Baseball, a sport that is near and dear to my heart. I played it from age 7 to age 16. I never was quite that good; I had a lot of natural talent and I did hustle; however I never worked at the gifts I was given enough to take myself to the next level. So, me like many have resorted to the crass style of playing games that emulate something we wish we were. To be honest, I sat on this review a long time, not the game itself; I’ve been playing it quite frequently. But the review, …cause I felt so mixed about this game. There were things I really enjoyed, and there were things I really was just kicking myself about. Had I written this review at other points, the rating might have been much higher or much lower. As it turns out, I found myself right smack dab in the middle.
Baseball, like other sports look best when they are trying to be realistic. From Pujols to Ryan Howard to Clemens; this game does deliver in bringing a realistic approach to its presentation. The stadiums look fantastic, and when they say you are playing somewhere specific, you can immediately recognize it to be true. Stances seem to accurate as well as people like Morgan Ensberg and David Ortiz have their batting stance dead on. However, once you go past the how accurate can you make Randy Johnson’s face(or how you real you want to); they do suffer from some plain janeness. While David Ortiz is going to look radically different from say Derek Jeter, a lot of the secondary players tend to act and feel the same. This is especially true of secondary pitchers who tend to blend in as just another body to throw up on the mound. All in all it provides what you need.
The quality of Slugfest in the sound department is average at best. Sure you hear the pop of the bat when it hits the ball. Or the ball hitting the mitt after a nice whiff. But to be honest, that’s about it in the raw sound effects portion of the game. You never ever feel like you are really in the game; there is no crowd momentum; barely any cheering above a whimper. So you hit a ball, get on base, and proceed. The one area where the sounds are wonderful is the announcing of Tim Kitzrow and Jimmy Shorts. They are very funny and very on topic which makes the game more interesting and a better pleasure to play. True, they do get repetitive but this is the most fun I’ve had with an announcing team in a while.
I think I have easily played about 100 baseball games from all types of consoles. You might be surprised to know that my favorite two baseball games are not some super realistic outing. In fact, quite the opposite. Those two are Baseball Simulator 1.000 (NES) and Super Baseball Simulator 1.000(SNES), if I have to throw another one in there…I would pick the original RBI Baseball. Realism is great until it becomes way too hard to hit a baseball and you pushing your analog stick every which way but loose. The reasons I picked up MLB Slugfest 2006 are fairly obvious (not just the $20 pricetag), it is over the top; players can do the imagineable. Or at least that is what the box claims. True, we get some of that with the various pitches, with Lights Out Slider to the Mr Whammy. But pitching is basically where anything really special ends. True in fielding and hitting you can use the turbo function but here it acts really simple. In fielding, it makes the throw faster, it hitting, you have the opportunity for harder and farther hits. But there is nothing special, no hits that are bombs or tags where it picks up the player and slams him down. (I watch wrestling, so sue me). This isn’t some new concept either as I have mentioned; it was in the Baseball Simulators to some degree. If you are going to go over the top, you have to go all the way.
Lets pick on something more basic. Simple game mechanics. Again, I find myself being happy and being angry in the same breath. On one hand, I can make batters chase certain pitches, but nothing seems consistent. Actually it feels rather random. With batting, there really feels very little difference from what is known as a contact swing to a power swing. You honestly can get homers with either type. Once you hit the ball, where it lands can also be of some randomness as it if hits the wall a certain way or lands in front of a fielder in a certain fashion it can turn into a triple or worse. Fielding is often the most difficult aspect as your fielder often finds himself running in forty directions and getting nowhere in the process. Double plays happen way too frequently, mostly when there are popups and your guy tends to get back to the base in time but since its a rocket throw it beats you (even though it looks otherwise). Errors also seem to happen a bit often as balls tend to go off of feet just because they aren’t the currently selected guy you have elected to control.
Challenge is again (wait for it), a mixed bag. This feeds into the popular Midway philosophy of if a team is down; they need to get back into it. Aka, cheating. So it oftens fits into the field of the game is as hard as you make it to be. Unless you never have played a baseball game, you should be able to pick this up and win your share of games. I tend to push my starting pitchers well beyond 6 innings; and to some degree you can do this. But again, if you find yourself up 9-1, no matter how well your guy is pitching; you might want to throw somebody else in. Not that it really matters. Oh, one quick things, kudos to the baserunning and bunting. These are often overlooked concepts and for the most part they really work here. I play a lot of small-ball, and thankfully I can get my licks in.
Once you play this game a few times, you need to find a reason to continue. One thing that would make you keep playing is roster control. I am sorry to report that there is nothing for this. No trades, no building up of players, no free agents, nothing. What is worse, there is no edit of teams function to keep them current. I can’t even keep the lineup the same. (Who the heck puts Ryan Howard, the current NL homerun leader in the 6 spot?) Even worse, the rosters are from February 10th, 2006…this game was put out in June. Inexcuseable. There also is no franchise mode, just some simplified season mode with 52 games. Also there is a challenge mode which I’m playing through; but this one doesn’t keep individual stats either. There are reasons to keep coming back (such as unlockable teams and stadiums but especially if you have no other baseball games to play), but after a few weeks this one will probably collect dust.
Maybe through the words I have used to put together this review, you can see my frustration. I want to like this game, and truthfully I do. But if they added a franchise mode, the chance to just make roster changes and trades if nothing else…this game could have scored an easy 4. As is, it feels just half finished from the only over the top thing being pitching to some crazy baseball physics (that 724 foot homer that you never get to appreciate) to fire going out for a pitcher because when he got up to bat he hit a grounder when that has nothing to do with pitching. True Midway did just release this game at $20 with their last year of a MLB baseball license to make the good ole green. However, if they had taken just a little more time, they could have make a surprise fantastic 4 bagger game. Cause for all of the good things (announcing, pitching, realism of stadiums, did I mention announcing?), there is something equally frustrating (crowd realism, batting, un-realism of secondary players). All in all, if you have nothing better to play baseball on your PS2, it is worth a look. However if you own a NES or SNES, you might want to try the true over the top master pieces of Baseball Simulator 1.000’s. Slugfest 2006 should have went all the way, instead of making this review and their product seem a half finished rush piece.