Mario has done a lot of things in his gaming career. It first started as simply saving Princess Peach from Bowser over and over, but he has been doing a lot of things on the side, such as racing, golfing, tennis, parties, and others. Now Mario steps up to the plate in his first debut in a baseball game. Will he make a grand slam, or will he be scored out? It could be both.
The main problem with the game is it lacks variety. Exhibition mode is a regular game of baseball, but only 2 players (or you vs. the AI) can play this mode. Exhibition is just a quick game of normal baseball (well it's not totally normal when you have wacky obstacles in the ballparks). Speaking of ballparks, each one has some crazy things in it that will keep you on your toes. While Mario's park is very simple in design, Peach's park has floating blocks that will either stop a flying ball or make them bounce on the block to go further. Like always, these obstacles can help or hinder you, so be careful!
Challenge mode is the single player only "story mode." You pick one of the team captains to play as and use his or her team to beat other teams so you can challenge Bowser's team. Your starting team initially sucks, but you can coax players from other teams to join your team by beating "missions" during the game. (EX: "Strike 'em out!" "Get a double play!" "Get a hit!") Get all their flags, win the game, and those players will join you. You can also make your team members superstars by meeting their star requirements (like "Strike out Luigi!" or "Get over 1000 points in the Bob-omb Derby!"). Getting your characters to superstar status will make them better players. Challenge mode also has an item shop that sells items that can give you an edge in a game (like hitting pitches harder or making your baserunners dash faster). Challenge mode's main problem is length. It's too short. You only go against 4 teams and then the final showdown with Bowser's team. There are mini-games on the side you can play in for coins, but sadly, you can only play them 3 times each, win or lose.
Mini-game mode is simply too quick and boring. There isn't a lot of them to play with, but they somewhat involve a certain skill in baseball. Bob-omb derby for example helps you in home runs while Chain Chomp Sprint helps you in baserunning. Up to 4 people can play the mini-games, but they're too short. The Mario Party and Wario Ware series are better suited for mini-games. Toy Field is like Mario Party. Up to 4 people can play as they compete to get the most coins in the set amount of turns. When the batter hits the ball, something will happen when it lands on the park's panels. ? panels starts the slots which makes some crazy things happen while the COIN panel spits out coins, allowing the fielders to grab as much as they can. This mode is pretty fun, but it can get repetitive quick. Practice mode is just what it is. Practice! The game will teach you how to pitch, bat, run bases, and other skills. It does a very good job in explaining how everything works.
Another big problem (although it may vary from person to person) is the AI itself. The AI will pull out all the stops as it constantly scores on you. The AI on the defensive always seem to catch every ball you hit and are superior when it comes to scoring an out on your base runners. It's also tough trying to strike the AI out as it always seems to pull off perfect hits. The AI when you set your characters on auto for base running and fielding get very dumb. Your fielders will occasionally run for the ball, then stop chasing it to allow another player to get it. This gets very frustrating as you're forced to watch your team mess up every play. You can set them on manual and control them yourself, but even that's an issue itself (which I will explain in the next paragraph).
The controls are real simple. You can do normal pitches/swings (tap A), charge them up (hold and release A), or use Team Stars to unleash special powers (Hold R and press A). Team Stars make all sorts of crazy things happen, such as Mario throwing extremely fast balls or Wario batting a mirage of 2 balls. Team Stars are not infinite, but you'll get chances to regain them, via Star Chances. Strike out the batter to get one if you're the pitcher or get a hit and make it to first base if you're the batter to get one. Base running controls isn't that hard. Press B rapidly to make them dash. If you want them to steal a base or go for an extra base, press Y. If you need them to go back, press X. When they're running, pressing a button in their opposite direction (Y to go forward, then suddenly hitting X to go back), they will stop running and stand there. You have to press the same button again to make them run in the opposite direction. Fielding controls are pretty bad. All the characters seem to run at a snail's pace. Even if you rapidly press B to make them run, they still can't get to the ball. The game seems to automatically switch characters for you, based on who is closer to the ball. This can get annoying when you're controlling one person, then suddenly being forced to use someone else. This will mess up you often.
Mario Superstar Baseball has a LOT of characters to pick from. Most of them you will recognize, like Mario and Bowser, but some of them may be only known by Mario veterans, like Dry Bones and Magikoopa. Each player is good at something and sucks at others. They are pitching, fielding, batting, and running. There are a few extra hidden characters that can only be unlocked by beating challenge mode.
The graphics are pretty amazing in gameplay and opening scene. It shows once again what the little Gamecube can pull off. Each ballpark is beautifully designed and it suits well for the characters they're based on. (Like Wario's ballpark, which has sandstorms and Chain Chomps). However, if you look at the characters real close, the graphics on them seem to lose their luster and shine, but it's not a big deal.
The music in the game is outstanding. The opening theme is great to hear and the background themes for each ballpark matches them (such as an orchestrated version of the Super Mario Bros. theme in Peach's park). While there may be 1 or 2 themes that do get annoying to hear, it's not that bad.
I thought that Mario Superstar Baseball would deliver a masterpiece like Mario Power Tennis and Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour had. Instead, it's a very short and lacking game. Not enough to do and cheap AI, along with somewhat faulty controls prevent this game from reaching it's full potential. At least there's lots and I mean LOTS of characters to pick from, so you'll always be making new teams. Mario is well known for his multiplayer madness, but this time, I'm not so sure if he did a good job on it. Playing with 3 or 4 people only allows you to play mini-games and Toy Field, which is not a real baseball game like the Exhibition mode. I would suggest renting the game first to see for yourself.