Hit by a pitch.
You've dreamt about Dreamcast baseball. You've been waiting for months. It's been on your mind day and night and now it's finally here. So what's the first thing you're gonna do? Send it back quickly and run like all hell just broke loose. I think we should all tip our hats and have a moment of silence because World Series Baseball 2K1 was dead on arrival. *sniff*
As one of the most anticipated sports titles of this year, WSB2K1 (whew, the abbreviation is almost as long as the actual title) promised to deliver another high quality sports game for Dreamcast owners and, in case you didn't notice, the very first DC baseball title. So far Sega's impressive sports lineup has simply blown away the competition, but with WSB2K1, Sega is the one left holding the bomb.
Baseball is a relatively simple game. Man throws ball. Man hits ball with stick and runs. Man catches ball. Repeat. It's pretty hard to get super complicated with a game such as this, and indeed, simple is easily the word to describe WSB2K1. So simple that you might as well be watching instead of playing. In fact, Sega has taken just about all the fun out of baseball so that gamers hardly need to lift a finger to play.
Before we get down and dirty, I would like to highlight the best points of the game - the graphics. The eye candy is worthy of the 2K series and the smooth player animations are very impressive. This is fortunate, since you will never actually play the game.
Where has Sega gone so wrong? Just about everywhere, with both big and small problems alike. Baseball is a game that mainly falls into three categories: hitting, pitching, and fielding. Let's take this step by step.
Hitting has always been a simple task, but there have always been things to do besides just swinging the bat. One gaping hole that 2K1 leaves is the inability to move batters around in the box. You just can't get set up right for the next pitch. This has been a staple in baseball games since Nintendo's classic VS. Baseball, yet is totally omitted.
As you bat, a cursor appears in the batter's box. If the ball lands in the cursor when you swing you get a hit; if not, you miss. Getting the cursor on the ball isn't impossible, but it's pretty tough to get a dead on perfect hit.
Category number two is pitching, and it's here where you'll find the most control throughout the entire game. Pick a pitch and throw the ball. You even retain some control of the ball in flight.
The problem with pitching lies within the actual pitch selection. As pitching styles vary, not all of the pitchers can perform all of the pitches. Each pitch is selected with a push of the analog stick, but in order to know what pitch you're throwing, you'll have to open up the manual. Why? Because of the stupid little graphic that Sega decided to use instead of something more obvious, like, say, words. Ah yes, diagonal down-left just MUST mean curveball! This style may be all right if you've got a good memory, but many of you will have to play a few games with the book open to get it exactly the way you want it.
Lastly, we have fielding. Wait a minute... no we don't. Quick call the police, somebody stole the fielding! I can't find it anywhere! Yes, ladies and gentlemen, there is no, repeat NO fielding in WSB2K1. None. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Zero. You never control any of the fielders, except to tell them where to throw the ball after they've fielded it - though whether or not they'll make the play is anybody's guess.
Let's take the following scenario: A batter hits a long, easy fly ball into deep center field. As the ball drifts into the air, we idly watch as the center fielder stands perfectly still, probably just staring up at the sky watching the happy little clouds float by. Then we gasp in amazement (while doing absolutely nothing) as the fielder begins to run in the wrong direction. As the ball continues its descent to earth, we stand by as the fielder finally realizes his mistake and hustles out to where the ball might land only to make a last second grab over the shoulder. All this and we can do nothing, repeat NOTHING about it.
The fielding AI lies on the border between pure stupidity and sheer insanity. Yes, often times the job gets done, but the computer's reaction time and decision making skills are that of a second grade little leaguer. I've even seen fielders dive in the wrong direction to make a play! It's just like playing baseball with a bunch of little kids...little Jerry's Kids.
Even the runners aren't bright. They will always run, even on the fly ball. You've got to send each and every runner back to the base and tag up afterward. I think my players are drooling on themselves.
To throw more salt into our baseball loving wounds, Sega has found the worst sports announcer since Joe Montana Sportstalk Football. Rising and falling vocal inflections along with broken sentences and zero color commentary make the overall audio experience about as pleasant as getting your ears bitten off by a rabid turtle.
In addition to all of this muck, WSB2K1 occasionally suffers from framerate loss and auto-replays that cut off before the play is even over. Rush, rush, rush makes for bad, bad game.
I have to say that WSB2K1 is the most disappointing DC title to date. Maybe Sega will learn that rushed games tend to have disastrous results. Maybe this will serve as a good lesson. WSB2K1 is a great game if you love baseball and hate actually having to play video games.