Mario Super Sluggers Review
Release Date: 08/26/2008
In the nearly two years since Nintendo has released the Wii, there have been entries in almost all major Nintendo franchises. Unlike in previous generations, Nintendo has been uneven in its delivery of these franchises, ranging from innovative and beautiful (Super Mario Galaxy) to lazy and rushed (Super Mario Strikers). As summer ends and baseball season comes to its climax, Nintendo brings the second installment in the Mario Baseball franchise. The question on all “core” Nintendo fans minds is the same – which Nintendo are we going to see with Mario Super Sluggers?
Right off the bat Nintendo proves they can take care of the precious Mario franchise with a slickly produced animated intro, complete with cheesy Japanese rock about baseball. The main “let’s play” song is lifted from the Gamecube version, but still is a fun song. The presentation is well done and represents the co-themes of Mario and baseball well.
The graphics in Mario Super Sluggers are colorful and bright, with large characters and richly decorated stadiums. Compared with Mario Superstar Baseball on Gamecube, there is more happening in each stadium and some better models. However using Super Smash Brothers Brawl as a graphical benchmark of what the Wii can do with the Mario/Nintendo universe, Mario Super Sluggers comes up a little short. In all it seems like a same or extremely similar graphics engine to the last entry in the series. Aurally it’s exactly as you’d think, with Mario songs and remixes, appropriate sound effects and some vocal taunts and reactions.
The single player mode in Mario Super Sluggers is an adventure-based overworld where Mario must perform various baseball minigame tasks and unlike other characters, abilities and stadiums to play in. Because of the complexity of the controls, it’s a good exercise to run through the single player mode, if not only to unlock everything, but also to figure out all the core and fringe controls that make up Sluggers. Unfortunately there is no other Single Player mode for a full season or anything to play a series of full games.
There are an array of minigames that add some value to the single player game. Regular baseball modes such as Home Run Derby are fun, but the best minigames are the ones that bend and break baseball rules. The Toy Field returns and there are about a dozen minigames.
Nintendo has added a number of new characters to the baseball field for the Wii sequel, and the variety helps keeps the matchups fresh. There are now over 40 different characters, plus palette swaps for a number of characters as well. For those who always dreamed of fielding a team of all Yoshi’s and Toads (like me), now you have your chance. If I had a suggestion for Nintendo, it would be to add different colored Birdos to the Mario universe as well. Pink Birdo could be like Green Yoshi – the default – but then also have unlimited other colored Birdos as well. But I digress. It’s also cool to see the Donkey Kong Country universe of baddies like King K Rool and his minions added to the fray.
Characters are balanced similarly to how other Mario titles are, with lighter faster characters, moderate all around characters and large powerful characters who are slow. This generally does a good job of keeping the game on an even keel, and unlike Mario Kart, it seems like there is no computer assistance for teams who fall substantially behind. If anything the game rewards better play with additional items to fire and stars to use, so there is a real progression for players who get better at the game. It’s funny to have to write that in a game review, but after Mario Kart Wii, it’s notable.
Mario Super Sluggers is an arcade baseball title through and through, and with that comes both the pluses and minuses. Licensed baseball games have become slow simulations with dueling cursors and other pitching and hitting complexity. Sluggers harkens back to the days of RBI Baseball and Baseball Stars, relying mostly on timing and bat position for hitting. Pitching is limited to only three speeds – regular, fast and big looping ball that generally bounces on the plate. Hitting is a timing-based affair, swinging to hit the ball when it approximates the plate, either with a normal or power swing.
New additions to the gameplay show some progression from the Gamecube to Wii versions. Like in Strikers, players can earn items that can be used in offensive and defensive plays in the field. If you hit a fly ball to the outfield, and earn a bomb item, you can point the Wii-mote at the screen to aim and fire the bomb at the defense. To combat items, defensive players have the ability to leap, charge at items, or “pass”Â a ball to another fielder. This fielding dynamic represents a completely fresh take on baseball fielding that adds a layer of depth and strategy.
Following in the footsteps of Super Smash Brothers Brawl and Mario Kart Wii, Sluggers offers more than one basic control scheme. Players can use the Wii remote much like an NES controller, offering button-centric gameplay, or click in the Nunchuck and bring some motion control to the table. Unlike in the other games that feature multiple control schemes, Sluggers does not offer Classic Controller or Wavebird support, which is disappointing especially in light of how complex the gameplay can get at times.
There are positives and negatives to using each of the methods. The Wii-mote is simpler in a sense, and centralizes most controls to a flick of the wrist. However, unlike in Wii Sports, hitting is not done via a swinging motion, but rather a short twist or motion. It’s as if the button presses were replaced just by a waggle. Turn on auto-field and the whole game is basically controlled with some waggles to pitch and hit. My guess is that this control scheme is targeted towards new-style Wii players who are overwhelmed by traditional controllers and yearn for simplicity.
Using the nun chuk opens up a bit more complexity, with most of the buttons on both controller pieces used. However, with waggles for running in the field, running on the basepaths and all hitting and pitching motions, it’s tough to play more than a couple games in a row without some fatigue. The entire gameplay experience, while generally accurate and straight forward, left me yearning to control the game with a traditional controller.
One interesting anomaly is the stats presented after each game. Rather than mimicking a traditional box score with baseball statistics, Mario Super Sluggers has a different system, assigning points for various hitting, fielding and pitching tasks and achievements. The player on the winning team that earns the most points is the game’s MVP. Why they chose to eschew regular baseball stats here is somewhat of a mystery.
Unlike most other Mario-centric games released earlier in 2008, Mario Super Sluggers has no online component whatsoever. This leaves the game with local multiplayer support only, which works if you have a bunch of Mario fans in your area. It’s certainly disappointing that they couldn’t offer an online mode, even limited to exhibition games only, as the game seems perfect for online play, leagues and competitions.
The Nintendo fan in me wanted desperately to love this game, and I took an extra week with the game to get a better feel for it. The Mario universe is, as it usually is, engaging, colorful and addicting. There are a number of fun new additions to the character lineup, and some of the gameplay additions add some (but not a lot) of complexity to the baseball experience. After two weeks I feel like I had experienced all the game had to offer. I unlocked all the characters and stadiums the first day, played my friends a bunch of times and played the minigames.
At the face it’s completely baffling that Nintendo would release a baseball game for Wii that doesn’t take advantage of the ability to swing the Wii-mote or mime a pitching motions. It begs the question – what is the point of motion control if they are simply mapped to the same controls as buttons would perform? The most refreshing part of the game is the IR-controlled item system, but the rest just never feels right. Perhaps they are waiting for the Wii Motion-Plus to offer a game with full motion control.
Nintendo has traditionally avoided releasing sequels that didn’t offer a large leap over the previous generation. With Sluggers and many other first party games, Nintendo seems to be taking a page from EA, Activision and other third parties that release new games in established series each year, with marginal upgrades. By releasing sequels with so many years in between, maybe Nintendo is raising the bar too high to meet expectations.
At a time where Nintendo is under fire from core fans who see the company turning their back on them, Mario Super Sluggers isn’t Nintendo’s best defense. A relatively quiet release for a Nintendo first party release, near the end of the sports’ season and without many of the core functionality already established in similarly developed Gamecube ports. The lack of a deep single player experience and absence of an online mode whatsoever, Mario Super Sluggers exists almost entirely as a multiplayer game on one TV.
In the end you probably know what you’ll be getting with Mario Super Sluggers. If you played the first game and enjoyed it, you’ll likely get a kick out of the few new gameplay mechanics and additions to the roster. If you’re new to the series, it’s a great arcade baseball experience with friends. But either way, the controls aren’t as fun as they could have been, and the game is about as shallow as first party Nintendo releases come.
Graphics: Above Average
Control & Gameplay: Bad
Appeal Factor: Bad
Final Score: DECENT GAME
Short Attention Span Summary
Mario Super Sluggers represents Nintendo at its crossroads. Are Mario games intended for core gamers or new-style players looking for another Wii Sports? Can Nintendo create games that are fun for new gamers and satisfying for long-time gamers? What happens when motion controls are applied in both simple and complex ways to add depth to the gameplay experience? It’s almost as if Mario Super Sluggers is a realtime experiment to see how it all fits together, and unfortunately it never comes together for either set of intended players. Gamers who love Wii Sports and Wii Fit will find Super Sluggers too complicated and hard to control and leave it alone. Gamers who have been with Nintendo since the dark times will probably have the same reaction I did – man I wish Super Sluggers had HD graphics and controlled with a Wavebird and all the other frills that a Nintendo first party release should.