Throwing Bullet Bills never looked so easy.
It’s always hard for me to come to grips with these Mario sports titles. They exist in a space between the concrete rules and forms of actual sports, and the abstract insanity of a world without actual laws beyond that of Nintendo’s. Mario Super Sluggers continues this proud tradition of confounding me by introducing a solid interpretation of baseball broken up by moments of absolute madness.
[image1]Consider for a moment, a baseball stadium with a train track running through the outfield, such that a fielder may be squashed by a passing train while attempting to catch a pop fly. This is not a guarantee; indeed, there may be no correlation to train schedules, no warning bells or flashing lights. Just suddenly, a train that would catch outfielders instead of cows. Is this not a small vision of madness?
Mario Super Sluggers adds to the mayhem by including special pitches, special hits, and items that can be liberally thrown onto the field to interrupt runners and fielders in a variety of ways. At any given moment, you may be attempting to hit a bullet out of the park, or you may be trying to catch a fireball.
Backing this is a curious cross-section of hardcore team management and casual play. Every character you add to your line-up has four major stats, as well as a chemistry stat with other players, that all affect their performance. Set a few people who have chemistry with one another, close together in the batting line-up, and everyone’s batting performance improves; likewise, put compatible fielders adjacent to one another, and they catch better.
[image2]The center of the gameplay, however, can be summed up in the phrase “shake that thang”. Where Wii Sports allowed you to control a hit based upon how you swung the bat, Mario Super Sluggers backs it off to a simple timing game. Pull back your arm and your character will start chargin’ up power; swing at the peak of the charge and you deliver maximum power. Swing too early or too late, and your swing is weak. It’s nothing like actual baseball, and it feels like an artificial band-aid over the Wii-mote’s inherent detection flaws.
Pitching, likewise, is quite simple. Pitchers build up power for a throw in the same way batters build up power for a swing. Unlike the batter, however, the pitcher gets to set the tempo, and has more he can do than just swing when the ball comes sailing in. A combination of overhead throws and twists of the Wii-mote allows the pitcher to vary up his game with different throws like curveballs and sinkers. While it’s essentially impossible to pitch a perfect game, especially against the bastard A.I., there’s plenty the pitcher can do to keep the score down, and that’s quite welcome.
Fielding is another matter. All you do is shake the Wii-mote up and down, and yes, it looks just like you’re coaxin’ the cudgel. Get in the right spot, hope your opponent doesn’t throw a shell at you, and you’re done. When a ball is fair, you get to simulate pitching again to throw, though with a furious enough waggling of the Wii-mote, it frequently can’t differentiate between running and throwing and simply does whatever is contextually appropriate.
[image3]One notable feature of the game is the ability to include Miis in your line-up. Miis have apparently random chemistry and absolutely average stats across the board, making them well suited to any given task, but not especially amazing at any of them. Unfortunately, you always need a Nintendo character for your team captain, so you cannot play as the Segata Sanshiro Saturns.
Mario Super Sluggers has 16×9 video support, so for once, a Nintendo game doesn’t look like total crap on fancy HDTVs. There are plenty of nice visual flairs, too. Many of the characters use tools appropriate to their natures for bats. The hammer brothers use hammers, the magikoopas bat with their wands, and Bowser just brings a giant spiked club to the plate. The sound and music is fairly typical to a Mario title – bright and bubbly, almost nauseatingly so, but still has a cloying aspect that draws one in.
The thing about Mario Super Sluggers, at the end of the day, is that it is actually pretty solid fun. It masks a lot of complexity in front of you without much of having a real impact, and the vague passes it makes at being a more complete baseball simulation are laughable at best. It is not baseball, so if you want baseball simulation, you will not find it here. But Mario Super Sluggers is a simplified game for folks who just want to swing the Wii-mote a few times and chuckle with their buds about hitting that lit bo-bomb out of the park.