In the mid-2000s, Nintendo expanded upon its Mario sports titles with perhaps its best sports games of them all in Mario Superstar Baseball and Mario Super Sluggers (shoutout to Mario Super Strikers, though). These games brought a huge roster of Mario characters, from the big names to characters who were previously hardly included, such as Monty Mole and the Noki. Whether you like one game more than the other might just depend on your penchant for the motion controls that Nintendo has taken to since the Wii came out, as both games are fantastic fun for everyone, which one would expect from a Mario title.
Mario Superstar Baseball (2005)
Gameplay: The simplicity of Superstar Baseball’s controls enable it to feel like an arcade game, but there is enough complexity that the game does not feel stiff. Over 80% of the actions are made by some combination of clicking or holding the A button and moving the analog stick in the desired direction, which allows even the least experienced players to feel like the outcome is more strategy driven than skill gap/familiarity driven. The only major flaw with this control system is throwing to the bases, where a quick left thumb roll turns an easy out at first to a nonsensical throw to second. Baserunner AI is also a bit lacking (thankfully no TOOTBLANs come as a result), but after getting doubled up a couple of times you start to make double-tapping X second nature.
Replayability: Having played this game at least once for 186 days over two college semesters, I would argue it’s the most replayable baseball game ever created. Exhibition’s free-form draft format allows you to decide exactly who you want on the team, and can also create some fun chaos if you and your opponent decide not to snake draft. Toy Field and Minigames are a Mario Party proxy because of how much sheer luck is involved and how much fun they are, respectively. Challenge is the game’s version of a story mode, but not much changes between difficulty levels aside from how hard the CPUs are and how many more characters you can convert to stars for Exhibition. Since every player can become a Star in Exhibition, Challenge is more replayable than it should be, but the later run throughs are more of a chore than enjoyment.
Graphics: Of all the Mario sports games released in ‘04-‘05, Superstar Baseball has the most attention to detail. The personalities of each character are reflected in the batting stance, pitching windup, and home run trot. The stadiums each have a unique aesthetic that reflects what their namesakes are known for. The only graphic piece I take issue with is the use of horizontal bar graphs for showing player stats because it is not clear what they are on a numeric scale. This game wasn’t introducing cutting-edge graphics like Xbox 360, but because it’s bright, colorful and cartoon, it still looks great today.
Sound: The menu music is where this game’s island theme hits its best note, but the real symphony comes from the diverse range of in-game sounds. Waluigi’s post-strikeout “Wah-ha-ha-waaa!” would likely get him thrown at if he were in the National League, but it’s an enjoyable cockiness that makes the game more entertaining. I won’t even attempt to write the sounds Birdo makes, but I do love that each character has personalized sounds in every possible aspect.
Miscellaneous: My favorite part of this game was the lineup construction when playing against friends. Chemistry and pitching are the game’s two most important pieces, and if snake draft was the chosen format, it became difficult to achieve the best of both. Waluigi is the best pitcher in the game, but his brashness is probably why he doesn’t have chemistry with many players. Birdo and Yoshi is probably the most lethal duo, as Birdo is a vacuum at shortstop with plenty of pop at the plate, and Yoshi is essentially 2012 Mike Trout with more fielding range. I could go on about how the stats don’t reflect how good some players like Toad and Dry Bones actually are, but I’ll save that for potential discussion in the comments.
Mario Super Sluggers (2008)
Gameplay: Given that this edition of Mario baseball came out on the Wii, and knowing Nintendo’s love for motion controls, you know that Mario Super Sluggers is all based on motion controls. The Wiimote is actually a great controller for baseball specifically, as it acts perfectly as a bat, and throwing a ball is in line with the motion of “throwing” the Wiimote. Adding the Nunchuk gives you more traditional controls over moving your player, moving the pitch, and moving your swing. Timing is everything in this game, both in terms of hitting and pitching, as on top of the necessary timing to hitting a ball, you can also charge up your swing or pitch, and the better you get your timing down for those charges, the more power you can get behind your swing/pitch. With the use of buttons to modify things like throwing a changeup, advancing/retreating your runners, and jumping or diving to grab a ball in play, you can do everything you need to do on a baseball field with the limited functions of the Wii controllers. This makes the game incredibly easy to pick up and play, as I forced my girlfriend into playing a game with me, and she was able to get right on my level pretty quickly. This shows though that the skill gap in this game isn’t very wide at all, so while it’s easy to pick up, there’s not much there to master. Lastly, the baserunning flaws are still there, so we got doubled up on the bases quite a few times when the runners never should have been running in the first place.
Replayability: Like the first edition in this series, Mario Super Sluggers has a few different game modes to keep things interesting. While Toy Field provides that Mario Party feel to baseball, and what is a Mario game without Mini Games as well, the cream of the crop is still the Challenge Mode. Challenge Mode has changed a bit since the first game, as in the first game it was a pretty straightforward baseball adventure game, with your objective mainly being to go around to each stadium, beat each team, and take their players (reminiscent of the NBA Street story mode). In Super Sluggers, though, it’s more of an RPG-style game, with there being a lot of story-related missions to clear. It’s not as simple as going to a team’s stadium and challenging them to a game, instead you have to complete side missions. When I started Challenge Mode, I had to go to Mario’s Stadium to recruit players, including finding a hidden code to cross a bridge to get Baby Luigi, and recruiting the Noki in a certain order to get them to join my squad. Whether you like this version better or not depends on what kind of games you enjoy, so if you are into a story mode with side quests, you’ll probably like this Challenge Mode better.
Graphics: While you obviously get the Mario look and feel, it’s actually a bit weird that the graphics took a step back from Mario Superstar Baseball to this game. Despite coming out three years and one console later, the graphics just feel a bit fuzzy and blurry, from the menus to the stadiums. It just lacks the bright, clearness that I’ve come to expect from Mario games. It still blows away any of the non-Mario games in terms of graphics, but unfortunately it doesn’t hold up to its counterpart.
Sound: Everything I said for graphics holds true here. The game has the signature Mario music, and personalized sounds for each character, but the music is a bit muted, almost as if it’s trying to blend into the background. The personalized sounds are all still there and still give each character a unique feel, giving the game quite a bit of life.
Miscellaneous: There are a handful more characters in Super Sluggers than in Superstar Baseball, giving you more ways to customize your lineup and make a winning team. The player chemistries are still there, too, so it’s more than just picking the most talented squad. While Alex Drennan speaks to the combo of Yoshi and Birdo, I have always held the view that there’s not a more dynamic duo than Daisy and Peach. Daisy is the all-around best player in the game, basically if Nolan Arenado could pitch, as she’s a fantastic defender with a mean arm to go with a good amount of pop. Peach is the best fielder in the game and excels at shortstop, and while her bat isn’t the strongest, she’s no slouch there either, which gives me a prime Omar Vizquel up the middle. The point is, there’s no wrong answer with these games, and numerous ways to build your roster and win games.
An Ode to the Home Run Bat
There is one thing very noticeably missing from the Mario baseball games, and that is the home run bat that we’ve come to know and love from the Super Smash Bros franchise. There was no sweeter feeling than loading up your home run swing and connecting solidly, sending your opponents careening off the side of the stage. The fact that this does not exist as a power-up in either Mario game is a travesty, but perhaps it was just too powerful. Perhaps we couldn’t have it, not because we didn’t deserve it, but because we couldn’t wield its greatness.
Featured Image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)