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Folks who have read some of my earlier reviews have probably already figured out that I'm a big fan of the Mario-themed sports games. Part of the reason is that the arcade-style action and familiar character branding of Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour and Super Mario Strikers makes them appealing to folks of all ages. Such is also the case with Mario Superstar Baseball, a joint project between Namco and Nintendo that came out in 2005. Up until the release of its Wii sequel, this was the only baseball game I could get my nephews to play when they came over to visit, and while it's no deep, officially-licensed sim like MVP Baseball 2004 or MLB 09: The Show, it is a lot of fun to play--and hey, baseball is baseball, right?
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Mario Superstar Baseball is, as you would expect, baseball with a Mario twist. Sure, you've still got the basic stuff like throwing curveballs, deciding whether to hit for power or laying down a bunt, and trying to turn a 6-4-3 double play, but you've also got fireballs, super-powerful swings, outfield obstacles like Chain Chomps, and more. The game does a fantastic job striking that delicate balance between appealing to baseball fans and appealing to Mario game fans. There are also a ton of customizable options, allowing you to set the number of innings in each game, play under the mercy rule and even toggle automatic fielding and baserunning on and off. Those features are nice to have when you're playing against younger opponents.
The game is most fun playing a good old fashioned regular game against a real-life opponent, but thankfully the game does provide other game modes, both single and multiplayer. The main one-player attraction is the Challenge Mode, in which you pick a team captain and travel from stadium to stadium, playing other famous Mario characters and trying to win them over to your side. To do this, you have to meet a set of in-game challenges, such as striking out a certain player, getting a run in a key situation, etc. It's a fantastic system that I personally love, and it works so much better than the more adventure-style mode used in the sequel, Mario Super Sluggers. Topping things off are a number of different baseball-themed minigames and the Toy Box, an odd little game where you earn coins for successfully getting a hit or an out. There's a decent amount of depth here on top of the fun gameplay.
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Graphics and Sound
Having reviewed a number of different Mario games, and specifically Mario sports titles, I'm probably starting to sound like a broken record here, but the simple fact is that Mario Superstar Baseball looks and sounds much like other Mario Gamecube titles. The characters look about how you'd expect them to look, the soundtrack features a good blend of traditional Mario themes and baseball-style music, and the voice acting and taunts from Charles Martinet and company are comfortably familiar feeling. Mario games just have a certain look and feel, and this game is no different.
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If you're a baseball fan or a fan of Mario style games, then there's no doubt in my mind that you'll have a good time playing Mario Superstar Baseball. I know I love it, even though it's not the hardcore, stat-crunching, franchise-mode-containing MLB sim I normally prefer. The Challenge Mode is an interesting new style of single-player gameplay mode, and I personally think that being forced to earn new teammates by completing various feats during the middle of a ballgame is a fantastic idea. Add that to the various minigames and the simple but undeniable pleasures of multiplayer exhibition games, and you have an excellent title that really should be in everyone's Gamecube collection.