"Forget pretentious, wannabe-spiritual flicks starring Kevin Costner; Mario Superstar Baseball contains the true fields of dreams. "
Forget pretentious, wannabe-spiritual flicks starring Kevin Costner; Mario Superstar Baseball contains the true fields of dreams.
Breakable brick and musical note blocks from the adventures of my youth mysteriously hover over a sun-drenched outfield set before Peachís castle, deflecting soaring pop-flies and causing even the most fleet-footed fielder to stumble about like Manny Ramirez. Tornadoes spiral out of nowhere in Wario's stadium, twisting hard-hit line drives up in their whirlwinds and erratically strewing them all over the sandy turf (hopefully not towards the massive Chain-Chomps lurking in the outfield corners). Streaks of sunshine find their way through the canopy and gigantic wooden barrels crash through the playing field, turning even the most routine can-of-corn into an inside-the-parker in Donkey Kongís home park, especially if a nasty Klapp Trap lurking in the slicing right-centerfield stream latches onto your fielder's behind. Cornfields in Iowa may have a certain aura, but they don't even compare.
Donít be fooled by how this might sound. None of the quirks that come with the distinctive ballparks ever hamper the pacing of play, as each will only interfere a few times per game. That said, a batted ball caroming off a mid-air brick can just as well be an advantage; once a smash that looked like it had a shot of clearing the fence hit off one and rebounded right into the glove of my awaiting shortstop. Those bounding barrels sure make playing defense hectic, but they do come in handy when trying to stage a late game comeback, the opposing outfielder knocked senseless before he could try and gun you out at the plate.
Itís a unique balance, and one that always keeps Mario Baseball interesting. Even when ahead or trailing by ridiculous margins, games are still captivating because you want to see just what environmental hazard might happen next. A routine fly ball to center could bounce off a musical note box and bound skywards over the centerfield wall for a homerun. A long drive that looks to be heading over the leftfield wall at Bowser's Castle is suddenly back in play when a Thwomp crashes down, jolting the entire stadium in the process. An apparent single over the third basemanís head can get caught up in a whirlwind, be hurled directly at a neighboring Chain-Chomp, and deflect off him into the left fielderís glove for an out. Every new play brings the promise of an adventure just trying to retrieve the ball.
And depending on what positions you slot your Mushroom Kingdom crew in, retrieving the ball is either painless or burdensome. All thirty-two of the characters at your disposal behave and act differently, but most importantly, appropriately. Place Waluigi's tall, lanky frame at second base and heíll snag liners up the middle that would sail over the head of a Goomba or Koopa Troopa. Birdo, who previously used her snout to spit eggs at Mario, now uses it as a cannon to sling the ball across the diamond, a huge advantage over short-limbed characters like Monty Mole. Bowser's sheer power will make him a dominating force at the plate, but in the field he's the "aging veteran with bad legs" youíll find on a lot of Major League teams. The experimentation here adds tremendous value, as the game doesnít assign positions for anyone. Is Yoshi better at shortstop or centerfield? Is Petey Piranhaís hulking frame ideal for stopping bullets down the third base line? Can a Shy Guy and a Paragoomba co-exist as a double play combination?
Youíll ask questions like the last one, because Mario Baseball puts an emphasis on team chemistry; tandems like Bowser and Peach wonít work well together because they werenít meant to work well together. Peachís throws to Bowser will be off-line and lead him away from the base. Bowser wonít have the same oomph behind his swing if Peach is the runner in scoring position. Is it possible to win with them? Certainly, but not as easily if you had Mario, Luigi and other characters that happily coexist with one another. A "twenty-five cabs for twenty five guys" strategy, regardless of talent level, will not necessarily make your games easier, putting less emphasis on "loaded" teams and more on teams that work for you.
There are more strategy elements too, though nothing quite as noteworthy; batters can charge up swings and pitchers their pitches for some extra might, and certain characters have the chance to utilize special abilities. When on the mound, Mario can blow a blazing fireball past his opponents, while in the batterís box, he can hit a smash too hot for the fielders to handle. Some special talents work better than others do though; unlike the fireball, Diddy Kongís "boomerang ball" doesn't always guarantee a hit, just as likely to curve right to an awaiting fielder than away from one. All of them increase your chances however, and contribute to the entertaining, spontaneous adventure most plays feel like.
Itís just a shame all these terrific mechanics werenít put to better use.
Mario Superstar Baseball only offers exhibition games, a brief challenge mode where you square off against five other teams, and a slew of worthless mini-games mostly dependent on luck. Challenge mode offers the most depth, with four different difficulty levels to progress through and the ability to add new players to your team from the defeated. Still, even that doesnít last long. Statistics are only kept track of for the duration of a single game; thereís no way to tell how many homers Donkey Kong has belted for you, or what Magikoopa's batting average is. After the bounty of stats recorded in titles like Mario Golf, this might be the most depressing aspect; I want to know how many stolen bases and RBIs I have with each respective player, but Iím not ten years old anymore and donít have time to keep track myself.
Thatís my problem with Mario Baseball, as selfish as it may sound: it came ten years too late for me. I would have loved this when I was a kid. I remember most of my childhood as a blur of playing baseball and Mario games -- this title combines both and does so with flair! I would have happily recorded the box scores back then, and not cared that there wasnít an extended season mode. I could imagine my own season! I still would have thought the mini-games were lame -- thereís no doubting these were last minute additions for back-of-the-box filler -- but everything else would have had me so mesmerized I would have glossed over the faults.
In so many ways, Mario Superstar Baseball mirrors my current impression of Nintendo as whole. I still see the glimpses of magic in their titles. I still understand the appeal. I still want to love these games.
But the truth is, Iím getting too damn old, and I feel cheated wasting my money on half-baked remakes or, in this case, titles that are fun but leave me more disappointed at what could have been.
Community review by drella (September 12, 2007)
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