Atomize Mario Super Sluggers to the the control scheme and it feels like an enhanced version of Wii Sports Baseball with a touch of additional depth. You still swing the remote to bat and pitch, but now you can charge both moves. A charged pitch is a timed motion that has players swing the remote when two circles overlap. You can change the curve of pitches too by guiding the ball with the analog stick on the nunchuck or tilting the remote during the throw. The most powerful moves you have in your arsenal are star powered swings and pitches. Team captains can do these moves by holding A+B on the remote, changes a regular swing to a fire infused hit or occludes the screen before a pitch with a splash of graffiti. Super Mario Sluggers graciously hands out more star power to a losing team which can lead to a end of game reversal.
Unlike Wii Sports Baseball you can control the base runners by vigorously shaking the remote to make them dash. Fortunately, there is an option if you aren’t crazy about waggle. Super Mario Sluggers supports a NES style controller scheme where you mash 1 to run, press/hold 2 for a charge swing, and 2+arrow directions for a curved pitch. For the brand new to gaming crowd Nintendo has an over simplified control scheme where AI automatically picks which base a ball should be thrown at and removes advanced techniques like stealing bases. The remote/nunchuck combination gives players the most moves out of the three options. While Nintendo is clearly going for a something for everyone approach Mario Super Sluggers feels unbalanced between the different control schemes. The difference here is greater than having to press the D-pad on the Gamecube controller to do wheelies in Mario Kart. If you’re not using the remote/nunchuck combo you lose the ability to rotate through nearby fielders and tossing the ball to pickoff runners planning to steal a base.
The other subtle degree of depth in Mario Super Sluggers is building a compatible team. Mario and Bowser don’t get along in Super Mario Galaxy and in Mario Super Sluggers they aren’t suddenly best buds. If both of them happen to be on the same team Bowser and Mario have a harder time connecting their throws. A gray frustration cloud over a fielder’s head indicates their chemistry doesn’t mix with someone else on the team. However, if you pair players with good chemistry, indicated by a music note, you get benefits. The power of teamwork lets Mario toss Luigi into the air and catch a ball usually out of reach. On offense, having two players with good chemistry in lets players point and throw items like an explosion of banana peels or a koopa shell at fielders. Of course, you can ignore the team building system. There is an option in exhibition mode that has the game select your entire roster at random. While this option starts games quickly and appeases impatient gamers, random teams doesn’t hold a candle to a cautiously created one.
If you want to make an optimal team you need to unlock all of the playable characters. Mario Super Sluggers has a lot of characters to find, but not all of them are from the Mario universe. Many of the new additions are from the Donkey Kong like King K. Rool who feels out of place in a team with Blooper and Boo. All of these characters clash in challenge mode in Baseball Kingdom. Princess Peach built an island just for baseball and invited her friends. Bowser, feeling left out, decides to dock his own baseball stadium ship thing to the island and crash the party. Before you can battle Bowser in a destined baseball match you have to recruit a team. The first few missions have players simply learn the controls. You’re asked to cycle between different pitches and swings to recruit different colored Nokis, the crustacean-like creatures from Super Mario Sunshine.
Surprise encounters with Bowser’s Magikoopas impede your progress. If you run into one of them Mario Super Sluggers forces you into a mini battle baseball challenge. Other captains and recruited players can be used during the baseball battles. Actually, Mario has to get help from the other captains like Wario who has a love for treasure and powerful Donkey Kong to unlock everyone in Baseball Kingdom.
The first main fight in the game is against Bowser Jr. at his block castle. This is a mini-match consisting of three speedy innings. Bowser Jr. is easy to beat, but the computer AI can get pretty challenging later on. Expect to spend ten hours to complete the RPG-like story mode. After that’s done with Mario Super Sluggers is best enjoyed with a group of friends. Friends who enjoy mini-games where Mario and company feed baseballs to piranha plants and smacking Bob-ombs out of the park. Since a new version of Mario Party isn’t coming out this year Mario Super Sluggers is this year’s Mario Party replacement.
Images courtesy of Nintendo.