More baseball. I love it. If it were up to me, I would make it a mandatory requirement for all companies that make games to release an annual baseball title. I don't care if it is LucasArts we are talking about. Fine, give me Darth Vader pitching to Han Solo, if that's how it has to be. Just as long as it is baseball.
All right, that may be a little out there but the point is, I love baseball games. So naturally, this is my favorite time of year. All of the new hopefuls, like Grand Slam, step up to the plate against the old timers to see if they are more than just a trash talking punk or the real deal. Although Grand Slam does not hit what the title implies, it also does not go down on strikes.
Grand Slam is Virgin's first entry in the baseball diamond. Instead of trying to be the flashy new kid, Grand Slam sticks to the more traditional 2D graphics and simplistic controls. Although simplistic, the controls are different from that of any baseball game around and resemble more of a golf type control. Behind these controls, you will find real players and stadiums but no team names or uniforms.
Grand Slam plays like a traditional baseball title when it comes to the mechanics of the game. If you have ever played a baseball game in the past, you should be able to pick up the controller and feel right at home. The fielding can either be set to auto or manual depending on your skill level. One good thing about the manual fielding is that as soon as you move your player, it automatically turns to manual. So, if you like some help but not all help, you now have this option. On the down side, I found that the balls hit into the outfield were pretty tough to catch. Not because of positioning but because the ball just gets out there so fast, you don't really have time to react and get your player into the proper fielding position. Then, by the time you catch up to the ball, the runner has already rounded first and ends up with an easy double. This aggravated me to no end.
The pitching and hitting are very unique but effective. It is about time someone thought of this. The pitching is done by a pitch meter. The first step in throwing a pitch is determining the type of pitch. The pitch selection depends on the actual pitcher. For example, Roger Clemens throws a fastball, slider and change. So after choosing which type of pitch to throw by pressing the d-pad in the direction listed on the screen, you are ready to throw the pitch. This is where the pitching meter comes in. The pitching meter is similar to swing meter in golf games. You have a starting point, an optimal velocity patch and a release point. So, you start your delivery by pressing a button. The meter starts to go up. When it hits the optimal velocity area, you press the button again, which sends the meter back down. When the meter reaches the release point, you press the button again to pitch. If everything goes well, you will pitch the exact pitch in the exact location you picked. If your release point is off, you wi ll either throw inside or outside similar to slicing in golf. The batting is done in a similar manner except you have the option of using the old fashioned line up the ball in a hitting zone method or the power meter batting method, which is a bit more challenging.
One thing I really like about the game didn't have anything to do with the game at all. It was in the in-game menu screens. For one, relief pitchers must be warmed up. I really like that and most games don't think it is important enough to add to their games. But what I really like is the way you move players around the lineup cards. It uses a drag and drop method torn right out of the pages of a mouse on the PC. Since I spend the waking hours that I am not playing Playstation on a PC, this was almost second nature for me. No more confusing push this button to select a player then push that button to cancel but if you push that button, you are stuck with a player you didn't really want to use. No more of that. Pick the player up, drag and drop. Good job, Virgin!
If you're looking for a baseball sim, stop now because this isn't it. Well, there are some aspects that are pretty standard fare these days. For example, trading between teams is available and does have one cool feature. The manager of the other team must accept all trades so you can't trade all of your scrubs for the studs on other teams. There is also a season mode that can be played in 13, 52 or 162 games depending on your dedication to the game, or lack of anything better to do. In the season mode, your player's stats are tracked along with league leaders in most vital categories. That is about it for sim options. This is definitely geared towards arcade style action
The developers opted away from the trendy, polygon style graphics and went for a more traditional, 2D layout. The stadiums are all fairly accurate looking but are not overly spectacular. The one thing I was real disappointed in was the players all looked the same and were very lifeless. Each swing looks the same and you can't even move the batter around in the box or the pitcher on the mound. These are fairly minor details that you don't really think about when they are in a game but really stand out when there are missing.
This is a decent game. It is fun to play, which is really what you look for in a game. You wont find the glamour and glitz that you find in other games but everything goes together pretty well. I would have liked to see more life and personality in the players instead of everyone looking like a clone. It is hard to get excited or nervous about pitching to Jose Canseco or Ken Griffey, Jr. when they both look the same as a 5 feet 7 inch infielder. All in all, Grand Slam is not a bad game. You could do a lot worse when it comes to the gameplay but you could do a a lot better on the graphics.