the way to the plate, thus throwing off the batter's timing. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Yoshi's special hitting move turns the hit ball into an egg, bouncing around and making it difficult to field.

Mario Superstar Baseball, in addition merely to being fun, also has some fun little extras and a wonderful multiplayer mode. For example, the Bob-Omb Derby is essentially a home run derby with a decidedly Mario twist (the fact that you're hitting anthropomorphic bombs, of course). None of these little games are particularly challenging, nor do they offer anything in terms of depth, but they're neat little diversions. The multiplayer mode is another story entire, though. It takes what's great from the single-player game and adds a second human player. As with any game, beating your friend in a game is infinitely more fun than playing against a computer, now matter what the difficulty setting. The same, naturally, hold true with Mario Superstar Baseball; the only slight disappointment is that only two players can play at a time.

Despite a few minor flaws, Mario Superstar Baseball delivers big in the way of fun for all ages and skills, and a beautiful balance of Mario-esque game play combined perfectly with the core mechanics of America's past time. Mario Superstar Baseball is a must-have for Mario fans and baseball fanatics alike, and I, for one, have got my sights set on a Wii sequel.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 10/08/07

Game Release: Mario Superstar Baseball (US, 08/29/05)

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