"The outlook wasn't brilliant for the Mudville 9 that day."
It's spring time again...the birds are chirping, the grass is green, El Nino finally seems to be leaving us alone...and the excitement of baseball season is in the air. So, right on schedule, EA Sports has released their newest baseball game for the Playstation, Triple Play '99 (No, I don't know why its called 99 even though it represents the 98 season).
Overall, the game is very similar to Triple Play '98. It even features the same corny announcers that amuse you for only a few games before getting boring, but at least they say different lines than last year.
Most of the basic controls, such as fielding, hitting, and pitching, have stayed the same, so anyone who has played last year's version should have no trouble picking up the game. You still have normal and aggressive throws, normal and aggressive swings, diving catches in the field and a wide variety of pitches from which to choose. For those of you who have never played a Triple Play game before, the controls are a bit complex, but easy to master with a little practice.
Triple Play '99 features all 30 major league teams (including the two new expansion teams) with complete 1998 rosters. It has a variety of stats for all the players, but offers no team stats. You can play an exhibition game, a tournament, or a full season. Also, it offers a career mode, with drafts after the season and the option to create players. I find this a little ridiculous, however. Lets be realistic...what sane human being would actually play a 162 game baseball season, let alone multiple seasons in a career mode? (Ed Note: We might know a few....).
The only major difference between this year's and last year's play control is in the base running. Previously, you needed to use button combinations (i.e. X and up, or L2 and right) to lead off, steal, and run the bases. This year, EA simplified base running so that all you use is the D pad, making this aspect of the game much more user-friendly.
There is one interesting new addition to base running - you can now have a collision with the catcher at home plate and sometimes knock the ball out of his hands. While this sounds like a cool addition, in reality it's a bit cheesy. Instead of actually colliding with the catcher, the catcher sort of dives out of your way. Not too high on the realism scale, but at least they tried.
In the strategy department, the game is virtually identical to last year's version. You still have all the same options, such as positioning your fielders, calling hit and runs, and needing to warm up your relief pitchers before subbing them into the game. Triple Play '99 still has that annoying quirk that resets everything to the default strategies after every pitch, making it frustratingly time consuming to effectively use the strategy options.
The AI has undergone some change as well. The computer actually plays smart baseball. For example, it will run from first to third on a single, attempt steals at appropriate times, bring in relief pitchers on time, etc. Hooray!
The game's most noticeable change over last year's version is the graphics. It still features polygon graphics, which work well. But the new camera angles make the game very difficult to play. Basically, it feels like you're watching the game on TV. The camera angles change frequently, which can often be disorienting. For example, immediately after you use the shortstop to throw the ball to first, the angle changes to a view behind the first baseman. In most situations where you take an action, the camera changes. This causes the game to run a bit slow, and the graphics are very choppy, especially when fielding. This also makes the game take a long time to play - I averaged over an hour for a nine inning game. This always seemed too long, as I usually grew bored around the sixth inning. It was too much like watching real baseball to be a fun video game.
Overall, however, Triple Play '99 captures much of what has made the series so successful over the years. The minor flaws hold it back from greatness, but it's still a good game.