Put Down the Racquets and Putters, It's Time to Hit the Diamond
I've been looking forward to this game for quite a while. First off, Mario Baseball is not MVP Baseball 2005. This Namco-developed baseball game is a throwback to the classic games of 15-20 years ago. It has a simplistic surface, but features the depth and addictive multiplayer we've become accustomed to in Tennis, Golf, and especially the Kart series. Mario Superstar Baseball does come with its own set of flaws that hold it back from being a truly great arcade baseball game, but with over 30 Nintendo characters, 6 stadiums, 7 minigames, and a substantial single-player Challenge mode, this is one fun game.
Sharp and colorful like all Mario related games on the Cube. The character models are excellent, as are the unique stadiums that represent each of the captains in the game. Mario of course has the generic baseball diamond on the beach to support his friends from Sunshine. Yoshi has colorful field inhabited by pirahna plants on his island. Wario has a golden palace in the desert where a sandstorm could strike a fly ball at any moment or a chain chomp could make foul ball ricochet fair and eat your left fielder. Donkey Kong has a waterlogged field hidden in the jungle where barrels constantly roll through the outfield wreaking havoc on even the best fielders. Peach has conveniently turned the front lawn of the castle into basepaths where ? blocks loom overhead making even the easiest infield fly a difficult out. And lastly, Bowser has his lava filled iron fortress waiting for you to find him and his army of deceptively strong hammer brothers. The game runs in progressive scan which is beautiful due to the wide array of colors in this title. The presentation, while simple, is top notch. Loading is noticable in the Challenge mode, but at least some of the load screens are entertaining for the 5-10 seconds they're on.
The gameplay in Mario Baseball is easy to pick up and play like most Mario titles, but at the same time, those who take the time to master the timing will annihilate the newcomers. The game's drawbacks mainly find their home in the controls though, primarily the fielding. Fielding can be a bit frustrating at times as there is no way to switch fielders mid-play. Once a ball is hit, the computer will decide when to switch to a closer fielder if needed. This can be problematic when a grounder gets hit up the middle or into a gap and you're not sure which character you are controlling when the ball leaves the bat. Baserunning seems to have been an afterthought as well due to the fact that your runners break for the next base whenever they hear the bat crack. You need to manually hold them or send them back if it's a fly ball. Obviously this will kill your inning if you hit a liner to anyone in the infield. Baserunning AI this bad hasn't been seen since the SNES. With fielding and baserunning aside, the rest of the game plays great. Hitting and pitching are a constant battle. You don't have so many options as to what type of pitch, but you do get the classic ability to move the pitch on the way to the plate at times. Each character has his or her own unique abilities, sometimes up to 3 different ones spread over fielding, hitting, throwing, etc. For example, MagiKoopa can pull balls to him with his wand that otherwise would've gone past him, Yoshi can snag fly balls with his tongue, Waluigi can rifle a ball to home plate from right field with a laser throw, etc. Learning each character's skills and weaknesses is important in 2-player games as well as the higher difficulty levels in single player. The captains and other major characters (Luigi, Daisy, Diddy, Waluigi, etc) also have special pitches and swings known as Star Pitches and Star Swings. At the start of the game you are given a certain amount of stars, and throughout the game you can earn more. You can use these stars to execute a boosted pitch or swing when the time is right. Mario and Luigi have their fireballs, Donkey Kong has an almost unhittable boomerang style banana, Yoshi has an egg that bounces unpredictably like a football, and Wario has a chunk of garlic that splits in two leaving you to guess which one is real.
The soundtrack here is a mix of classic songs that you will recognize in an instant. Each stadium has its own theme which somehow stays catchy without getting annoying. The character interaction on the Challenge mode is mostly in text, but you do get alot of one-liners from the main cast. The rest of the sound effects are about what you'd expect, which is to say they're pretty good. The only drawback is Lakitu, who once again takes the role of cameraman but also the umpire. His voice gets a bit tiresome, and some variations in his calls would have been appreciated.
Like the other Mario sports titles and the Kart series, the bulk of the replay value here comes from the multiplayer. That's not to say the single player is lacking though, because it's not. The Challenge mode sports multiple difficulty levels (Mushroom, Flower, Star, Special) and has you choose from one of five captains. Your teams starts off with your one star captain, one or two notable characters, and then 6 or 7 scrubs that are vaguely related to the captain. For example, pick Yoshi and you'll have Baby Mario & Luigi along with an army of Shy Guys. You'll be taken to a small world map that has pathways between all the stadiums as well as spots to challenge yourself in minigames. As you wander from stadium to stadium, you challenge the other captains to games of baseball. Within each game, you will receive certain missions at any given moment. These can include anything like "strike this guy out," "get a double play," "hit a sacrifice fly," "drop a squeeze bunt," etc. Successfully completing these missions will help recruit players from the opposing side to your team if you win the game. Once you have defeated each captain once, you are allowed to challenge Bowser, but recruiting the best team should be your top priority because Bowser ain't easy. You can earn coins by playing minigames or stomping Bowser Jr in short challenges and then use the coins for powerups and other items at the shop. The game also sports an RPG aspect as each of the 30+ characters has their own personal goals for their career. They can be as simple as "Smack a long hit" and "Steal a base" or as difficult as "Pitch a perfect game" or "Hit a walk off grand slam." Overall this is probably the deepest, non-platform, single player Mario titles to date.
Obviously I really like this game. While it does have its problems in terms of mechanics on the field, it's a fun arcade style baseball game. If you go into it expecting an EA Sports title, you're going to hate it. If you go in expected a light-hearted, fun-filled baseball title with the flair and humor Nintendo has so consistantly delivered, then you will love this game. This might be staying in my Cube until Strikers comes out in December.
*** This review was written for Flamevault.com shortly after the release of the game ***