All-Star Baseball 2000
Whether anyone outside the United States bothers to play the game or not, All-Star Baseball 2000 is an excellent example of what a professional quality sports sim should look like. Impeccably designed with superior execution, Iguana and Acclaim Sports have knocked up a game with almost limitless potential and black hole-like depth. As in last year's All-Star Baseball '99 (89% in 64 Magazine 16), players have the choice of selecting their favourite Major League team and putting them through their paces within a one-off exhibition match or a full-blown season. There's also the Home Run Derby, where players aim to score the more home runs than their opponents within a set amount of rounds.
The version of All-Star Baseball 2000 that 64 Magazine looked at here appeared to be a completed version, and had all the features and sound effects (including sports commentary from two big-name US hosts). One of the most popular elements from All-Star Baseball '99 has returned in the latest version as well, the Create-A-Player mode. It is here that, like some sort of deranged genetic scientist, you can create your own baseball team from scratch. Step forth mutants from the pits of Hell!
A neat little addition to this year's version of All-Star Baseball is the Instant Replay feature. Accessed from the main menu at any time, this feature uses a video editing-like interface which allows you to skip back and forth between the recent play. You can zoom-in, pan out, rotate around the field, pause... you get the picture.
64 Magazine will be taking its bats to a full review of All-Star Baseball 2000 in a forthcoming issue.
All-Star Baseball 2000 DownloadsAll-Star Baseball 2000 download
Acclaim Sports is back for year number two of its N64-only version of All-Star Baseball. Last year's All-Star Baseball '99led the pack in terms of graphics, but there were some well-documented glitches that kept it from reaching the level of greatness. Let's take a look back at a direct quote from last year's review. "I think that with some minor adjustments next year, this will move to the level of greatness." Well, here we are, next year. Did they take my advice and make these minor adjustments? Read on and you shall see.
A quick highlight of the features being touted by this year's version include second-generation "Hi-Rez" graphics, new player models, 400 new player animations and over 100 player batting stances. Throw in a new 3D batting control system and what you have is one flexible baseball game. If you really liked last year's version, you will not be disappointed by this year's.
When I sit down and play a game, I try to keep a pen and a pad of paper next to me and make notes of things that jump out in my mind (both good and bad). While I was playing this game, I kept noticing little things that just did not seem quite right. If you were to look over my notes, you would think that I hated the game. The thing is, it was quite the contrary. I actually enjoyed this game more than any other baseball game I have ever played. I think I just nitpicked this game because I was looking for perfection. I know that there is no such thing as perfection, but I will drop a few suggestions of what I found to be missing or strange, and hopefully next year the game will be a bit more polished.
Let's start out with the good and then move into the nitpicking. I guess the first good point I can make about this game is that it is just a hell of a lot of fun to play, pure and simple. I sat down and played and played and played. I was playing through a season and I kept getting that "just one more game" mentality going, and we all know that is the number one sign of a fun game. I have played a lot of baseball games in my life (almost every one made for PSX and N64) and I can say with no hesitation that this is my favorite. That alone should be enough of an endorsement for you to go out and pick this game up.
I guess if you are reading this paragraph, that must mean that my endorsement was not good enough and you want more information before running out and buying it. Fair enough (it is your $60 after all). So what else was good about this game, you ask? Well, this game basically uses the same control scheme as last year's, so I found the game easy to pick up and start playing. Does that mean you have to be familiar with last year's game? Not at all. One of the things that I said about last year's game was that the fielding and pitching were a breeze. Since they did not change much, it is still a breeze. It will take you about two innings before you are painting the corners with fastballs or making spectacular catches in the outfield. The point is, this game is easy to play.
One of my complaints last year was that I found hitting to be a bit on the difficult side. You could either select a cursor mode or just a regular batting mode. I had a really difficult time hitting in the cursor mode. I don't know if they changed it or if a light bulb just came on in my head, but I can now hit great with the batting cursor. I think the batting cursor keeps things very interesting because it is much more challenging to hit. The great thing about the game is that there are a few settings that can help you customize your hitting experience. As you get more comfortable with the hitting, you can turn the pitch location icon off and the game gets really challenging. You can also try to guess the location of the pitch. If you are successful, you are rewarded with a larger hitting box. If you guess wrong, the box shrinks and hitting the ball can get pretty darn tough.
One thing I did not mention about the hitting was the new 3D batting cursor. Since this is such a cool feature, I feel that it warrants its own paragraph. Acclaim Sports has hit the ball right on the sweet spot with this new batting cursor. Let me explain what it is and how it is used. First off, I just want to say that one of my biggest complaints with baseball games in the past was the lack of control over where the ball would go off the bat. A lot of games just seemed random. In real baseball, placement hitting is a huge part of the game and this just seems to get overlooked in baseball games for console systems. For example, if you have a runner on second and a right-hand hitter up, I want to try to hit behind the runner to move him to third. In real life baseball, swinging a little later will result in taking the ball to the opposite field. A lot of games completely miss this point, which is a vital part of baseball in my eyes. Well, not only did they get this correct, they took it one step further. You can now rotate your batting cursor up or down and left or right or any combination. This means that if you have a runner on third and you need a sacrifice fly, you can rotate the cursor so the batter will swing under the ball, causing a fly. It is a very easy system to use and one of the most innovative features added to a baseball game in a long time.
Another thing they did that was a major improvement was to speed up the games. Last year it seemed to take forever to play nine innings. You can almost play two games in the amount of time that it would take to play one last year. This is nice because even I found last year's game to drag on at times, and I know that I am not the only person that felt this way.
Okay, time for the nitpicking. Let me preface this by saying that these things did not really bother me as much as I just thought it showed a little bit of lack of polish. There was really only one thing that bothered me enough to lower the score minimally and that was the base running and fielding AI. Once again I don't know what happened, but there were quite a few base-running blunders. For example, if the computer had a runner at third with one out and hit a routine fly out to center field, his runner would go all the way to home plate, wait for the ball to be caught and then retreat back to third. I would almost always nail him off the base, not to mention the fact that he should have been standing at the base waiting to tag up. This was just one of the many instances that did not follow good baseball logic. I know that it is a video game and that it will never have the intelligence of a real person, but it still needs to be mentioned.
As for the nitpicking, there were little things like the annoying announcers (only about 15 phrases repeated over and over), players wearing sunglasses inside a dome stadium, players facing the wrong direction when they made catches, and the computer players who were too easy to strike out if you just pitched to their weak spots on the pitching chart. As I said, these things were not too terrible, but just some things that stuck out to me while I was playing.
Once again, Acclaim has upped the bar in the graphics department. While the overall graphics are not a huge leap above last year's game, they are still better than anything else around. They did a great job of recreating batter stances and swings, stadiums and umpires. One of the coolest things added this year was that if a player slides and comes up short of the bag, you will see him scramble on hands and knees trying to reach the base. He may even try to slide around the tag. They also added some other great player animations like catching a fly ball off the shoe tops, making basket catches and showing some serious emotion when striking out. I am still waiting for the first baseball game that lets you charge the mound, though.
If you are a baseball fan, I suggest you check this game out. If you have All-Star Baseball '99, there have been some modifications but not any wholesale changes, so you will have to weigh this in your decision. I think this is the best baseball game around, but if they had polished it up just a little more it could have been baseball heaven. This game is almost as fun to sit back and watch as it is to play. Acclaim is getting a lot of mileage out of this game engine, so I am curious to see what they have up their sleeves for next year.