'Mario Super Sluggers' serves up minor-league fun

Two out, bottom of the ninth, bases loaded and your team is down one run. Stepping up to bat is your star player. You're nervous, but brimming with confidence. Then he strikes out. Game over.

If you're familiar with the feeling of deflation that may set in, then you've got a taste of Mario Super Sluggers. The Mario-centric baseball title excels when 18 players hit the ballpark for a riveting game of baseball. The foul play occurs when developers choose to de-emphasize it.

This isn't Mario and friends' first step to the plate. Sluggers serves as the sequel to the GameCube's Mario Superstar Baseball. Fans of that title can expect many of the same nuances and strategies in its successor.

Sluggers also follows the line of previous Mario titles when it comes to hijinks. Fear a pop fly in center field? Shoot a turtle shell at the outfielder to turn an out into a double.

Over 40 characters appear, each broken down by pitching, hitting, fielding and baserunning skills.

New to the series are the Wii controls. Pitching and hitting take the Wii Sports model and refine it slightly. You flip the remote back then forth to pitch, twisting left or right if you prefer curveballs or pressing 'A' for a changeup.

You hit by flicking your wrist, while power-hitting requires a flick back before swinging. Technically, you can hold the remote like a baseball bat, but Sluggers isn't designed for that type of control. You'll notice your range of motion is more limited than it is in Wii Sports. For player movement and more precise control, attach the nunchuk. If you'd rather not wave your arms around, you can hold the remote sideways like an old-school controller.

Nine-on-nine baseball is Sluggers' strength. You pick your captain, craft a line-up based on specific skills and chemistry, and toss them onto the field. The play is lighthearted and the characters are comical.

Unfortunately, the play gets watered down a bit thanks to a forced story mode and the inexplicable lack of an online component.

Challenge Mode is pretty straightforward: Assemble a squad to defeat Bowser Jr. and eventually Bowser in a ball game. The bulk of your efforts are spent completing brief skills tests and random puzzles to prove your worth and convince characters to join your squad.

For starters, beating the Bowser clan is incredibly easy. After unlocking the first nine players available, I challenged Bowser Jr. Even though I lacked the strength of Donkey Kong and Wario's bats, and had the pitching prowess of Peach, I won 31-0.

When Bowser's castle opened up, I took the plunge and won 10-6. All six of Bowser's runs coming in the final inning. Outside of a 3-inning affair, the doubleheader was my only full-game action in Challenge mode. Also, does a sports title really need a story? A tournament mode showcasing the great on-field action would have been more rewarding.

The absence of Wi-Fi multiplayer is equally disappointing. Sports games are often best played against a human opponent — in this case, your friends have to be physically present to enjoy that kind of play.

A wealth of mini-games offers some brief, fun diversions, including a Mario spin on a home run derby.

Sluggers proves steady in some aspects, and should appeal to younger players and fans of anything Mario. But compared to stars like Mario Kart Wii and even soccer title Mario Strikers Charged, Sluggers is a league below.

For extended gaming coverage, check out Brett Molina's Hyperspace blog.