Put me in coach, I'm ready to play. . .
Few things in life can match going to a baseball game. The sights, sounds, and smells of the ballpark truly epitomize the better aspects of Americana. There's just nothing quite like sitting in the stands on a sunny afternoon, hollering at an umpire, buying some peanuts and crackerjacks, and not caring if you ever go back. Aaaahh . . . Norman Rockwell, eat your heart out.
While going to the game is a blast, watching a baseball game on television is one of the most painful experiences anyone can ask for. Watching McGwire, Sosa, and the Yankees break records is one thing, but what about the unmitigated joy of watching the Pirates and the Brewers engage in a pitching battle? What a curve! And then there's the lovable (read: retarded) announcers; the guys who manage to discuss in detail every one of life's little quirks while somehow missing all of the major events of the game itself. "...and that's how you can save a nickel shopping for new tupperware. Hey, I think someone just stole a base, or something!"
The median between these two experiences is, of course, the video game. All-Star Baseball '99 took the gaming world by storm with its hi-res graphics and smooth gameplay. Well, I'm happy to report that the kids over at Acclaim have been up late drinking pots of coffee, because they've managed to improve an already great game. All-Star Baseball 2000 is the best baseball game yet on the consoles, and is this year's clear winner in the race for the proverbial gaming pennant.
For those that care, this game is MUCH better than the other N64 baseballl game, Triple Play 2000. It's barely even a contest. If you're looking to go buy a baseball game, stop reading now, as your question has been answered.
Both critics and gamers lauded the graphics in last year's version, and for good reason. However, ASB 2000 actually manages to look better. These are simply the best graphics yet on the N64. Players move with amazing realism. Stadiums are rendered effortlessly. They even managed to map the faces, build, and batting stance of over 100 players in the league, so that everyone from Big Mac to the DH on the Padres looks true to form. There are no noticeable polygonal errors, and the auto-cameras heighten the drama. Plus, ASB 2000 utilizes the expansion RAM pack. I'm gushing, aren't I?
You'll find all of the basic game modes - Exhibition, Season, Home Run Derby, and GM. There are several choices of season lengths, from the 13/15 game quickie to the full-scale baseball madness of 162 games (with 1999 interleague games optional). In the longer schedules, you'll even find a mid-season All-Star game and a Home Run Derby (the participants are based on stats for that season). You stat mongers will be happy to know that full stat tracking is here, including league leaders, daily home runs, and MVP voting.
Control and gameplay are very similar to last year's version, which is a good thing. Like always, you can choose to swing for contact or for power. One new addition is the ability to 'tilt' the bat target. This allows you more control in hitting a sacrifice fly, not to mention the potential in advancing runners. The 3D batting icon is a welcome addition.
Fielding and pitching remain the same, though you can now control pitch speed. This is useful in fooling the batter a bit. Set 'em up with a fastball, then throw the slow change-up to get 'em whiffing. As a batter, you can try and guess the pitch type and location to increase your chances of success. I really like this aspect of the game - the pitcher/batter duel is one of the most important parts of the game (though note some problems below).
Another notable change is in the instant replays, which look terrific. You have much more control over how to view the replay, and when you slow things down the game looks eerily life-like.
The core of the game lies in the AI, which is well done. The computer is smart enough to understand the basics of the game, and, as you up the difficulty level, you'll find that things get pretty tough.
The sound falls under the "N64 sound always sucks" umbrella. The play-by-play is monotonous and the color commentary is far from colorful, but what can you expect from a cartridge? Let's face it, you're not playing this game for the crowd effects.
Though this is a stand-out title, it is not without its flaws. For one thing, I found it a bit too easy to smack home runs. I found a simple pattern of guessing the fastball (most pitchers have one), waiting until I guessed correctly, then switching to 'power.' This would, more often than not, launch the ball into the bleachers. This would be fine if it was limited to the heavy guns, but I was hitting home runs with most of my lineup. A 70 home run season doesn't look out of the question.
Unfortunately, this problem leads to inflated scores. While I understand that the Yankees are (technically speaking) the best team ever, outscoring opponents by scores of 29-3 or 19-1 is a bit much. I'm good, but not THAT good.
I also have an issue with some of the finer play mechanics, particularly pick-offs and close calls. Sliding looks good, but it seems almost random whether or not you make the tag. Too often, I gave up a double because the runner slid under my tag . . . even though I had the ball in hand for a good two seconds before he reached the bag.
But these problems are mostly minimal. ASB 2000 is a great game and a must-have for any N64 sports library. There's still room for improvement, but not a whole helluva lot. This is about as fancy as you can get on the N64.