MLB Slugfest Loaded
When I was a kid I used to get excited whenever a bench-clearing brawl erupted. However in later years I came to realize that these so-called brawls were really just heated discussions, and that the heated discussions were really just casual misunderstandings. Yea, baseball isn’t the most testosterone enraged sport but at least we have Midway to thank for trying to inject some sort of mayhem into it. With its Slugfest franchise, the company has consistently provided a franchise that offers some much needed excitement to the sport, and the latest entry is no exception.
I’ve been playing MVP Baseball 2004 and World Series 2K4 for the past few months, so I’m glad for this change of pace. Playing a realistic recreation of the sport is entertaining, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes I just don’t feel like dealing with things like contracts and payrolls. There are times when I just want to hit the field, turn off my brain and enjoy myself. For this I turn to the Slugfest franchise. In case you’re not familiar with the franchise, think of it as baseball on BALCO. Everyone has a cannon, everyone has a huge bat, and the players think nothing of sucker punches. Strategy doesn’t revolve around pitching matches of shifts in the outfield, but instead consist of deciding whether to pitch to the current guy or whether to bean him. This may all seem barbaric, and in truth it is, but it’s also insanely fun. It gives you the opportunity to toss most of the rules out the window and enjoy baseball the way you’d like it.
That’s just part of the appeal of the game; the other comes in the form of user-friendliness. Forget about doing silly things like warming up pitchers in the bullpen. If your guy is getting shelled out there, just make a call to the ‘pen and you’ve got yourself a fresh arm that’s ready to go. Pitching is easy and is akin to the olden days where you’d pick a part of the strike zone and toss the ball. You still have to select what kind of pitch you want to throw, but if the guy at the plate is a decent hitter, chances are it won’t matter. The name of the game here is runs, runs, runs, and they come in droves. It’s not to say that the pitcher is at a disadvantage though. By getting five strikes throughout the course of the game he’ll unlock his Looney Toons pitch. These include fastballs that haul ass at the batter, only to put on the brakes at the last second, making the batter swing and miss like a jackass. The best part of all of this is that it’s painfully easy to play. Even a four-year-old can pick it up. Although I probably wouldn’t start with Slugfest if I wanted to teach him about the finer intricacies of our favorite pastime.
To add some depth and realism into the game Slugfest now features a Franchise mode where players have to deal with real issues like, trades and other boring baseball jargon. By changing a couple of options, you can also rid the game of the turbo meters and special pitches. The Turbo meters operate here like they do in Midway’s other games. Holding the Turbo button while performing an action will make it faster, stronger and more INTENSE. I’m not sure why Midway decided to present the game with this option. In doing so they essentially deprive the game of its biggest gimmick, stripping down into your run-of-the-mill baseball game. You gotta leave that kind of stuff to the pros, guys who can do it much better too might I add.
As you might expect, the visual look of the game is heavily exaggerated as well, but Midway pulls it off quite nicely. Players look fairly realistic and animate with a decent amount of fluidness. Stadiums look nice with the highly being the flag waving animation. For some odd reason games have a hard time getting the flag waving right, at times making it look like a poorly spliced animated .gif. It’s a minor detail but one that I personally applaud. Of course the real highlight of the game comes in the form of particle effects. Impressive is a great word to use to describe the fire effects. Just the way it moves and flows with the bat, the way that it tails the ball and follows the path of a throw is interesting to watch. Stadiums are kind of below par from what the competition is offering, but definitely passable.Where the game really excels is in the commentary. I’ve been complaining about dry play-by-play commentary in baseball games for years and it appears that Midway’s been listening. They took two virtually unknown people, put them in a booth together, told them to have some fun and the end result is amazing. While most games have a two-man booth, the commentators rarely play off of each other. Midway’s guys ALWAYS play off of each other, giving you the impression that they’re really there together. Best of all is the fact that the guys take everything tongue-in-cheek, kind of like the announcers for Spike TV’s hilarious game show spoof Most Extreme Elimination Challenge. And in addition to being hilarious, the commentary is spliced together fairly well too. Commentators will start on a thought, call the action on the field and then finish the thought after the call. It’s almost up to par with All-Star Baseball’s commentary where Steve Lyons will talk through plays and inning changes.
About a decade ago when Midway’s NBA Jam franchise appeared in the Arcade it suffered from a feature known as rubber-band AI. It basically ensured that every single competition was a tight one by lowering or increasing a player’s performance based on how well they were doing. Though it was great at making the games exciting, it was annoying to build up a huge lead only to see it whither away in the waning moments. It seems like Midway is still in love with this feature as it plagues Slugfest as well. You could shutout the AI for six good innings and cruise along but by the seventh, you can bet your chickens that they’ll come back and make it close. Suddenly that number eight hitter who was killing worms all day will be able to hit booming homeruns. The same applies to the pitching as well. You can be killing the ball at the plate but if you’re winning in the sixth or the seventh, you can expect to see a significant drop-off. This isn’t a huge problem for most players, but all of the stat freaks out there will be pretty mad when their ERAs skyrocket from 1.20 to 4.00 in the middle of an inning.
For a game that just came out last month the rosters are woefully out of date. You’d think that 40 or so games into season that the developers could have at least had the opening day rosters in the game. It’s a shame that you’ll be playing with a Dodger team that has Bubba Trammel in left field and Todd Hundley on the bench. What’s wrong with this picture? Trammel didn’t even make it out of spring training and Hundley’s not even on the team’s roster. Come to think of it this game was released well after the Dodgers acquisition of Milton Bradley and he’s still on the Indians as far as Slugfest is concerned. Much to my surprise A-Rod was actually on the Yankees alongside Kevin Brown, the man who always gets your hopes up with a 9-1 start only to be stricken down by a mild case of diarrhea or whatever you come down with when you make $15 million a year.
When you get tired of playing with yourself (and let’s face it, it gets kind of lonely) you can indulge in the game’s online mode. There’s nothing too deep here so don’t get visions of starting up a fantasy league in your head. You’re relegated to simple one-on-one action with another player. It’s nothing deep but it’s a nice inclusion for people who are lacking in the social skills department. On top of that the game features a nice set of unlockables, including teams built upon Mortal Kombat properties Sub-Zero and Scorpion. There are some neat teams here to check out and they’ll be worth your while.
Baseball is a gentlemen’s sport, but Midway’s game is anything but gentle. It does an admirable job of stripping the game of its mundane intricacies while keeping the finer portions of the sport intact. This latest entry is the best in the franchise yet. If you’re a fan of the series or if you’re looking for something different, do yourself a favor and check it out. It’s not going to change your mind about MVP or ESPN but it’ll definitely take a few hours off of that weekend.
Midway takes a trip to BALCO and beefs up this year's game. It might not be the most polished, or realistic baseball title, but it's a hell of a lot of fun for anyone looking to avoid the mundane aspects of the sport.
Rating: 7.7 Above Average
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
Gaming has been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. I can still recall many a lost nights spent playing Gyromite with that stupid robot contraption for the old NES. While I'm not as old as the rest of the crew around these parts, I still have a solid understanding of the heritage and the history of the video gaming industry.
It's funny, when I see other people reference games like Doom as "old-school" I almost begin to cringe. I bet that half of these supposed "old-school" gamers don't even remember classic games like Rise of the Triad and Commander Keen. How about Halloween Harry? Does anyone even remember the term "shareware" anymore? If you want to know "old-school" just talk to John. He'll tell you all about his favorite Atari game, Custer's Revenge.
It's okay though, ignorance is bliss and what the kids don't know won't hurt them. I'll just simply smile and nod the next time someone tells me that the best entry in the Final Fantasy franchise was Final Fantasy VII.
When I'm not playing games I'm usually busy sleeping through classes at a boring college in Southern Oregon. My current hobbies are: writing songs for punk rock bands that never quite make it, and teasing Bart about... well just teasing Bart in general. I swear the material writes itself when you're around this guy. He gives new meaning to the term "moving punching bag."
As for games, I enjoy all types except those long-winded turn-based strategy games. I send those games to my good pal Tyler, I hear he has a thing for those games that none of us actually have the time to play.
When I'm not busy plowing through a massive pile of video games I spend all of my time trying to keep my cute little girl fed. She eats a ton but damn she's so hot. Does anyone understand the Asian girl weight principal? Like they'll clean out your fridge yet still weigh less than 110 pounds.
Currently I'm playing: THUG, True Crime, Prince of Persia, Project Gotham 2 and Beyond Good & Evil. View Profile