During the GameCube era, Nintendo began to license out their franchise IP's to multiple third party developers in order to speed up the process of creating sequels to their games. SEGA got F-Zero, which turned out with spectacular results, and Namco got Star Fox, with debatable results of quality. Namco got more then a one off though, and created a whole new Mario game with baseball as the main theme for the GameCube. Camelot had given Nintendo a string of hits with Mario Golf and Mario Tennis on the N64 and GameCube, so it was obvious Nintendo was hoping the success would be duplicated by Namco with baseball. Despite Camelot not returning with their Mario sports games to the Wii, both Black Box (developers of Mario Strikers) and Namco would have a second go on Nintendo's new little white box.
Wii Sports proved that some fun could be had with motion controls, the real question since it launched has been whether it could it support a full featured game. With Mario Super Sluggers, the jury is probably still out on that one. As a core baseball game, Mario Super Sluggers is much more arcade style then a baseball simulator. Much of the content of the game is its gimmick-based diamond fields and all of the new players to be unlockd. While the game offers one traditional stadium, the rest are themed with all sorts of traps and hazards. It seems like the developers tried to instill a Mario Kart-like experience into the game, but what it ended up with was closer to Mario Party.
The game has decent graphics -- neither amazing nor repulsive. Some fields, like Peach's, tend to have some nice effects, but the majority of the in-game graphics and character models are average even for a GameCube game. One area the game seems like a missed opportunity is the character roster. A ridiculous amount of it is filled with the same character but with a different color -- luckily, color clones don't fill up blank spaces, but even still, the roster has some plain boring choices. Did we really need a whole bunch of Nokis from Super Mario Sunshine, let alone the hefty Pinatas? Did the game really need a Goomba and a Paragoomba? Monty Mole and Wiggler...are they really good choices? There is no Princess Rosalina, no Plum, no Pauline, no obscure characters like Tatanga, or the original Koopa Kids. With a roster 42 characters deep it's a real let down Namco didn't use the chance to show off more of Mario's deep character history.
If there is one area where the game does excel, it would be the music. While the opening theme and map have largely standard and forgettable music, the themed stages offer high quality remixes of classic character tunes. Peach Gardens features the castle music from Super Mario 64, while Donkey Kong features a take on Jungle Japes from Donkey Kong Country. If nothing else, at least the music you hear is good while playing Mario Super Sluggers.
The real problem with the game stems from the controls: there are three types and none really work very well. The fault of this lies in the implementation rather then the Wii not being able to handle it. You can play with a nunchuk and remote or two different ways with the remote. One way is played much like Wii Sports Baseball, the other is played classic NES style, using only buttons. Playing the default way with just a remote like Wii Sports is a disaster. The Nunchuk style is decent but runs into problems of its own. To throw or bat you lift the remote up to charge and slam it down to hit. This removes the feeling of actually holding a bat, but the trade off for player control makes it worth it. The real problem comes in running: you shake the remote to run faster. This becomes a game breaker when running to catch a fly ball or turning the bases. You end up frantically shaking the remote to get to a ball, and then accidentally throw the ball to the wrong base. When playing classic NES-style, the game improves slightly as the 1 button is the dash and you must hit it repeatedly. This also becomes a game breaker when running the basses, however, as pressing the 1 button makes everyone run off the base, so if you have a player on second base and you hit to third, tapping 1 to make your player make it to first base, it also causes your second base player to dash to third rather then staying put. Put simply, you never have control over a specific character on offensive, as tapping 1 makes everyone dash to the next base and tapping 2 makes them run back to a base. Also, each character has different running speeds, so you may need to tap 1 a lot to get a heavy set player on base, but that will cause a speedier player to run to fast and attempt to run to third or home accidentally. I even experienced the game full on glitch-out with Daisy running from first to second, only to completely freeze half way and any attempts to move her just made Peach run into her for an easy double play of the opposing team.
Mario Super Sluggers attempts to liven up the game of baseball with weapon items, tons of gimmick fields, and logic-defying ways of catching the ball and slamming the catcher at home. What this results in is total chaos that will either work wildly for or against a player. Mario Party can be notorious for random and cheap rules and encounters and at times it seems like that tradition has followed Mario into the baseball diamond. Mario Super Sluggers also attempts to give solo players an adventure mode with the most basic and rigid world map structure. It is a decent way to unlock characters; however, there is no autosave function in the quest mode. Luckily, any characters you unlock are saved to the main memory of the game but how did they miss having an autosave function? Despite Mario Strikers Charged being online last year, Mario Super Sluggers has no online functions at all. The bottom line is that the basic game of baseball in Mario Super Sluggers is just not very fun. Even the hardest hitters in the game have trouble really nailing a home run and the bizarre controls make the game much more frustrating then intended. Mario Super Sluggers is too random, too basic, and the control scheme too confusing to recommend to Mario fans, baseball fans, or even someone looking for a game to play with a bunch of friends on a weekend. If Namco or Nintendo intend to ever return Mario to the game of baseball, they seriously need to go back to the drawing board on this one.
Final Verdict - 5/10
Mario Super Sluggers attempts to bring the over-the-top fun of Mario Kart to the game of baseball, but instead brings chaos and confusion. The control schemes are broken and the roster is mostly lame. In the end, Mario Super Sluggers does more to damage the reputation of the Wii Remote then promote its functionality.