Mario runs, Mario swims, Mario dances, Mario plays soccer, Mario plays golf, Mario plays tennis, Mario Parties… Mario does it all! I’ve seen so many Mario games and sometimes it seems like it’s just too much! But every time I do play a new Mario Game, I am hooked on it for some reason that I can not explain. I guess it’s because Nintendo knows how to make a great game. People like Mario, (and so do I) and it’s for this reason that his games sell like hot cakes.
Lately Mario has been involved in all sorts of games. Mario Strikers and Dance Dance Revolution, the new one with Mario, come to mind, but in this latest game Mario does something else we wouldn’t expect him to do. He plays baseball! But why have Mario play baseball when we get all of those incredible baseball games from other companies, especially EA? Here’s why.
This game was developed by Namco who seem to have very good relationship with Nintendo right now. Namco wants its games to sell a lot on Nintendo’s consoles and Nintendo gives them the opportunity to do that by using their most popular character! I mean, everyone knows Mario and his games sell at least a few hundred thousand copies if not millions of copies with each release. If that’s the case then they know that no matter what they have Mario doing it will always sell simply because he is a mainstream character that everyone likes.
But if you look at past Mario games (the ones that aren’t platform games) you will notice one thing they all have in common: they are all pick up and play titles. Each and everyone of them is very easy to get into no matter how experienced you are with video games and I think that’s the reason why they are so appealing. At the same time, they offer just enough challenge so that hardcore gamers can feel satisfied once they’ve completed the game, making this the perfect video game package for everyone.
I personally haven’t played that many baseball games this generation because of the fact that I am not a huge baseball fan. Since this one is from Nintendo, I decided to give it a try. So I bought it, put the disc in my GC and powered it on. As the game started I was shown a really cool FMV sequence like you’ve have seen in previous Mario sports titles. It shows a little bit about the game and also gives you a little idea about what the story mode is all about, though we all know that in the Mario universe the goal of the game is always to beat Bowser. So unless you lived on another planet for the last 20 years this should be of no surprise to you!
So once you get to the menu screen you have various choices. Since it was my first time with the game I decided to play the exhibition mode for a quick shot at the game and see what it’s all about. It was a fast 5 round match that lasted about 10 minutes and even though it was short, it was a lot of fun. I was able to do all of the things in the game easily and found all of the controls to be really intuitive. For some reason I knew how to do everything without having to read the instruction manual, that’s how easy it is to play this game.
Your team is composed of several characters from the Mario universe going back to the SNES and NES eras. Some of them you will be happy to see, some of them you will not be, especially the ones from Sunshine. As you start with Mario’s team, most of your characters are from Sunshine (except for 3) and they are all bad hitters and run really slowly! Of course, all of that changed when I started playing Challenge mode.
Challenge mode is the story mode of this game. It is somewhat short but it’s a nice little addition and it’s the only place where you’ll unlock new characters and special abilities for them. There are harder difficulty levels to unlock but each one of them takes less than an hour to beat, not taking into account all the time needed to unlock everything of course. Overall, even though I’m glad they’ve taken the time to include this mode in the game, I just wish there was more of it and I think it would have been a better idea to delay the title and really polish this mode. It could have been something more.
Bowser wants to challenge the best baseball players in the Mushroom Kingdom so he sends out invitations to everyone. Mario and his team as well as others like Donkey Kong and Wario want to show him, of course, that they are the best. So you start on your adventure by selecting a team and then going from stadium to stadium (a big 4 of them!) to beat all of the others. It is done by walking around on the map much like you did in Super Mario World on the SNES. Once you beat a team, you are able to use their characters so that you build a stronger team for yourself as each character in the game has different attributes. And once you’ve beaten them all you’ll be able to play against Bowser’s team to finish the game. There are however characters that you can talk to and when you do, you are then able to participate in mini games.
The mini games remind me of Mario Party mini games but they all concern Baseball. They are short but fun and they all have a purpose; they let you win money! At the start of each mini game you have to bet a certain amount of gold coins; either 50, 100 or 150. If you win you get that number of coins. If you don’t, you lose them unless you have no coins at all in which case you’ll lose nothing. In one mini game you’ll be sending eggs at piranha plants trying to match the color of the eggs to the color of the plants; in another you have to hit different shapes of fireworks with your baseball bat and as they reach the sky they will explode into different characters from the game. The mini games are there to let you practice the different game play aspects of Mario baseball so that you improve while having fun.
The gold coins are then used to go to the shop and buy upgrades for your characters. For example, each character has a special pitch and hit ability that you have to buy. Yoshi will throw an egg that will bounce on the ground several times and move from left to right quickly making it difficult to hit. Mario has the super fast fireball, Peach will throw a ball with a heart over it hiding the ball so that you’re not really sure when to hit it. As for the hitting abilities, if performed correctly, they are much stronger than normal a hit and have a better chance of being a home run then hitting the ball normally.
The special pitches and hits are done using the R button. You can only do a few per game as you are limited. It would be too easy to always use your special abilities all the time to beat your opponent. You can gain more during the game when you are offered Star chances. These are little challenges spread out during matches. If you are the pitcher then you’ll have to eliminate the batter before he gets to first base. If you are the hitter then it would be the opposite. These are the most common ones but there are a few others too.
On the game’s easiest difficulty level you shouldn’t have any problems, but once you try the more difficult settings the game can become frustrating. Once of the things I really hated was the fact that the characters on the field run really slowly while the ball goes really fast (which is somewhat normal) so when the other team hits the ball really hard then it might be difficult to catch it while it seems easy for them to do it. Another thing that really bothered me was that they often do double or triple plays. While it makes the game flow at a faster rate, it can be frustrating when you have all of the bases full and then have everyone retired in one at bat. I see that happen at least once per game and at times it made me angry and there is no way around it. Even when you know you didn’t hit the ball correctly there is no way to stop your characters from running to the next base and since they are really slow they don’t have time to get back and often get caught. Sure, when you are the one doing it it’s fun, but when it’s the computer’s turn it’s a completely different story and it happens all the time. I’m not saying the computer is cheating or anything like that, maybe it’s just that I’m a bad player, but I wish it was more balanced than that.
As I said earlier there are several stadiums depending on the team and they all look different with only Mario’s Stadium being normal. All of the others have funny attributes to them. In DK’s stadium there will be huge barrels rolling towards your characters so sometimes you think you’ll catch the ball and then a huge barrel hits you and the other team gets one run because of that. In Peach’s stadium there are invisible blocks in the air like in Super Mario World so that when you hit the ball you might hit one of those blocks and your ball will bounce off of it and fall somewhere else. There are also piranha plants or tornadoes that will create different effects and make the game more difficult for you but it’s all random and fun and it fits with the arcade style game play of the game.
Graphically this game stands out and looks similiar to every other Mario Sports title. Character models are highly detailed and some are quite funny to look at. The FMV intro is very well done but I wish there was more than just 1 video sequence in the whole game as it looked fantastic! There are others but not on the same level of quality as the intro as they are all mostly made of in game footage. The stadium themselves are nicely done with crisp textures and lots going on for a baseball game. The crowd is fully animated but it’s all made of 2D sprites and they are not at that high of a resolution and it looks like a blurry mess when you are too close though you only see them from time to time in replays. The characters in the game all performed their moves smoothly and there doesn’t seem to be any problems with the animations. Even some characters like the Goombas who don’t even have hands have been animated to hit or throw a ball! There are also nice little effects when the players perform their super moves and while it does not compare to other graphic intensive games, Namco did a very nice job of trying to push the GC hardware to its limits. And, of course, the game runs at a very smooth 60 frames per second and in progressive scan.
The music is made of remixed classic Mario themes and some newly composed music that reminds you of baseball yet has a Mario feel to it. The sound effects are nothing special and the characters’ voices are sometimes so high pitched and annoying that you might feel like pressing the mute button on your remote control! Well, maybe it’s not that bad but it would have been better without some of them, especially the Lakitu voice as he is the one “commenting” the game and can become very annoying. Maybe they could have gotten another character to do it or at least another voice.
The game also has a nice multi player mode where you can play baseball games (2 players) or mini games (up to 4 players). The mini game part is really fun and they are really fast paced like Mario Party. Since the game itself is fast paced this is a good mode to play when you’re with lots of friends as it goes by really fast and makes the rotations faster.
So what is my final verdict? I’ve played all the Mario Sports titles and liked each one, and frankly, this one is no exception. Namco did a really nice job using Nintendo’s flagship mascots and their talent to develop a baseball game that is sure to please a lot of fans. Anyone who didn’t know too much about video games would think it has been developed by Nintendo themselves! It’s easy to pick up because it’s not as deep as a standard baseball game but yet it can offer a great challenge. I am quite happy with my purchase and think a lot of people will be too.