Basebrawl is back.
Spring has sprung and it's time to play ball. It seems like only yesterday that Bonds smashed #600, Tejada won the AL MVP and the Angels won the series with that stupid monkey in the stands. Oh well, I'm just happy I didn't have to put up with that annoying chop chant. C'mon people, that thing's been stale for years now.
One thing that wasn't stale last year was Midway's first shot into the extreme baseball category. Slugfest 2003 took both the MLB and the PS2 sales charts by storm in classic Midway sports style. There aren't any fatalities here, but you'll definitely experience more violence on this diamond than any other.
This season, Slugfest 2004 blasts onto the PS2 for even more madcap baseball. Rosters have been updated and a few new features have been added, but will it be enough to get this team into the playoffs? Maybe... and maybe not.
Even if you didn't get a chance to play Slugfest 2003, you'll quickly figure out the basics. The main game of baseball remains unchanged - throw ball, hit ball, catch ball - but it's all extremed out. Players have the ability to get "on fire" and increase their speed and strength along with improved contact, power and bunt stats. All a player needs to do to get this flamin' bonus is get two consecutive hits. Augment your normal turbo ability with this firepower and you've got one monster of a ballplayer. Sounds like a game plan to me.
Then there's the full contact base-running. Rather than relying on pure speed to get on base, runners have the ability to get physical with the basemen (Olivia Newton-John not included). Kick your cleats up in the air as you slide or run right over the guy to get the call. Or if you're already on base, just sucker punch the player with the ball and run like hell as he staggers around. Sportsmanship at its finest.
In true Midway fashion, Slugfest 2004 removes all the pesky management aspects of the game with its arcade style of play. Just pick a team a start throwing the ball and swinging the bat. You can still sub pitchers in, but don't expect to carry a team with your mid-season trade decisions and draft picks. Slugfest keeps it simple and definitely won't appeal to would-be managers.
One of the new features for '04 is the "special pitch." Throw five strikes and the man on the mound will gain a ridiculous, superhuman pitch. One guy might throw a corkscrew, another guy a cockeyed, impossibly-angled screwball mess. It's almost as if Wile E. Coyote dropped Acme baseballs into the hands of these guys. Not a bad addition at all.
Another newbie is the Create-A-Team option. Fill out your roster from the best of the league, pick a team name, logo and stadium and start kicking butt. Salary cap, shmalary cap.
Last of the notable new additions is the Home Run Derby mode. Just choose from a list of the game's powerhouses, pick out a few simple options like skill level, pitch type and location and you're ready to start swinging. It's not nearly as exciting as the real thing, but it's still a fair distraction.
By far the biggest problem with Slugfest 2004 is that even with the new additions, it feels like very little has changed. The game still gets really repetitive when playing solo and the very same fielding problems from '03 are back. Guys are occasionally slow to respond in the field and the "change player" button still comes up with the wrong decision every once in a while. I even had a weird instance where a deep ball down the 3rd base line was called a home run even though it was well short of the wall. As it stands, 2004 feels exactly like its predecessor with a few new inconsequential features thrown in.
Being the same isn't all bad, though, as the best color commentary duo in the business makes another appearance with more smart remarks and silly antics. I'm still amazed that a game like Slugfest can support a comedy act like this. Keeping these guys has got to be the best move in the entire game.
But even the commentators can't make this one a clear winner. As with any sports game, Slugfest 2004 is a great multiplayer trip; it just doesn't have enough to keep the single-player afloat. The new features are nice, but it's really just last season all over again. If real baseball turns out like this game, we're all going to have a serious monkey problem.