All-Star Baseball 99
Acclaim Sports is back for year number three of the All-Star Baseball franchise, except this time they opted to bypass the PlayStation and go straight to the Nintendo 64. Since the first two releases were PSX only, it was a bit of a surprise but after playing the game for about 30 seconds, you will clearly understand why this game was made for N64 only.
As with most baseball sims on the market today, All-Star Baseball 99 carries both the MLB and Players Association licenses which opens up the ability to use the real players, real stadiums and actual uniforms. There is plenty of hot baseball action that includes over 600 player motions and more than 100 different player batting stances. Throw in some Hi-Rez graphics and what you have here is one of the best looking baseball games to hit the streets for any system.
Before I get started on this game, one thing needs to be addressed. Even though this game carries the All-Starname, it is unfair to even compare it to last year's All Star Baseball '98 for the PlayStation. Just to jog my memory, I popped in last year's version for the PSX and the difference was almost comical. So, from this point forward, I will not compare this game to the previous PSX version, nor will I make any reference to it. Just remember, if you have the PSX version, this year's N64 version is nothing like anything you have seen before.
Now that we have that clear, let's get down to it. All-Star Baseball 99 is exactly as the name implies: a baseball game. As we all know, not all baseball games are created equally and there is a hell of a lot of competition to win your gaming dollars. This is the first year the N64 will see any baseball action and All-Star Baseball 99 is the first to hit the streets. What it all comes down to is gameplay and graphics so let me be the first to tell you that the graphics are awesome and the gameplay is good yet flawed.
The first thing that I do when I start playing a new baseball game is start a game without reading any of the controls (I don't read directions or maps either, but that is a whole different story). This is my test on the ease of batting, pitching, fielding and running. My thinking is that if I can sit down and start playing successfully without ever opening the manual then the controls and gameplay should be easy enough for most gamers. What I found was that pitching and fielding was a breeze but hitting and running, well, it was a bit more difficult.
Since I broke the pitching and fielding out into an easy group and the hitting and running into a not so easy group, I will address them together by group. First, let's talk about the pitching and fielding. Pitching is very easy and your pitcher has great control over the location of his pitches. Each pitcher has four set pitches they can choose from and one of the four pitches is highlighted in blue, symbolizing the pitchers best pitch. Once you have selected the pitch, you can use the analog joystick to add movement to the ball. This worked great and my only complaint was that on some pitches, you could really put some exaggerated movement on the ball making it nearly impossible for another player to hit. Also, the pitching required the use of a bull pen. This means that you actually have to warm your pitchers up before bringing them into the game. I have said it before and I will say it again. I just don't understand why some games don't make you warm up your pitchers. Another cool part of the pitching is that when your pitcher's stamina (displayed by an on-screen graph) runs down, his pitches will lose velocity and will not break nearly as much. Once again, this made the game feel like real baseball and coupled with the bull pens, you really had to manage your pitching staff. As far as the fielding goes, this is one of the easiest games to field in. It is a little bit too forgiving and I did seem to catch a few balls that looked like they were way out of my reach. Other than that, fielding was a piece of cake.
Now let's talk about hitting and base running. The hitting uses a cursor type batting system which can be good if they are used correctly and can be bad if they are not used correctly. I would say that this does a good job but it can be difficult to hit pitches with movement. Before I get ahead of myself, let me explain the batting cursor. Your batter has a strike zone box that is shown on the screen. Inside that strike zone box is a roundish cursor with a smaller round cross-hair in the middle. The idea is to line up the pitched ball in the cross hairs and then swing. If the ball moves out of the cursor but stays in the roundish cursor, you will still hit the ball but not as solidly. You can also select a power hit, which eliminates the outer circle and gives you only the cross-hairs. That means you have to be dead on or you will swing and miss. Anyway, on the Rookie level, it is fairly easy to hit but as soon as you crank up the difficulty level, hitting becomes very difficult. I played a game on Veteran skill level and only had three hits. I played again and had four hits. The point is, the hitting can be a bit tricky. One thing that I did like was that the game displayed a graph of the hitters hot and cold zones so you had a better idea of which pitches you batter liked. As for the base running, I was a little unhappy with the base running system. The N64 controller lends itself to baseball games perfectly with the four yellow C buttons shaped in a diamond. It would have been best to just let you push the button corresponding with the base you wanted your runner to advance or retreat towards. Instead, you had to press the base button and the Z button. I was constantly just pushing the C button and not the Z and when I finally remembered to hit the Z button, it was usually too late. Sure, this was partially my own fault for not remembering but it seems so natural to just hit the C button and watch the runner go that I just could not remember to hit the Z button as well.
When it comes down to the nitty-gritty, we all look for gameplay. If a baseball game is not fun to play, why bother? Even if all of the controls are perfect, a baseball game can still not be fun to play. In the case of All-Star Baseball 99, the gameplay is very fun. Actually, I can't remember enjoying a baseball game this much in a long time. I guess I should really qualify this in saying that the game is fun to play when playing against a human opponent. It was a little disappointing playing against the computer because it made stupid decisions on the base paths constantly. First off, any time the computer got on base with less than two outs, he would try to bunt the runner over. It did not matter the score, who the batter was or anything. The computer would still try to bunt the runner over. All you had to do was throw pitches out of the strike zone and they would miss like clockwork. Then, after getting two strikes on the batter, the runner would just try to steal the base. Of course I would be expecting it so I would almost always nail him. Playing against a human will eliminate this but I still think they should have beefed up the AI.
What a treat it is to look at this game. It is absolutely amazing. Everything from the fluid look of the players running to the stunning details of the stadiums looks awesome. It was so cool when I hit a foul ball because I would see my batter running up the line and then turn and head back to the plate. I can't think of any game that has captured movement that fluid. The head-first slides, jumps and dives all looked great as well. One of the coolest things was when a fly ball was hit to the outfield, my fielder would wave off the other player just like in real baseball. There were a few disappointing things on the graphics side though. I thought the fielders looked stiff and when they turned, they just sort of flipped 90 degrees and were pointing the other direction. Also, when a batter swung and missed, it looked very unnatural. It is hard to describe how it looked other than just plain goofy.
All in all, this is a really good baseball game. I won't call it great because I was not to happy with the computer AI and some people are going to have trouble hitting the ball. I think that the graphics made this game a joy to look at and the overall gameplay experience made the game fun to play. With a good mix of ground balls, line drives and fly balls, you can really get the feeling of baseball. I think that would some minor adjustments next year, this will move to the level of greatness.
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Baseball might not be everyone's cup of tea, but the superb visuals could just persuade you to give this very playable sim a try.
A meticulously realistic baseball sim, with excellent hi-res graphics and ultra-detailed gameplay. The Americans adore it.
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