Thursday, November 18, 2010

Video game number three hundred and twenty eight: Mario Super Sluggers

Video game review number three hundred and twenty eight in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "Mario Super Sluggers".

I played this one briefly at PAX a couple of years ago, and I'm only just now getting around to actually renting a copy to try at home. Baseball on Wii Sports delivers a pure experience, and because it was developed by the same folks...I was expecting Sluggers to deliver something similar, with a bunch of arcadey goodness thrown in on top of that.

That's exactly what they've delivered here.

First of all, swinging the bat is awesome. It "feels" right, whether you stand up and take actual swings clutching your Wiimote, or just lay on the couch and flick your wrist at the screen. The Wii understands both gestures, and that's why batting is the best part of this game.

I walked through the entire tutorial (it took me over half an hour) just to learn all the other moves, and I'm glad I did. This is not what I'd call a "pick up and play" game like NBA Jam, it's more of an invested experience. If you don't take the time to learn the moves, you're not going to understand all the power ups, boosts and other things they've thrown in to make it more fun.

Pitching pretty fun. You have control of the speed, type of pitch and even the angle. Strike out enough batters, and you start getting fire pitches, which are even faster. This might be the first baseball game I've played in recent history where I actually enjoyed my time on the mound. I learned to mix up my pitches and saved those power pitches for the opponents that were the best hitters.

Fielding is a little difficult (especially with special items). Defense is actually what I hated most about the game. You have a couple of options for controlling your outfielders, but neither one works well enough to make it fun. First, there's manual...which has you running your individual guys towards the ball. This works, but not always as you expect it to. For folks who don't want to bother with that, there is an automatic (one handed) control scheme. The closest fielder will chase the ball and throw it to the correct base. All you do to trigger these events is shake to run and press the throw button. This feels too nerfed...and I wish there was a happy balance between the two.

The final ingredient of this game is quite possibly the most annoying. There are about a zillion special moves and special items you have to learn and use. To earn them, you have to charge your team up by doing well, and then you'll have a special item or a boost ready to go. They might be things like faster pitches (mentioned above), or a spiky shell to hurl out into the outfield to mess up the defense. Of course, that means there are also counters to learn. It's confusing, and frankly...I think the game was shaping up to be more fun without this stuff.

I played a few games using these basic ingredients and started to learn the ropes. First of all, your team actually matters. You don't just pick your favorite dudes from all the different Nintendo games, you need to pick characters that have "chemistry" with one another. If you have Mario and Bowser back to back in the lineup, they're not going to play well off of each other, but if you have him back to back with Peach or Yoshi, you might get a hitting bonus or something. This is a cool concept, but it also means that you often end up playing "Good guys against bad guys".

As you win games, you'll unlock more mario characters to add to the roster. I'm not sure how many there are, but it was already a fairly impressive roster to begin with, so I liked this feature. You start out on an island, and you can win your way to different fields. Many of the fields add different variables (like snow) that make the game completely different. There are also mini games you can play when you don't feel like playing full matches. There are three basic games (hitting, pitching, catching). Hitting is fun, pitching sucks, catching is too easy.

Overall Score? 5/10. I think this game could have been awesome, were it not for the complexity of the special moves and items. The sheer number of things you have to learn just to play this one ensures that you'll almost never have a pickup game with your buddies (unless they also own this title and have mastered it). That's a shame for a Mario game, they're usually the most accessible of all Nintendo titles. It's good....but I know damn well the only opponent I'd ever have would be the computer. Trying to share this one with my friends (or my nieces and nephews) would result in lopsided matches, or a lot of confusion on their they tried to learn how to throw and defend against all the specials. In a sports game, that doesn't sound like fun to me, so this one is going back to Gamefly.

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