Preview: Mario Super Sluggers

Mario takes Wii Sports Baseball into extra innings!

Mario Super Sluggers is an arcade-style baseball game, and sequel to the popular GameCube title Mario Superstar Baseball, in development by Namco-Bandai, and set to be published by Nintendo. The game pits Mario and 40-plus other characters like Bowser, Yoshi, and Donkey Kong against each other in anything-goes games of baseball. Mario Super Sluggers is a Wii exclusive scheduled for release on August 25th, 2008.

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Any gamer worth their salt has played Wii Sports. As one of the most potent pack-ins ever, it's an inevitability. In the opinion of many (including this writer) the baseball minigame was the most enjoyable. Populated with Miis of your friends and featuring the most uncannily realistic motion control on the system yet (particularly with the bat), the only major complain levied against the minigame was just that. It was a minigame--a 3 inning warmup that had the public clamoring for a complete game. Nintendo and Namco Bandai are teaming up to deliver one, and it's featuring the biggest franchise player in gaming--Mario!

Field of (Pipe) Dreams

The standard hardball experience of Mario Super Sluggers should be familiar to anyone who's played a sports title featuring the multi-talented plumber. Your team is comprised of one of twelve captains (franchise leaders like Mario and Donkey Kong) with the other eight positions being manned by ancillary yet memorable characters chosen from a cast of 40-plus--see the next page for a comprehensive character listing. And yes, you can have Miis on your team, so the rosters can include anyone your creativity can muster. Each character has four basic stats--throwing, batting, fielding, and speed--as well as special moves that can help pull off some major plays. There's also the matter of picking players that know each other, as friendly teammates like Dixie Kong and Funky Kong will aid each other in plays, tossing each other in the air to catch potential homeruns and the like. As you'd expect from other Mario sports games, don't expect it to be anything like your typical day at the ballpark.

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The controls, detailed in depth on the next page, mix the simplicity of Wii Sports Baseball with the versatility of Super Smash Bros. Brawl and Mario Kart Wii. During our demo, we only got to try the Wii Remote-only layout, but we were assured that motion sensitivity would be incorporated into every control method. On the very basic, Wii Remote only level, a few moves have been added to the Wii Sports template. While the standard swing and pitch should be second nature to Wii Sports vets, the additional moves add a bit of flair. Charged moves require you to "flick back" the Wii Remote to draw in power, and then time the pitch or swing to match the power hitting the player. It adds a layer of effort into a pitch or swing, but the result is a decent increase in power. For truly desperate measures, a special swing or pitch can be applied. During the game, impressive plays will earn you power on your "special" meter. When it's been filled, you earn the ability to unleash a pitch that will be nearly unhittable, or crank a swing that will send the ball out of the park if you connect. You've also got the element of surprise on your side with actions aided by the 1 Button--it'll cause your character to bunt on offense or toss a changeup from the mound.

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The added moves create a great rock-paper-scissors dynamic to batting and pitching, but there were some problems. The "flick back" moves for charged pitches would sometimes inadvertently be registered when slowly recovering from a swing or pitch, making timing the swing or pitch impossible. We also couldn't really get a good handle on the fielding and baserunning, as both facets of the game were made barebones using the simple Wii Remote-only controls as our characters automatically honed in on the ball or sped through the basepaths, their speed dependent on how intensely we shook the Wii Remote--only a smidge more interactive than Wii Sports. We were told that the nunchuck would allow for more control over those parts of the game, but we'll reserve judgment for when we get to test them out on the field.

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