Reviewed: July 13, 2002
Reviewed by: Mark Smith
Released: June 25, 2002
I’ve always loved the extreme and often humorous twists that Midway has been putting on our favorite sporting events in recent years, but when I heard they were putting their unique “spin” on the sport of baseball I was a bit skeptical and yes – even worried. Treating America’s favorite pastime with any sort of irreverence is just asking for trouble; or is it?
MLB SlugFest 20-03 is the newest game to join Midway’s rapidly growing line of extreme sports titles – extreme in the gameplay sense of the word; not in the sport itself. And like previous games in this unique sports genre, there is plenty of over-the-top, adrenaline action. When the announcer says “Sammy Sosa’s on fire tonight!”, expect to see flames leaping off his uniform.
Perhaps what is most surprising is that beneath all the glitz and crazy action there is a pretty good baseball game here. Admittedly, the gameplay has been simplified and sped up to suit the type of gamer this title would probably appeal to, but there is still plenty of good old-fashioned baseball to be had.
I was pleased that Midway managed to secure licensing rights for all the players, teams and stadiums. This gives the whole game a much more professional feel to what would otherwise be a funky arcade game. Like any good Midway sports title there is plenty of hidden bonus stuff including wild player models, fantasy stadiums, and much more.
SlugFest has an impressive line-up of features:
I had recently just finished a season with Acclaim’s All-Star Baseball 2003 which is about as serious as a baseball game can get. This only made SlugFest seem even easier than it really is. Even if you know nothing about the sport of baseball you can pick-up a controller and with very little practice start cracking balls out of the park. Control is effortless and so intuitive your mother (or mother-in-law) can play.
Everything that can be done in SlugFest is executed with a single button press. If you are batting you pick your power/contact/bunt with a button. If you are on the mound you pick your slider/curve/fastball/changeup with a button. The simplicity of all this control boils down to the simple fact that each and every pitch can be hit if you can get the timing down.
The pitcher gets a secondary menu before actually throwing the pitch that lets you pick-off a runner on base or intentionally “bean” the batter – a “dirty move” I am pretty sure has never been included in a baseball game before; at least not assigned its own button. Beaning a batter can offer some strategic value when used properly. Nailing a batter with a 90mph fastball is going to cause some damage and result in the loss of his attributes depending on where you strike him.
A ball to the head results in loss of Hitting while a body shot reduces overall power, and a hit to the leg will hurt his speed. But don’t think you can destroy your opponent’s stats by intentionally walking the entire team. If you intentionally hit a player you risk the chance that they will get “fired up” with mega-stats and superhuman player abilities. Try to bean a flaming player and he will snatch that ball up with his bare hand then rush the mound to give it back to you in an “unfriendly manner”.
Fielding can be challenging only because the computer AI is so good about hitting the ball where you are not. You can move your fielders around to left, right, or center and have them play deep or short based on the batter’s stats, but you will still want to be ready to manually take over the fielder nearest the ball. A quick button tap can have you dive for the ball or climb the wall for a great catch. You can also pre-throw the ball to the desired base, which allows for some smooth catch-throw transition animations.
The Turbo function is a modifier that has been present in all these Midway extreme games. Each team has a limited amount of Turbo power they can expend during gameplay to supercharge their moves. Need some extra juice on that pitch, or some extra yardage on that grand slam or a burst of speed to steal 2nd base; just hold down the Turbo button. The Turbo meter is refilled each time you switch from offense to defense, but you can fill it up faster by performing skillful plays during each half of the inning.
These “adjustments” to the classic sport of baseball don’t detract from the overall gameplay, but in reality offer some interesting strategic twists that even purists of the sport may find intriguing. You probably won’t find another baseball game that lets your runner sucker punch the 2nd baseman, knock the ball loose, then steal third while he tries to recover the ball clutching his stomach. Don’t feel like getting your uniform dirty on a 3rd base slide – just stiff-arm the baseman as you arrive at the base to knock him on his butt. Now he’s the one with the dirty uniform.
SlugFest offers plenty of standard gaming modes you would expect in a sports title. You have your Exhibition (quick) game, Tournaments, Team-by-Team Challenge modes, and a 52-game Season. Admittedly, the season is about 1/3 the length of an actual season, but is still more than enough to give you that long-term goal and feeling of accomplishment when finished.
By default, a SlugFest game lasts 7 innings. You can bump this down to 4 or up to the regulation 9, but keep in mind that the nature of this game allows for some very high scoring games. My first few games had scores in the 20’s and 30’s for each team and took nearly as long as a low-scoring 9-inning simulation game in ASB 2003. Gameplay may be accelerated, but scores will run into the extreme.
Much of the high scoring in SlugFest is due to the incredibly hard computer AI. The computer-controlled fielders seldom miss any ball that has any airtime. You either need to hit grounders, line drives, or nail the ball out of the park. When the computer is up to bat they have the uncanny ability to accurately drop the ball into the field where your coverage is weakest. The level of AI difficulty will test all of your playing skills and ultimately require the use of the Turbo assisted plays if you ever plan on winning more than a few games.
MLB SlugFest 20-03 is without a doubt the finest looking baseball games you will find on the PlayStation 2. Each player is modeled with abundant polygons and mapped with realistic facial and uniform textures to create the most lifelike players I have ever seen in a baseball game – even in the serious sims like ASB 2003.
But the beauty of this game isn’t fully apparent until you see these guys move, and oh what moves they have. Every realistic play you would ever hope to see has been perfectly motion-captured creating an authentic baseball experience, but the best moves are the fun and fancy moves. Fielders will catch a ball behind their back, batters will swing so hard they spin around after a strike until they get dizzy and wobble around. Batters with attitude will saunter up to the plate and hold out their hand as a bat flies into it from some off-camera batboy. This is what baseball would be like if the WWF ever got hold of it.
There are plenty of extra graphical goodies. Play in fantasy stadiums like the Roman Coliseum or input those famous Midway codes to get all sorts of wacky combinations of player models with various animal heads, etc.
All of the great Turbo effects are here to enhance those crazy plays. The ball leaves a smoke trail when hit and colored streaks with thrown, making it quite easy to locate the ball and direction of travel. Players will burst into flame when their stats are boosted. There is nothing more intimidating that pitching to a batter who is “on fire” when bases are loaded.
The stadiums are all very well rendered with plenty of detail and lively animated crowds – perhaps not as much detail as you would find in the more serious sims, but they look fabulous for the type of game this is. The camera angles are great. You can pick from several zoom levels at the plate, and when the computer takes over it always does a great job of tracking the action from the best possible angle.
If you want the best serious baseball commentary then it doesn’t get any better than the 3-man booth commentary in ASB 2003, but if you want the most outrageously funny commentary you have ever heard since Bob Uecker in the Major League movies you’ve come to the right game.
There were times when I was busting up laughing that I had to pause the game. Tim Kitzrow shares the booth with fictional color-commentator, Jimmy Shorts to create some of the best baseball banter since Abbot and Costello did their famous baseball gag. Jimmy will make some of the most random comments that are just as funny as they are inappropriate. Even better is when he insults the human player with lines like, “You have to hit a button” or "Don't blame the batter - blame the guy with the controller" after a strikeout.
There is actually a lot of commentary available and I didn’t start to hear repeating comments until well into the season. Even when they did repeat they were just as funny the second time around. In addition to the excellent commentary are the hilarious shouts, cheers, and taunts from the audience. “We need a pitcher…not a belly itcher.” Hearing this taunt is something you’d expect from the crowd at a little league game; not in Comiskey Park.
Sound effects are equally as excellent from the crackling of flames on your turbo-charged players to the whoosh of the ball or the crack of the bat. The entire package is wrapped nicely with a great intro song from Dry Kill Logic. I’d never heard of them before this year’s E3 show when I got to see them perform live at the Midway booth. Great band and a killer version of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”.
Sports game are repetitive by their very nature, but when you totally tweak the gameplay to include all the great over-the-top action that Midway stuffs into their twisted look on the sport, you have a game that is just as fun after 100 games as it was the first time you played it.
Playing through a season and the various challenge modes will easily occupy 50-70 hours of your life. There are plenty of extra goodies but, playing in fantasy stadiums or with crazy character models doesn’t change the game or give you any additional reasons to replay it.
The two-player game is great and offers excellent head-to-head action. If you find the computer AI to be overly difficulty just find a friend that you can stomp to boost your ego back into shape.
MLB SlugFest 20-03 features the best looking players ever seen in a baseball game, and their crazy animated antics will delight you each and every game no matter how many times you see that behind-the-back catch. The commentary is pure genius and if real baseball was narrated this way I would probably watch it more often, but then again, I had high hopes for Dennis Miller in the booth for Monday Night Football, so what do I know?
Underneath all this adrenalin-charged action is a competent baseball game that offers simple controls and challenging gameplay – a combination that will appeal to the casual gamer as well as the most diehard baseball fan. SlugFest will have no trouble satisfying your thirst for baseball until the 20-04 version inevitably arrives.