Mario is often accused of being nothing but a cash-in ploy, allowing Nintendo to saturate the game market. However, almost all the sports, parties and typing tutorials he has appeared in have offered an entertaining experience. Well, earlier this year, Nintendo decided to add to its sports repertoire, with two baseball games; Pennant Chase Baseball, a more traditional sports simulation, and Mario Superstar Baseball, which would put another quirky sports notch in Mario?s belt. However, while most of the Mario games feel like a quality installment in the series, Superstar Baseball feels like an attempt at a quick buck.
There are many different aspects that set this game apart from a standard simulation baseball game. The most obvious difference is the presence of Mario and other various characters, ranging from the classics to the new faces introduced in Super Mario Sunshine. In Exhibition Mode, each player chooses a captain (who becomes their pitcher), and chooses players for each of the other positions. Basic baseball strategy is still a dominant factor in selecting and placing players, like the slow, clunky players (like Bowser) should stick to first base, while swifter players (like the winged goomba) are well-suited for shortstop. Each individual player has their own set of stats, showing their individual abilities in things like fielding, pitching, hitting and running speed. As a critical shortcoming, there aren?t that many characters available, often resulting in the two gamers making a wild rush to scoop up their favorite characters. The next notable difference from the majority of baseball games is that each character has a special ?Star Skill? that is exclusive to them. While pitching or batting, each character can activate their skill for various effects. Luigi, for example, has a special Fireball skill, where he throws a nearly-impossible-to-hit pitch, and while batting, hitting the ball will cause the first person to come into contact with it to ignite, buying plenty of time for Luigi to run the bases. The last major difference is in the fields. There are only a handful of fields, but each has their own unique aspects. There are chain chomps that can attack outfielders, tornadoes that can catch a ball and can send it all over the stadium and other exciting features adding to the unique feel of the game. While this is an interesting concept, a piranha plant bursting out of the ground and biting off the leg of the second baseman (not literally) as he runs to make a play can remove lots of the actual skill out of fielding. While all of these are unique features, they just aren?t pulled off as well as they should have been. More characters should have been included, and even if they were from outside the Mario series (like if it turned into Super Smash Baseball), it would?ve greatly improved the concept. The special skills should?ve been more diverse, because most of them feel as if they are essentially the same thing. Lastly, the crazy fields feel like they interfere with the game more than they add to it. If another Mario Baseball game should grace the Revolution with its presence, these are issues that simply must be addressed.
The controls are simplistic, but vary in effectiveness. Batting is displayed from what would be the umpire?s perspective; a few feet up and a few feet back from the plate. Instead of showing the strike zone, Nintendo chose to use an older-style system, where all the batters are free to move about the batter?s box, which offers lots of leeway for gauging whether a pitch is a strike or ball. Swinging is done by simply pressing the A button, and can be charged by holding A, adding some extra strength. While the setup used in more modern baseball games like ESPN MLB 2k5 would have been more desirable, this still gets the job done. The pitching, however, isn?t sufficient. The ancient setup allows only for the pitcher?s position on the mound, with some minimal control over the ball in mid-flight. This setup just doesn?t work, and the Star Skills just don?t add enough depth to make it effective. Even worse is the fielding. Like the pitching, it isn?t ineffective. It?s just painfully, cripplingly slow, and is a major drawback from the gameplay.
The last issue is the non-existent franchise or season mode. While there is a kind of tournament mode, where a pre-made team must play its way up the ranks, only to unlock one of the unpopular, second string characters, it doesn?t do nearly enough. If a nice franchise mode was included, this game would?ve rivaled the regular sports simulations. Without it, the only thing that would keep a gamer returning is the occasional exhibition game with a friend. There are some fun mini-games, but they hold little lasting interest.
Mario Baseball is also somewhat lacking in the graphics and sound department. The renders for all the characters are lacking any kind of detail. However, Mario isn’t renowned for its ground-breaking graphics, and the characters are still decent looking. The sound, though is just not good. Many, many heresies were committed against the sports genre in this department. To start, the bouts of voice acting are simply annoying, with various grunts and groans after swings, pitches and errors. There is no announcer. NO ANNOUNCER. There is lots of room for improvement in this department.
Mario Superstar Baseball could?ve been an incredible game. Its old-school feel could?ve been a breath of fresh air from the increasingly tedious baseball simulation series. It could?ve had the most unique franchise experience in a sports game yet. Instead, it just has numerous shortcomings, adding together to make an average arcade-style sports game. It is an all right start if Nintendo decides to make this into a series, but they simply need to add more content to make this worthwhile.