Baseball, a sport that we Europeans don't really care to understand, is the scene for the latest Mario Sports title. Developed by Namco on behalf of Nintendo, can Mario (in probably his last game of 2008) and his buddies do enough to make the game a little more exciting?
Anyone who's familiar with previous Mario sports games such as Mario Tennis and Mario Strikers should pretty much know what to expect from Mario Super Sluggers. It's a mix of arcade action sports action with the usual Mario flavour.
Not trying to be a realistic sports simulation, Mario Super Sluggers is an condensed, over the top, comical interpretation of baseball. You've got power pitches, special moves and even weapons out on the field.
Getting started is pretty easy with the comprehensive practise mode, this teaches you the basics for each area of controls: Pitching, Batting, Fielding, Running and Special moves.
Thankfully all of these are quite straight forward which should mean most gamers will be able to pick things up in a matter of minutes, however your grandparents still might struggle.
Pitching is done by flicking the Wiimote forward, winding up and timing the throw correctly will initiate a harder, better, stronger, faster "Charged Pitch". Twisting the Wiimote left and right will throw curveball's and holding A will throw a donkey drop (ha).
If your team has earned star points you can use them to unleash power pitches or power hits, these are triggered holding + just before your throw/hit, each character's special move has a slightly different style, for example Mario throws and hits a fireball.
Along with the basic pitching and batting you control your team mates out in the field who also have some special moves including familiar Mario style weapons and also some special baseball moves such as Buddy Toss and Buddy Jump, both used to speed up your team's fielding.
Pitching, Batting both have normal, charged and star (special move). Batting also has bunting. There's a target on screen which makes it easier to hit than wii sports.
Once your up and running (let's face it, most of us need to learn what the heck is going on) it's time to "play ball". First up is Exhibition mode, the mode that gives you a shortcut straight into a standard game, picking all your team-mates before you start. Obviously this has been aimed at the multi-player situation, thankfully the developers have included something else aimed squarely at the single player, adventure mode.
Adventure mode, something you wouldn't necessarily expect in a typical baseball game. Upon choosing this mode your instantly reminded that your in a Mario game with some FMV setting up the story... you've been dropped onto a baseball paradise, an island built by Peach. It doesn't take long for one of the Bowser's to come and ruin the party. This time its the turn of Bowser Jnr who declares that he will take over the island. It's up to you to recruit some team mates and beat the bad guys... at baseball.
Recruiting team mates is done by a mini "point and click" style RPG mode, guiding your captain around the different locations you must complete mini challenges set by each potential team mate in order to gain their praise before they join your team.
There are a number of areas around the baseball island, each of the main characters have their own stadium, travelling around the different stadium with your team opens up little challenges and missions, completing a few unlocks a battle against the bad little boy Bowser Jnr. Of course beating him only means you get to discover the real nightmare bad guy, Bowser.
Nintendo have given trust into Namco, much like they did with SEGA to produce a Mario game worthy of the name. Namco no doubt had Nintendo looking over their shoulder the whole time but have turned out with a pretty good product. Whilst it's not as fun as say, Mario Strikers Charged, it isn't a bad game. The only downside to this title is the subject matter, baseball, which always seems to produce a limited gameplay experience.
Namco have clearly borrowed some of Nintendo's infamous "polish" as the finished game is extremely well presented with great vibrant graphics, catchy music and everything you'd expect even if Nintendo had made it themselves.
Better than playing baseball, better than watching baseball, but it is still baseball. Fans of the sport or those who enjoyed previous Mario sports titles should find enough here for an entertaining time. Namco have included quite alot of extras, no doubt to compensate for the slight lack of depth in gameplay which is of no fault of the game but more the sport it tries to represent. Mario Super Sluggers is a well produced game which squeezes everything it can out of the genre.