I am now going to say it for the world to hear, Mario is a whore! That’s right, I cannot think of any other game character in the history of the industry that has appeared in more genres than everyone’s favorite plumber. From RPG’s to Tennis this guy can do it all and will do just about anything. I am still holding out on Mario Pimping, where I can finally make Toad the bitch he was born to be. Regardless however of what Mario appears in it always seems to turn out good, so was I surprised when Mario Baseball became my favorite incarnation of America’s favorite past time? Not in the least, now sit back and relax as I take you out to the Italian ball game.
Once again Nintendo has entrusted one of their milestone characters with acclaimed developer Namco. You will also remember that Namco crafted the not-so-shabby StarFox Assault just recently, so they are not new to the wonderful world of Nintendo. Bringing everyone’s favorite characters to the baseball field seems almost natural. I guess you could say that Mario is the Bo Jackson of videogames; he seems to know it all. From tennis to golf this plumber has got some moves. Mario Baseball is obviously very arcade driven and it actually works on several levels, from adjustable hitting difficulties to almost too-automatic fielding the game lends itself nicely to the party game genre. I can see countless hours lost playing this with friends.
Let’s start with the visuals, vibrant stadiums with tons of recognizable landmarks from the Mario franchise are littered throughout the game. From the Chomp Chains in the outfield to a giant fountain right above second base you can certainly feel the Nintendo charm. The characters are also extremely colorful, sporting the usual attire and simple but effective animations you have come to know and love. This game does not even begin to push the limits of the Cube hardware, but it does accomplish the job it sets out to do. All of this of course with a picture perfect frame rate and lots of happy shiny colors to marvel at as you play.
Playing MB is exactly how you would imagine it, fast and fun. The addition of the challenge mode is appreciated but most players will spend the bulk of their time in the exhibition section of the game. Here you basically pick a team captain and then generate a team out of the 30+ selectable characters. You can even assign specific characters to each position and change the batting order just like any ordinary baseball game. The hitting and pitching system is basically a simplified version of what you are already used to from other games in the genre. Namco has spiced it up a little with what is called the star system. Basically you have opportunities during game play to earn a star. This can consist of striking out the batter or just getting a hit. If you succeed you earn a star, if not then your meter goes down. Once you acquire enough stars you can dole out special pitches. For example Donkey Kong will toss a banana down the plate, very cool and it gives you individuality to each character.
All is not perfect in the Mushroom Kingdom however. The almost too automatic fielding can sometimes wear on your patience. Too many guaranteed catches are missed simply because you try and take control of the character. It’s best to let the computer handle the fielding, but then that can take away some of the feeling of interaction. The hitting can also be spotty until you get the hang of it, I suggest giving the easy batting option a try until you get the timing and accuracy down just right. Base running is also marred by the awkward placement of the X and Y buttons. Seeing your runners get forced into double and triple plays is not uncommon on a pop fly.
Namco has also added a bevy of mini-games to spice up the action. These can all be done in multi-player as well with up to three of your closest friends. These are very similar to the mini-games found in Mario Party for instance. There is a homerun derby style game where each ball is worth a certain number of points and some fireworks display. You also get multi-pliers for hitting so many in a row. There is also a game where you round the bases while the Chain Chomp snoozes away. All of these games have ramping difficulty and add some nice diversions from the main course.
With so few games coming to the Cube this fall it’s hard not to recommend such a solid title. I finally found reason to dust off my little wonder since finishing Resident Evil 4. Mario has once again ventured into a new territory and made it fun. Let’s hope his soccer outing is just as enjoyable. Now Miyamoto, can you stop toying with my emotions and give me my Mario 128? I am in dyer need to stomp some Gombas. I definitely recommend checking out Mario Baseball if you are a fan of the Nintendo style, this game is truly a party game gem.