Not so great balls of fire.
Remember that Simpson’s episode where Bart and Lisa are playing an ultra-violent video game and one wrestler body slams the other into an open grave, buries him and pees on the tombstone? That clearly drew inspiration from Mortal Kombat, showing a rare appreciation for one of gaming's greatest joys – thrashing a friend in an obnoxious way while basking in their discomfort.
Opportunities to rub noses in flaming remains have waned lately, but they still shine brightly in several of Midway’s franchises, including the MLB Slugfest
is basically NBA Jam
on a baseball diamond, taking our national pastime, cutting out all the realism and adding fire, violence, and that all important substance, Turbo
[image1]The latest, MLB Slugfest 2006, does all that and dropped the price to 20 bucks. The price wasn’t the only thing that got slashed, though, as this year’s game lacks a significant single-player mode or online multi-player content. That’s tough to get past, but fun, wacky offline multiplay is where the series has always earned its contract, so cutting the other modes and charging less actually makes some sense. We just wish this pitch didn’t look so much like last year’s.
The modes are two strikes short of a full count. You can play an Exhibition game, a single Season, or against one team after another. None of these contains any depth whatsoever, merely season-long stat tracking. You can create a player, but most of the options are weirdly tame. Well, almost. You can freely jack your player’s attributes through the roof, since there’s no point cap or balancing system in place. This would matter in a better game, where such an open player creator would undermine any difficulty or sense of accomplishment.
Creating a team fares even worse. You can name a team, pick a city, and edit the line-up, but when it comes time to pick an icon, the only ones available are those of other major league teams. The custom icons, like cobras, rockets and mean clowns, all have to be unlocked. So you wind up picking the A’s logo for your team, the Golden Showers, and then the game sticks you with a random icon that looks like a baseball over two crossed bats. It doesn’t make any sense.
Neither does the A.I. If you play the game on an easier difficulty, the computer will just throw you easy pitch after easy pitch as you put up numbers fit for a basketball game. If you crank up the difficulty, the CPU will throw one insane pitch after another, catch fire, and then completely dominate you until you miraculously hit a home run. As a result, solo play in Slugfest is only interesting for the first hour or two while you figure out the controls. After that, it enters a serious slump.
[image2] Since Slugfest
isn’t playable online, that pretty much leaves offline multiplayer games. With friends, you can either play Exhibition games or set up Tournaments including up to eight teams. Bringing in new players is no problem thanks to simple controls and prompts that pretty much tell you which buttons do what during every phase of the game. You’ll still beat the tar out of your less experienced friends, but they’ll have a good time roughing up your base runners and intentionally hitting your batters. You also don’t have to deal with the game’s terrible A.I. as much during these sessions, making for a much less aggravating experience. Such sofa battles have always been the soul of Midway’s sports games, from Blitz
, and Slugfest
is no exception, even if its spirit has changed little since the last game. In fact, the control scheme and gameplay are pretty much identical to what we saw in last year’s Slugfest: Loaded
The only notable difference is in the pitching. On the surface, it seems really outdated; you select a pitch, place it and hit a button to throw. But rather than fall back on the bland meter power most baseball games, Midway gussies it up with a totally new trick pitch system.
During the windup, you simply enter a fighting game style button combination and watch as your pitcher unleashes a ridiculous pitch. To throw a rising fastball, for example, you press Up, Down and A. “Rising” is a bit of an understatement, though, as the ball flies about an inch above the ground, then shoots up into the strike zone at the last possible second. As far as trick pitches go, that’s pretty mellow; one of the fastballs literally teleports from the pitcher’s hand to the strike zone. This system is very Midway, and it’s perfect for the Slugfest series.
Theoretically, all of the trick pitches are hittable since batting is completely timing based; you just hit a button when the ball gets to the plate. Trying to figure out when the ball will get to the plate is the challenge. If you manage two hits in a row with one player, he''ll catch fire and enjoy an attribute buff. Same goes for a pitcher who gets three strikeouts without giving up a hit, at which point they’ll be able to throw trick pitches without any cost to their turbo meter.
Managing turbo is probably the most involved aspect of the game. If you simply throw trick pitch after trick pitch, you’ll run out. This can kill you, because normal pitches are eminently hittable even if thrown out of the strike zone, and your fielders need turbo to run down balls. The same goes for batters; you need to load up on swings, but have some turbo left over for your base runners, especially since they won’t leave their bases until you tell them to. Seriously, if you load the bases and hit a line drive into the center field gap, your runners will sit like quail unless you command them to go. This is lazy programming, leading to all sorts of base running headaches and confusion.
[image3]At least you can run people over on your way to a base. If your attributes are better than the fielder standing in your way, you’ll knock him silly and he’ll drop the ball. This is especially fun if you have a big, strong player on fire, because then you can pretty much just run around the bases like Juggernaut, crushing everyone between you and home plate. Fielders, on the other hand, can take cheap shots at runners while they stand on bases, so everyone gets a little taste of the violence.
Including the graphics, which are rough, blocky and generally bad. Though the framerate is adequate, weird glitches are common. If a batter hits a home run, for example, he’ll do a little dance upon crossing home plate only to go completely rigid. Must be the roids.
The music and commentary are equally illegal. Both must be turned off. I can’t even explain how bad the music is without making this review unfit for minors, so I’ll just pretend it’s not even in the game. Tim Kitzrow and Jimmy Shorts return to call the plays, and while Tim isn’t a bad straight man, Jimmy is a rambling, incoherent mess of a commentator. When you can understand his jokes at all, they seem incredibly lazy.
That pretty much goes for the rest of MLB Slugfest 2006. For twenty bucks, it provides plenty of wacky pitches and some minor league couch fun, but the lack of modes and new gameplay really hurts. Instead of swinging for the fences, Midway has settled for a walk.