Super Mario slugs it out in his latest sports game appearance. Is it any good?
Mario Super Sluggers (not Super Mario Sluggers, as I sometimes catch myself calling it) is yet another entry into the somewhat tired Mario sports line of Nintendo games. As has been standard operating procedure recently, Nintendo outsourced development of the game to a third party, in this case Namco Bandai. Putting Mario into the hands of another company seems to be good for the sports games, and from what I've seen playing through the Japanese import so far, it looks like Mario will be starring in another fun game that anyone can enjoy.
When you think baseball on the Wii, the Wii Sports version immediately comes to mind. Although you won't be able to move the bat around in real time while batting in Sluggers like you would in Wii Sports, almost every other part of the new game is a big-time upgrade, as you'd expect from a full-blown retail effort. The pitching-batting mechanic alone has a lot more depth to it since both actions require a “wind up” period that makes it a bit more challenging to pull off a perfect pitch or to hit the ball with the sweet spot of your bat.
Flicking the Wii Remote backwards begins the swinging or pitching process. A circle will appear around your character (and the batting cursor if you're on offense) while a second, larger circle slowly constricts. When the two circles meet, performing the standard throwing or swinging motion forward will trigger the action. The closer the circles are to meeting when you let it fly, the more power that action will have. Getting the circles to meet up when pitching is fairly easy to do. The extra power doesn't just help fastballs go faster, but it also lets change-ups arc higher and slower, and curveballs curve more. The A Button and B Trigger on the Wii Remote let you modify the pitch you throw toward the plate. Hitting both at the same time will throw a special pitch that can confuse the batsman, but that can only be activated if you've got enough star power in the bank to make it happen.
Check out the character roster as well as some pitching and batting action in this gameplay video.
Getting the circles to meet up while batting is another matter entirely. Since you don't know how quickly the ball will get to the plate, knowing when to begin the swing takes some practice. You can still swing at any time, even without winding up, but in doing so you won't put maximum power into the swing. Batters also have the A+B special at their disposal, and connecting on a pitch with a special swing will put even more gas into a hit. If you don't want to be bothered with trying to time things perfectly, you can simply start your swing wind up immediately and just wait for the pitch to come to you. However, if you're the type of person that tries to get it just right, conquering the timing of the batting system will bring you a lot of satisfaction.
Of course, being a Mario sports game, there's going to be the usual fun gimmicks thrown in to spice things up. Each of the game's 40 characters wield unique bats. This doesn't really affect gameplay, but seeing Donkey Kong swing at baseballs with an oversized boxing glove or Magikoopa swinging away with his scepter does add visual variety. More pertinent to gameplay, some game modes throw items into play, just like you'd see in Mario Kart. Bob-ombs, banana peels, and other hazards can be shot onto the field to cause problems for the defense. Even the fields themselves come with built-in obstacles, such as the Freezies in Peach's indoor ice rink field, the warp pipes in Yoshi Park, and the water-spewing manholes in Wario City stadium.
I've played quite a few games in the different ballparks and found that the quirks of each individual field do have their place, but the best bet is to stick with the basic Mario Stadium field if you just want to play a good, clean, fun baseball game. Sluggers can get pretty crazy with just the items alone, so needing to worry about running into something while looking to catch a pop fly is more annoying than it is amusing (unless, of course, the trouble happens to the other team).
Need a break from baseball? Here's what you can expect from Mario Super Sluggers' mostly non-baseball Challenge mode.
To help bolster the appeal of Mario Super Sluggers for single players, Challenge mode will bring a lot more to the table than just baseball games against the computer. Challenge mode resembles a Mario platform game more than it does a baseball game. Starting the game as Mario, you need to travel around from stadium to stadium, trying to locate team players to add to your baseball team, eventually getting enough talent on it to defeat Bowser in—what else—a game of baseball. As you explore the grounds around each park, solve puzzles, and clear special baseball challenges, new players will be added to your roster. Finding one of the team captains (the first player you would normally select in a regular exhibition match) will give your adventuring team a new ability to help unlock more of the world and find more characters and secrets.
The different puzzles, activities, and baseball challenges help mix things up during Challenge mode by offering more than just baseball, baseball, and baseball over and over again. The baseball challenges you do come across can range from pretty easy (just hit 10 balls) to extremely challenging (hit three balls to right field in 10 at-bats: harder than it sounds), which helps prevent things from becoming too repetitive. Based off what I've played so far, Challenge mode looks like it will be a nice change of pace from the usual single-player sports experience, although I'd need to play more of it to see the its true colors.
From what I've seen of Mario Super Sluggers, it's looks like it will be a good, fun baseball game with a little extra thrown in for solo player looking for more value. The baseball gameplay moves along quickly and something of interest always comes along to keep your attention long enough to stay with it. The bottom line for me here is that so far, I like the game quite a bit.
The Mario Super Sluggers intro video.