Mario Superstar Baseball Hands-On

We check out a work-in-progress version of Nintendo's upcoming baseball game for the GameCube.

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LOS ANGELES--Nintendo had a great showing at tonight's G-Phoria event in Los Angeles. Not only were there plenty of DS games on show and several GameCube consoles running the E3 demo of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, but tonight was also the first time that we were allowed to get our hands on Mario Superstar Baseball. Currently scheduled for release at the end of next month, Mario Superstar Baseball promises to do for America's favorite pastime what other Mario sports games have already done for golf and tennis (and will also do for soccer before the end of the year). In other words, Mario Superstar Baseball will be colorful, accessible, and a whole lot of fun.

Before we could get a game started we had to choose our team, which, in our two-player game at least, proved to be every bit as competitive as the innings that followed. After choosing a character to assume the roles of pitcher and captain, we were presented with a screen that listed all of the other available characters and, although more detailed information on each of them could be accessed simply by hovering over their portraits, they were sorted into four different playing styles: balance, technique, speed, and power. Strangely, there doesn't appear to be any kind of turn-based system in place for the team selection screen (possibly because Nintendo doesn't want players to spend too long there), and within moments of getting there our first opponent had grabbed all of the power characters (such as Bowser, Donkey Kong, and Wario) for himself. Our team, then, lacked any big-hitters, but made up for its lack of brute strength with the speed of smaller characters (Baby Mario, for example) and the well-rounded skills of Yoshi, Luigi, and such.

We'll make no secret of the fact that the first two of the match's five innings were nothing short of embarrassing, not because our team wasn't up to the task, but because it took us that long to figure out some of Mario Superstar Baseball's less obvious controls. The controls are every bit as intuitive and simple as those in other Mario sports games, but the commands used to steal bases and, more importantly, to stop our opponent from doing so, weren't immediately obvious without any instructions to hand.

Once we'd figured all of the controls out, Mario Superstar Baseball never failed to impress. "Fireball" and "Banana Ball" pitches were easy to perform, the batting system was uncomplicated but challenging, and fielding was, surprisingly, just as much fun as both of those things. There are, of course, a number of features in Mario Superstar Baseball that will distinguish it from other baseball games, such as themed fields and piranha plants that pop up in the middle of a game and try to interfere with catches. We also noticed that the game's main menu screen contained "toy field" and "minigames" options, but we weren't able to get any more information on those features on this occasion.

The version of Mario Superstar Baseball on display at G-Phoria basically looked to be finished, which bodes well for its current August release date. We'll bring you more information on the game just as soon as we can lay our hands on a copy.

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