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Created by Bandai-Namco / Rated E / 1-4 Players / Wii Remote + Nunchuk / MSRP $49.99
Review written by Ray

When Mario Superstar Baseball was released for the Gamecube three years ago, I was pleasantly surprised by Namco’s ability to set a new standard for Mario sports titles. There were 29 playable characters, each with wonderfully animated personalities and smooth graphics. Packed with mini-games, an incredibly challenging story mode, and a bonus multiplayer mode called Toy Field, I was in love with the gameplay as much as I was the visuals.

It had a few obvious flaws, such as putting you in control of the wrong fielder to catch a ball, and minor timing issues with charging speeds between a batter and a pitcher. But many of these flaws could be over-looked since this was only the first attempt at a Mario Baseball game, and surely future sequels would fix these minor squabbles. So when word came of Mario Super Sluggers being created for the Wii, it was safe to say I was excited to see the enjoyable play style of Wii Sports married with the robust gameplay of Mario Superstar Baseball. Mix in some online gameplay, and you’ve got yourself one heck of a package. Unfortunately, Mario Super Sluggers doesn’t even come close to being anything more than a watered down version of what we already had.

Let’s start with the controls. Instead of utilizing the Wii Remote in fun and intuitive ways, Bandai-Namco has crammed the existing Gamecube controls onto the Wii Remote and Nunchuk and then added unnecessary waggle to boot. I can understand the simplicity of pulling back the Wii Remote and flicking it forward to bat or pitch, but having to shake the remote to run while also trying to press buttons on it for throwing or changing direction is a bit unnecessary. When throwing the ball to a base, the idea is that you’re holding the direction of the base you want to throw to on the Nunchuk, and flicking your Wii Remote as though you are throwing the ball. But since you will always try to get your throw off as quickly as possible, trying to mimic a real throw is pointless, so it always results in constant shaking of the Wii Remote until the ball is thrown. In this case, the ‘A’ button would have been a much better choice. Unfortunately, you can not customize your button layout.

You do have the option of playing with just a Wii Remote, but then nearly everything is done automatically. The fielders automatically run to the ball, base runners change direction as needed, and throwing a ball automatically goes to the right base. So what’s left for you to do? Swing to hit the ball and swing to throw the ball. That’s too simplified. Even NES baseball games had more controls with fewer buttons.

One of the most frustrating control issues is the difference between a diving catch and a jumping catch. When fielding, pressing ‘A’ has two different outcomes: you’ll dive if running, but jump if stationary. This leads to bouts of absolutely furious moments with the game, as you walk towards the ball and jump to try to catch it, but instead you belly flop against the ground and miss what should have been an easy out.Bandai-Namco has also made a surprising number of changes to simplify the gameplay without giving you the option to keep it how it was before. For example, you can only adjust your batter to the left or right, which means no more depth through moving forward and backwards to help angle your swing. You have no say as to whether your character is to be left or right handed, and the drop zone indicator for a fly ball can no longer be turned off.

What can be turned off, thankfully, is the addition of items. After a batter hits a pitch, they can aim their Wii Remote at the screen and fire an item at the outfielders. This only happens if their batter is “in tune” with the next one up, but the items are just a little too much for me. I’m sure other people get a kick out of this new feature, though. Earning star power is better balanced than before, but the “cinematics” that you watch as you unleash a star-power is underwhelming and lacks polish. As you can see from the Bowser image below, it doesn’t exactly scream “visually impressive.” I prefer the quick pause and symbol-flash from before. It was just enough to warn you of the impending attack while still showing a flash of simple design. In fact, there are a lot of details about the presentation that are sorely lacking, but describing them in this review feels trivial and unimportant. Trust me though – it all adds up. There’s a big difference between being flashy, and trying to be flashy.

The stadiums themselves add barely anything new or unique to what we had before. The majority of them are really just remade versions from the last with minor tweaks of the theme here or there. Playing during the day or night is a nice option, but I’d rather see the stadium shift from day to night throughout the innings. The mini-games are all back, but they aren’t done as well. It’s a shame really, as they had much more depth before. The Toy Field also makes a return, but doesn’t really do anything new with that either.

To the game’s credit, they at least tried something new and bold through the 1-player challenge mode. You travel across different areas recruiting team members and solving puzzles. Different team captains you equip have a certain ability that can unlock areas or find hidden items. If I were to call it something, I’d consider it to be a Mario Party RPG. There were moments when I was impressed with what they had done with the single-player mode, but I was mostly banging my head on the table in front of me when they had to explain to me everything I needed to do. It’s clearly geared towards a much younger audience, and the text bubbles try to pack in a little bit of humor, but it just comes off as trying too hard.

As for the characters themselves, they all make a return and bring along nine more with them (plus Miis!) for a total of 39 playable characters. They’ve basically hit the maximum amount of characters in a Mario sports title while still being recognizable, but I think they’ve made a mistake in allowing multiple colors of one character to share the field. In addition, nearly all of the returning characters use the same animations from the game before, but you rarely get to see their ‘stepping up to the plate’ animations, and I while I loved the animations before, something about them doesn’t sit right in this version. Maybe it’s the feeling of paying money for what you already had before….

I had the opportunity to play this game for several hours with my friend Jory – we’ve had quite a history with the last game and it allowed me to adequately compare the pros and cons between the two versions. We played the two games back to back, and he and I both agreed – this version is simply lacking. We couldn’t nail it down exactly, but it was the combination of multiple small mistakes that just doesn’t let this title stand as tall.

What was more surprising to us was the fact that the graphics were not as good as the Gamecube version. We couldn’t believe it. At first I assumed his 1080p HDTV was making this game look worse than it really was, but between switching back and forth between the two games it became clear: the Gamecube’s version is smoother, cleaner, and more pleasing to look at. Even the menus themselves were simply no comparison to both the clarity and design of the original. To be honest, it was all a bit depressing.

Instead of taking the original and expanding on it, they couldn’t even faithfully recreate it. There’s no question in my mind that, on its own, Mario Super Sluggers is a moderately good game. My problem is that there’s very little reason for this game to exist. With lacking Wii controls, below par graphics, no online play, and issues still left to be resolved from three years ago, there’s nothing inherently ‘new’ or ‘better’ about this version.

Verdict: Decent on its own, but I’d recommend picking up the Gamecube original for about $30 instead.

Reviewer’s Completion: Reviewer’s Completion: all characters / all stages / all star characters / 10 MVPs / buddy badge / error item badge / star badge / stadium badge

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