Mario Super Sluggers: Batter Up!

September 30, 2008

Still one of the most impressive examples of motion control, Wii Sports gave players a taste of the Wii's potential but only skimmed the surface of each activity. Players have been eagerly awaiting full-featured titles with comparable controls, but does Mario Super Sluggers bring it home or get caught stealing?

Ironically, Mario Super Sluggers is a baseball game that features relatively little baseball. The main challenge mode isn't even a full season, but rather a simplistic adventure game focused on ousting Bowser Jr. from various stadiums within the baseball kingdom. You'll solve puzzles, recruit new characters, and use the abilities of each captain to proceed. Donkey Kong can climb vines, Mario can use warp pipes, Wario can open treasure chests, and so on.

To recruit players, you'll often need to prove yourself in special challenges. You may need to hit a ball to left field or smack a home run, but many of the missions are so brief that they don't even last as long as the sequences that introduce them. Through the whole five-hour quest, you'll only partake in a handful of regular ball games, most of which only last a single inning.

Once you've completed the challenges and unlocked all the extras, you'll spend most of your time in exhibition mode where you can set up single games against the AI or with up to three other players. There are eight stadiums to choose from, but unfortunately, there are no features to track progress over the long haul. You can't set up a series or play a season. There's also no online support of any kind, and the game doesn't even allow you to save your custom team, forcing you to either tediously pick players before each and every game or to hit the random button and hope for the best.

Mario Super Sluggers also has a varied selection of ballpark-themed mini-games. Why Nintendo would add something like this before creating a legitimate baseball game first is anyone's guess.

Mario Super Sluggers spices up the standard baseball gameplay with a number of extra features. Players can charge throws and swings for more power, use items like koopa shells and bob-ombs to trip up fielders, or unleash character-specific star moves to make it tougher for an opponent to hit or catch the ball. Characters with an affinity for one another can perform buddy moves to catch high-flying balls or make fast throws, and some characters have added advantages like Yoshi's extended reach.

There are three control schemes, including a button-only alternative and a nunchuk option for more control over fielders and runners, but most players will find the standard remote to be the most natural. While you would expect a Nintendo-published baseball game to have controls similar to Wii Sports, Sluggers is nowhere close. The game doesn't even attempt to match your real swing. A flick of the wrist in any direction is all that's needed, and when pitching, it's easy to launch a throw before you intend to as the game has a problem understanding the difference between a windup and an actual pitch.

Sluggers presents balancing issues at every turn. Even on the hardest difficulty setting, it's easy to blow away the AI by over a dozen runs. Some characters, such as the palm tree-wielding Piantas, are almost guaranteed to hit home-runs. Playing against a friend is far more unpredictable thanks to the wealth of optional attack items and special moves.

After waiting for almost two years for a proper baseball game on the Wii, Mario Super Sluggers is a huge disappointment. It doesn't really use the motion controls at all.

Mario Super Sluggers doesn't look bad, but it's hard to see any improvements from its GameCube predecessor from 2005-right down to its four-frame, 2D crowd animations. The mushroom kingdom's personalities are brought to life with lively voices and animation, and there are even bits of subtle humor here and there. Goombas are great at pitching? Goombas don't have arms.

Mario Super Sluggers is fun to pick up and play for a short session with friends, but as a game to play by yourself it's shallow. It also doesn't make much use of the system's capabilities with limited motion control and no online play.

The wait for a solid hardball game on the Wii is heading into extra innings.