Nintendo Consoles

Nintendo Consoles

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Playground Series: So Far, Yet So Close

This next game is a game that is a little off of the beaten trail for me, but maybe isn't too far from home for some of you guys. Ill just swing right into it.

Mario Superstar Baseball

The Mario sports games have been around since the days of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Whether it was relaxing as golf, or invigorating as kart racing, it seemed that Mario and all of his friends and enemies had quite the active life outside of saving princesses. On the Gamecube, we had Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour, Mario Power Tennis, of course Mario Strikers, and lastly, Mario Superstar Baseball. Generally, I sensed that Tennis and Strikers were where it was at when it came to the Mario sports games; Strikers attracting players because of its dirtier playing style, and tennis being popular because of how easy and accessible a tennis video game would be. So if Mario sports games need to meet the aforementioned criteria in order to be received well, then it is no wonder that Mario Superstar Baseball didn't catch on. No, Superstar Baseball is neither dirty nor quick and accessible. It is just a slightly gimmicky standard baseball game. It is received best by those who know how to play baseball, and perhaps even more so to those who have played other baseball games in the past, but it's inaccessibility is in no way a suggestion to how fun the game might or might not be. In fact, this game is among my favorite Gamecube games for a number of reasons, and as a blogger, it is my job to barrage you with my opinions on things, despite being unprompted to do so.

So the question at hand is the following: Mario sports games have been extremely well-received in the past; why is it that this game fades into the outfield of the Mario sports games while similar Mario sports games hit consistent homeruns?

Mario sports games are usually pretty formulaic with respect to how the video game is played verses how the actual sport is played. Typically, the video game uses all of the same rules as professional games, but use super-powerful special moves, as well as gimmicky arenas and stages in order to keep the gameplay inconsistent in a balanced way. This can be seen with all of the modern Mario sports games, and when we do see this formula, we see that it works. It works! So what's the explanation for Mario Superstar Baseball? The sad answer is pretty simple - baseball is a tough game to pick up.

Okay, everyone knows how to play baseball- that's for sure. But does everyone know how to play baseball on a video game? The answer to that is less obvious. So allow me to present the following story to you. I've owned Mario Superstar Baseball for years and I only 100% the game fairly recently, maybe within the past year. It took me many months to perfect my team and skills and strategy in order to prepare myself to take on the mighty Bowser Team on the hardest difficulty. The game wasn't hard, but I did have to practice the controls and rules. I played Mario Power Tennis for the first time a few weeks ago with my friend, and her and I pretty much mastered it within a matter of hours. Respecting the fact that a lot of gamers purchase Mario sports games in order to play the multiplayer, it seems clear that an easier game with easier controls, such as tennis, is a better purchase than a game with less accessible controls and a greater difficulty, such as baseball. As much sense as this makes, the multiplayer is no testament to how great either game actually is. Rather than emphasize the multiplayer in Mario Superstar Baseball, the game takes a turn that is a little out-in-left-field compared to the other Mario sports games - it has an AMAZING single player mode.

Yes, we have here a Mario sports game that emphasizes the single player experience over the multiplayer. It is different, but it is no where near being bad. The object of the single player mode is to select a premade team, and defeat the remaining (unselected) premade teams in a tournament, all leading up to the final boss-battle-team: Team Bowser. During games played in the single player mode, you will be given the opportunity to convince members from your opposing team to join your team IF you meet certain requirements. For example, it may be that Toad, on Princess Peaches' team, will be willing to join your team if you "get a single" or "hit a homerun" or "make a double play". The irresistible temptations to upgrade your team give you, as the player, motivation to step your game up and make every pitch count, and keeps the repetitive nature of baseball exciting, and of course, fun. The single player mode takes place on a hub map, with the option of playing against any team at any time always available. You will have to eventually face off against every team on the map in order to earn the chance to take down Bowser, but until then, you can do pretty much whatever you want. The hub map also features mini-games (which reappear in an alternative multiplayer style collection of games). Performing well in each mini-game will earn you coins that can be exchanged at the store for upgraded bats or pitching skills that last for one game. Got a tough team coming up? Get yourself one of them power bats, and swing your problems away. I've played other Mario sports games, and I can truly claim with no bias that this game's single player is the zenith of the Mario sports single player experience.

Assuming that everyone can infer that this game is bright and colorful, being that it is a Mario game, I will skip the graphical discussion and move onto the character roster. I mean, aside from the controls, the character roster has to be the most important thing when it comes to any sports game. What can I say about the roster for this Mario sports game? It's the best. It's actually the best, most impressive, perfect roster. Turns out that everyone from Mario, to Donkey Kong, Peach, Birdo, Yoshi, Wario, Dixie Kong, Goomba, Dry Bones, Magikoopa, Boo, King Boo to even god damn Monty Mole is down to play some baseball. Baseball teams consist of 9 players, so a limited character roster would have been the death of this game. Nintendo, being the smart guys that they are, clearly realized this and dug deep into the bowels of their list of Mario characters in order to pitch us more than enough characters to keep playing against your friends and foes for hours without ever picking same exact team.

Finally, we'll touch upon the mechanics of the game. There are 2 that stand out the most - Chemistry, and Star Chances. Each character in Mario Superstar Baseball has their own stats suggesting how well they can perform in each position. So without chemistry, the best teams would be made up of the characters with the best stats, no? Chemistry is the answer to that flaw. You see, Wario and Mario, for example, have great stats, but bad chemistry. That means that each character WILL perform well on their own, but will perform poorly with each other. Balls thrown from Mario in the outfield to Wario on the in field will be slow, and will bounce once or maybe twice before being caught instead of making it from position to position on a fly. Mario and LUIGI are much better teammates because they have good chemistry. Mario and Luigi are pretty decent characters on their own, but perform amazingly together. Mario and Luigi will be more likely to hit a homerun while the other is on base. Chemistry creates a baseball game depending about 65% on stats, and 35% on the relationship between your teammates. Moreover, a team with 5/5 stars chemistry will start the game with 5/5 Star Chance. Opportunities to earn more Stars happen often during a game, but starting with 5 free Stars gives you a huge advantage over your opponent who may start with 1 or 2. Using your special moves, either at bat or on the pitching mound, will cost you 1 or 2 stars. As with any Mario sports game, star moves cause the ball to do all sorts of wacky things, making it more difficult to catch or hit. It is important to know when to use your star moves to earn you the greatest advantage, as well as knowing when it is worth using your limited supply of stars in order to perform said moves.

Mario Superstar Baseball is a Mario sports games that takes a different approach compared to other Mario sports games of the past. I am no baseball fan by any strict means, and I love this game. Everything from the mechanics to the controls are tight as fuck, and playing it is a blast. Finding a friend to play this game with will be tough, as he/she will only stand a chance if they've played it extensively themselves, but either way, this game is the perfect way to enjoy a little American baseball fun, with a little Japanese video game fun. It is a melting pot on a disc!

+50 for being fun as hell
+10 for great graphics, and colors
+10 for tight controls and mechanics
+15 for the innovative single player
+4 for great music
-1 for having a limited multiplayer mode
-10 for occasional repetition in the gameplay

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