Mario Super Sluggers is a fun game with a few shortcomings.
Mario Super Sluggers is a new Mario-themed baseball title and a sequel to Mario Superstar Baseball on the GameCube. The original Superstar Baseball was a fun game that left plenty of room for improvement, and for its part, Super Sluggers does manage to seize on some of those opportunities, particularly with the use of the Wii's motion controls. Still, it's hard to see the game as anything more than an upgraded version of Superstar Baseball and not a full-fledged sequel.
The game provides three different control schemes to choose from: Wii Remote only, Wii Remote/Nunchuk combo, and sideways Wii Remote. Each control method works fairly well, though getting the full gameplay experience requires use of the Nunchuk. When only using the Wii Remote, you're able to perform all of the basic tasks that the game requires, but certain advanced moves can only be done if a Nunchuk is plugged in, such as base stealing. The game can be played just fine without it, which could be a nice thing for new players that may still be used to Wii Sports baseball, but the greater degree of control makes the Wii Remote/Nunchuk controls the way to go.
When hitting, you can pull back on the remote to charge the swing, and then swing the remote to take a swipe at the ball. If you have enough stars in stock, you can also hold A and B to perform a star swing, which causes defense-hampering effects to occur when you hit the ball. Mario, for instance, can set the baseball on fire. Pitching is similar, in that you can pull back on the remote to charge the pitch and then flick it for a fast ball, hold down A and flick it for a change-up, or tilt the remote/Nunchuk analogue stick for a curve. Characters also have star pitches that disguise the ball or generally make it more difficult to hit.
Certain characters are also buddies with one another, and if you pair these characters up next to each other in the batting order or in close proximity on field when playing defense, the game provides a few bonuses. On offense, if the character on deck is buddies with the character at bat, the batting character can launch a random item to trip up the defense upon getting a hit. This is done by pointing the remote at the screen and aiming at the target before launching the item. On defense, buddies can execute a pair of special defensive moves. The buddy jump allows a character to jump twice to catch high fly balls and stop home runs, while the buddy toss is a diving toss to a character who can then rocket the ball to a target fielder. These buddy moves are nice features that do work well, but they require skill and timing to pull off, and it's not always easy to prepare for a buddy jump when a ball is about to fly over the fence.
The main mode of play is Challenge Mode, which is sort of an adventure game. It's similar to the Challenge Mode in Superstar Baseball, in that you wander between baseball fields and complete challenges to recruit new characters before facing off against Bowser Jr. and Bowser in baseball. For the most part, it's not particularly difficult, as most of the challenges are fairly simple and the adventure game-style puzzles are basic. However, I became stuck on a challenge where Bowser Jr. starts off ahead 2-0 and you have one inning to comeback and win. I've tried that challenge for several hours on its own without success, but when I decided to skip it and face Bowser Jr. in a proper game to unlock the fight with Bowser, I completely thrashed him. It's pretty evident that challenge I got stuck on was either designed to be beaten in a specific manner that I just wasn't seeing or its difficulty was artificially ramped up, but in terms of difficulty, this seems to be the exception rather than the rule.
Another feature of Challenge Mode are shops where you can spend coins to unlock a couple of the stadiums, as well as various items that can be equipped to give a player a boost for a single game. Recruiting all of a particular stadium's associated players triggers a discount at the stadium's shop that slashes item prices in half. Aside from Challenge Mode, there's an exhibition mode that allows you to create a team from any of the available characters and play against the CPU or another player, a collection of various minigames that can be played by up to four players, and the Toy Field, which is a sort of party game. There's no season mode or online play, so once you've beaten Challenge Mode sufficiently, you probably won't have much to do with the game unless you have some local friends that are interested in playing it.
Another shortcoming of the game is just the general lack of variety in the characters. It's not so much that their skills overlap; there's enough variety in character abilities that crafting a good team does take a bit of planning. It's that there frankly isn't enough variety in the characters themselves. In addition to the primary Mario characters, there are the baby characters, various colored Piantas from Mario Sunshine, various colored Yoshis, various colored Toads and Shyguys, and various colored Kremlings. Nintendo and Namco Bandai could have stuck more characters in there to make up for the general lack of variety in the cast of non-primary characters and increase the size of the full roster. Despite Wario being in the game, for example, there aren't any WarioWare characters, while there are enough Donkey Kong Country-series characters to fill out an entire team on their own. When you have King K. Rool in the game, would it hurt to maybe throw in Ashley and Dr. Crygor, or at least Rosalina, Tatanga, and Wart? With nine characters to a team, there could have easily been more to choose from without resorting to so much color cloning
Mario Super Sluggers isn't without its faults, but it is an improvement over Superstar Baseball. The core baseball gameplay is especially improved upon with the use of the Wii motion controls, but otherwise, what improvements that exist are minor. The game is fun and certainly worth a rental at the very least, but due to the lack of character variety and new game modes, fans of the original may not see a whole lot to get excited about.