Mario Superstar Baseball Hands-On

We accept the challenge as we check out Mario Superstar Baseball's in-depth career mode.

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Mario knows his way around a golf club and a tennis court, but with Mario Superstar Baseball, the plump little plumber is ditching the country-club scene to take his unique brand of pluck to America's pastime. We've spent some time with a brand-new build of this batting, pitching, and baserunning romp just ahead of its late-August release to check out just how high Mario's baseball IQ is.

In our last look at the game, it took us a while to get going with Mario and the gang, if only because some of the finer points of control weren't that obvious from the get-go. This time around, we're happy to report that we got to both spend some time in the minors and check out the game's quick and easy practice mode, which also serves as a stylish introduction to the game's controls. Practice sessions are broken up into several areas: pitching, batting, fielding, baserunning, and free practice. Here, you'll learn not only the basics, but also interesting control tidbits that will help you get some outs or score some runs depending on which side of the plate you're on.

In the pitching game, for instance, tapping the A button results in a regular pitch, which can be angled by pressing right or left by pressing the left analog stick in the appropriate direction. A more powerful pitch can be pulled off by pressing and holding down the A button; furthermore, releasing it at the apex of your windup will result in a much more powerful pitch than normal. You'll also have the ability to toss a specialty "star pitch," one that will be virtually impossible for your opponent to lay the wood on, by pressing the right trigger in conjunction with the A button. You'll only have access to star pitches if you have stars in your arsenal, which can be earned in games during specific pitcher-batter matchups. Finally, you can also toss a changeup by pushing down on the left stick and holding down the A button. But don't be surprised if your opponent swings wildly at this slower pitch, because your pitcher's prolonged windup is identical to that when throwing a regular power pitch.

Mario calls his shot. It's about time Nintendo's cast of characters took to the baseball diamond.
Mario calls his shot. It's about time Nintendo's cast of characters took to the baseball diamond.

Batting has its variations as well. You swing with the A button but can aim your ball's flight path using the left analog stick. Similarly to the power pitch, you can put some oomph behind your swing by holding down the A button before the ball crosses the plate--a feat made that much more difficult because you'll have to judge not only your current batter's unique swing, but also your opposing pitcher's distinctive pitching animations. It's these distinct animations that give Mario Superstar Baseball its lasting appeal, as every player has individual strengths and weaknesses, in addition to a unique set of animations.

For even more variety, consider the different types of ballparks you'll be playing in. Sure, there may still be 90 feet between home plate and first base, but there's not a Major League Baseball park out there that can compete with the huge rolling barrels in the outfield of Donkey Kong's stadium that are just looking to take out outfielders trying to make plays...not to mention the baseball-eating plants that might gulp down a ball at Yoshi's park only to spit it out in an entirely new location. Princess Peach's castle-themed stadium features suspended blocks that offer you bonuses to players and can even bounce a shallow pop-up out of the park, with a little luck and just the right trajectory. As such, the only thing you can expect in a few innings of Mario Superstar Baseball is that each game is utterly unique.

Unfortunately, Mario doesn't know that pitching high and tight on a ghost is pretty much a useless tactic.
Unfortunately, Mario doesn't know that pitching high and tight on a ghost is pretty much a useless tactic.

The main modes in MSB include your standard exhibition game, where Nintendo mainstays like Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Donkey Kong, and Bowser field teams to determine diamond supremacy; an involved challenge mode, the closest thing MSB has to a career mode; and toy field, where up to four players take one another on for valuable coins. Furthermore, there are a number of baseball-themed minigames. But because challenge mode is the most involved of all these modes, we'll start there.

Taking on Bowser's Bunch

The goal in MSB's challenge mode is to gather your ultimate team of Nintendo baseball heroes and take the field against Bowser and his dastardly bunch. Depending on which team captain you choose--Mario, Peach, Wario, Yoshi, or Donkey Kong--you'll start out with only a few solid team members to choose from. Mario, for instance, starts out only with his brother Luigi and a field full of scrubs. If you hope to take out Bowser's bunch, you'll need to do your best George Steinbrenner impression by acquiring talent as quickly as possible.

Wandering around aimlessly while taking any opportunity to play baseball, no matter what the level of competition... No, it's not the latter-day career of Ricky Henderson, it's Mario Baseball's challenge mode.
Wandering around aimlessly while taking any opportunity to play baseball, no matter what the level of competition... No, it's not the latter-day career of Ricky Henderson, it's Mario Baseball's challenge mode.

To do so, you'll need to challenge each and every team you run into while roaming the Mario Baseball world map. Each potential acquisition on an opposing team will have a number of scout flags associated with him or her. To recruit that player, you need to fill up all the scout flags and beat that team. To fill up scout flags, you need to complete specific missions that pop up in a game. Missions can range from the simple--such as smacking a hit during a specific at-bat--to the complex--such as retiring three straight batters or not allowing the opposing team to score at all. For each mission you complete, one scouting flag is filled. Win the game and each player you've fully scouted joins your squad.

As you progress through challenge mode, you'll meet a huge number of characters that you can put on your roster, and they all have their individual pros and cons. A player like Donkey Kong has plenty of strength, but he isn't much of a runner. Yoshi, on the other hand, is greased lightning on the base paths, but he's not much of a pitcher. As your squad fills up, it'll be up to you, as manager of the team, to decide who to field at any given moment. Luckily, the game makes it easy for you to decide who should go where, even organizing your roster in areas such as balance, technique, speed, and power.

A great team is only as good as its equipment, and in challenge mode you'll be able to purchase new gear, such as power bats, lucky gloves, and dash spikes, by using gold coins earned in a variety of minigames that appear in this mode. Minigames include barrel batter, a fun batting exercise where you knock down gigantic colored barrels; wall ball, a pitching game that challenges you to toss high heat through a number of walls, some of which give you coins and some of which take them away from you; and bob-omb derby, a simple home run derby, except with a variety of different cutesy bombs that sub for baseballs. These minigames are all playable from the main menu in the game, as well as a number of others, some of which are unlockable.

Donkey Kong doesn't bother testifying before Congress.
Donkey Kong doesn't bother testifying before Congress.

The other game mode found in MSB is called toy field, and it pits up to four players against one another in a turn-based battle to see who can earn the most coins. Each player will take turns playing as a batter, pitcher, and fielder. Pitchers and fielders get to bat when they either catch the ball or get a strikeout. While at bat, the goal is to hit the ball where no one else can catch it to thus earn coins. The field is laid out with a number of different zones that either award you coins or base hits or that activate a slot machine that has the power to do things like load the bases, give 30 of your coins to each player, or switch coin count with the first-place player, among others. All in all, it's a fun diversion for when traditional baseball (or at least Mario-style traditional baseball) gets to be boring.

We're glad to see Mario and the gang branching out into new sports, and from the time we've spent with the game, Mario Superstar Baseball sure looks like a home run so far. With approachable controls, instantly addictive gameplay, and enough of that trademark Nintendo charisma to charm even the most cynical gamer, we can't wait to get our hands on final review code for the game. And when we do, we'll report back to you with the full scoop just as soon as possible.

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