Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Mario Superstar Baseball

Mario's original career—running up fallen girders while avoiding barrels and trying to rescue a princess—has taken some massive turns over the years. Problems at the plumbing business he ran with his brother Luigi were taken care of years ago, as the duo simply bashed the pipe-plaguing bugs and turned them into coins. Later, the brothers found serious fame by rescuing the princess (again), this time from a dragon-thing called Bowser, and with help from mushroom power-ups. Mario has also been a graffiti remover, as well as a doctor in a Tetris rip-off. But what, curious fans and celebrity followers wondered, does Mario do in his free time?

Nintendo has answered that question several times, and will answer it again and again this year, starting with Mario Superstar Baseball, a straightforward, extremely kid-friendly trek through Mario's time on the diamond. The bulk of the game, naturally, is simple hitting and pitching—it's so simple, in fact, that adults may tire of it pretty quickly. There are dozens of characters to break up the monotony, and many have special pitches and swings, but there are only about three basic pitches, and batting requires just a bit of timing and not much finesse. Fielding isn't much more exciting: The game shows you where the ball is headed, and you put a fielder under it. Clearly aware of those limitations, the game's creators offer a bunch of different stadiums with various obstacles and quirks, like plants that catch the ball and spit it out in a different direction.

Outside the regular games, you can play in "challenge mode," picking a captain and overcoming obstacles (more regular games, plus some occasionally fun mini-games) to put together an all-star team capable of beating Bowser's squad in the big finale. With all of Mario's old enemies on the same field, he must get fairly nervous.

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Beyond the gameplay: The graphics are pretty damn gorgeous. Watching somebody play Mario Superstar Baseball is almost as much fun as playing it—particularly during replays.

Worth playing for: Many batters have noteworthy swings, including Donkey Kong, who uses a giant boxing-gloved hand to smack home runs.

Frustration sets in when: Somebody ought to get smacked for the artificial intelligence of the base runners, who just take off every time the ball is hit. Even peewee players know to wait near their base when there's a pop-up.

Final judgment: For baseball fans, MSB will be too simple. For adventure fans, there's not much to latch onto. Mario's just more fun when his life's in danger.

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