The Kid is alright.
As baseball season nears the halfway point, it's strange to find yet another N64 baseball game hitting the market. It seems like only yesterday I was applauding the pennant winning All-Star Baseball 2000 and canning the awful Triple Play 2000. I guess time really flies when you're playing games.
Last year, Ken Griffey Jr. Baseball was a pallid arcade version of America's favorite pastime. In an effort to better compete with Acclaim's wunderkind, Nintendo Sports dug deep into their bag of tricks to add more realism and depth to the sequel. The result is Ken Griffey Jr.'s Slugfest, an updated and improved version of The Kid's first shot.
The biggest difference between this game and last year's game is the emphasis on realism. Last year gave us a very arcade oriented take on baseball, complete with chessy sound effects and goofy graphics. Thankfully, Slugfest opts for hi-res graphics, an improved batting mechanism, and a much more realistic experience overall.
Most of the basic elements are here. You can play Exhibition games, a full Season, a Homerun Derby, and Create a Player. One bizarre omission is the lack of an instant replay feature. While this doesn't have a major effect on gameplay, it's still a bit weird to not see this as an option.
When it comes to to gameplay, Slugfest scores a few points. Batting and fielding are done well. Taking a cue from ASB, Slugfest incorporates a batting icon (complete with sweet spot) to up the feel. It takes some time to get used to, but once you do you'll find the game surprisingly playable and challenging.
Pitching is a bit less fulfilling. You get 4 pitches for each pitcher, but that doesn't necessarily lead to wider variety. For instance, two of Roger Clemens' pitches are fastballs - one deemed a "super" fastball. Hmmm. I never learned that pitch in little league...
The AI is decent. It took some time before I was able to compete with the computer, which is a good thing. I would liked to have seen more of an emphasis on the pitcher/batter duel, however, as this is usually the most compelling aspect of the game.
Slugfest takes huge strides in the graphics department. Smoother textures, more realistic movements, and more lifelike players complement the gameplay. Slugfest utilizes the RAM pack and allows you a choice of 4 different resolutions, though the differences between them are barely noticeable. Of course, the RAM expansion is always good to have, but it's really not all that necessary in Slugfest. However, even with all this improvement, Slugfest's graphics still fall short of All Star Baseball 2000.
The sound is a let-down, but this is hardly shocking on the N64. Ken Griffey's commentary is boring and sporadic, the play-by-play is weak, and the music is annoying. One bright spot is the umpires, who make interesting comments and have varied kinds of calls.
Perhaps the biggest problem with Slugfest is the overall lack of options. Compared to ASB 2000, Slugfest has much less depth. You can't 'predict' pitch type or location, you have far fewer options in the Create-A-Player mode, and you just don't have as many gameplay choices.
While Slugfest is much improved over the previous installment, it just doesn't have the oomph to really compete with ASB 2000. The gameplay, graphics, and overall feel are a few notches below the reigning champ, though still miles ahead of bush league Triple Play 2000. Slugfest is the definitive mid-range game - not the best, but certainly not the worst. The Kid may be at the top his game, but his game is in the middle of the pack.