The Austin Chronicle

In Play

By Tim Warden, January 27, 2006, Screens


Nintendo, $49.99

Mario and Luigi (Italian plumbers), Yoshi (laconic dragon), Peach (princess), and many of their dearest friends have all bravely accepted Bowser's (terrifying megalomaniacal turtle) invitation to compete in Mario Superstar Baseball. Take control of an elite cadre of players, but be warned: This tournament is more than mere baseball. In addition to navigating outfields fraught with carnivorous plants, sandstorm generators, and biting Klaptraps, your team will play several minigames with names like "Piranha Panic." Use your skills to accumulate coins, buy exotic equipment, and decimate your rivals. Each defeated rival becomes a new, powerful ally, making you (in time) an unstoppable force of fireball pitches, outstretched-tongue left-field grabs, and giant-gorilla homerun punches.

One quickly notices similarities to the popular Mario Party series, but it's important to note that these playful elements don't interfere with what makes traditional video-game baseball enjoyable. The gameplay revolves around charging up your swings and pitches by holding down the A button and then cunningly releasing the button at the right moment, which feels natural. What feels unnatural is the fact that your base runners never tag up when your hitter flies out unless you hit the right button at the right time, which you won't do without practicing a lot. Consequently, your opponents turn an improbable number of triple plays, leading to much hair-pulling. It's a surmountable gaffe in gameplay, but it makes the learning curve that much steeper. In turn, this game, while targeting a younger audience, offers much to adults seeking the sort of whimsy they've grown up expecting from Nintendo. Still, you can expect to dive for fly balls, time your swings for an opposite-field hit, and use a serious changeup to make batters look plain silly.

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