Reviewed: September 20, 2008
Released: August 5, 2008
It is not often that we find a truly inspiring and challenging baseball title on a handheld system, but Little League World Series 2008 is just that game. Appearing on our desks with very little advanced fanfare, Activision’s newest entry in the sports arena might not hold a big-name MLB license, but this gem sports great touch-based controls, simple user interface, and some of the most genuinely challenging gameplay yet seen on any gaming rig.
I must admit that I did not expect much from Little League World Series 2008.
Given the obscure Little League Baseball licensing and the bobble-headed character art from the cover, I was sure that I was popping in a slightly repackaged cousin of the lackluster Backyard Baseball series.
As the game booted, I began thinking about how the game would manage the complex juggling between the DS’s button-based and stylus-based without resulting in finger-cramping contortions or dropped equipment. I then wondered how the game would address the DS unit’s dual screen layout, and manage both the deep fielding and the infield play with stylus-based throwing.
Well, I have to say that the developers have stepped up to the plate with Little League World Series 2008 and have delivered an enjoyable game that addresses many of the issues that often afflict handheld sports titles.
At the forefront, we have the intuitive control scheme – which addresses any finger fumbling issues by doing away with button-based controls altogether. Every aspect of the game is controlled with the stylus; pitching, batting, fielding, and base running are all controlled with a flick of the stick. While this might initially seem limiting, the implementation is so well done that the stylus movement becomes second nature.
From the batter’s end, the touch screen response recognizes swing power and location, and can even determine bunts, based on a quick swipe across the strike zone. There are times where the game will much up a swipe here or there, but for a majority of the time it is spot on.
As the pitcher, different pitches can be chosen from quick bar at the top. Pitch location can be determined by clicking various locations of a window over home plate, with speed and accuracy determined by a quick-trace minigame that pops up during the wind up.
When fielding a batted ball, the game automatically pans between screens to keep the moving ball located on the bottom touch-screen and automatically moves fielders to the ball, leaving the only decision to be the base throw. Throws are quick and intuitive, and are designed in make it easy to throw to, and between, bases; flick right for first, up for second, left for third, and down for home.
Base running uses the same directional flicks, only they need to be placed directly on the runner being controlled. For instance, to run a player from second to third, you would touch the player and flick to the left. If it looks like the runner might not make it to third base in time, a quick flick up will return him or her back to second base.
But a baseball game would be worthless if the game’s AI is not up to snuff – and that’s really where Little League World Series 2008 shines. Again, not expecting much from Little League World Series 2008, I fully anticipated little or no challenge from the AI, and that is definitely not the case.
The most noticeable challenge comes from the pitching, which acts and adapts naturally to the play at hand. If the game realizes that you are prone to striking at high changeups, you can expect to be hammered with changeups – but just as soon as you realize that the game has taken advantage of your weakness and you decide to hold your swing, the game throws a low heater in the strike zone and puts you back on the bench.
For the most part, the game makes the right base throws, and can even manage pickle situations confidently. The result is a game that feels genuine and authentic, which is not always the case with handheld sports games.
The visuals are actually quite nice for the DS – as least in a low-res old school sort of way. The character models are respectable enough for 2D sprites. The batting and pitching sequences are believable, and while the outfield work is more or less comprised of a birds-eye view of oversized heads bobbling around the field, it all gets the job done.
The audio is surprisingly complete, with umpire calls and crowd cheers, it definitely sounds like a game of baseball. There is no commentary, but that would probably be stretching things a bit on the aging DS.
This is the best game of baseball on the DS right now. With countless hours of straight-up baseball gameplay, topped with a series of goofy minigames and challenge modes – there is enough play to Little League World Series 2008 to make any kid happy.
It’s only too bad that the multiplayer is limited to multi-card ad-hoc wireless, and not via Nintendo’s online network. Then again, the AI is challenging enough, that most gamers will be happy with what they have.
The combination of great AI, a clean user interface, and an intuitive control scheme really makes Little League World Series 2008 enjoyable – much more so in fact than the recent Wii release of the same game.