Reviewed: September 19, 2008
Released:August 05, 2008
While it has not taken long for the game industry to jump on the Wii-waggle casual gaming bandwagon, it has been incredibly difficult for sports titles to match the enjoyment of the pack-in Wii Sports that comes free with the Wii console.
There have been a number of golf, bowling, tennis and baseball titles that have hit the shelves over the past year and a half, and while most have tried to enhance the Wii Sports formula in one way or another – few have been able to ride the fine balance between form and function that Nintendo nailed so well.
Little League World Series 2008, from Activision, is yet another in the chain of games trying to capitalize on the success of the Wii craze. A baseball title reeking of kooky Japanese design, and completely devoid of any MLB licensing – Little League World Series is a very accessible baseball title that does not try all that hard to top Nintendo’s freebie fare, but actually seems to come out on top in many ways.
Of the two baseball games I am currently playing for review (Little League World Series 2008 and MLB Power Pros 2008), Little League World Series 2008 definitely embraces the Wii most wholeheartedly. Everything aspect of the game, from the menu navigation to the in-game controls, uses the Wii console’s Wii mote motion-sensitivity as the primary mode of control.
Purists might argue that 2K Sports’ MLB Power Pros 2008 is the better game – which I would not disagree – but the fact that MLB uses very little waggle control was a bit disappointing for me. Sure Little League World Series 2008 might not allow all of the controller option of MLB Power Pros (which lets gamers hook up using Wii Remote alone, Wii Remote and Nunchuk, GameCube Controller, and the SNES style Classic Controller) but swinging a bat and throwing a ball just feels more enjoyable when you are actually performing the action rather than simply pushing buttons.
That being said, Little League World Series 2008 features some of the best Wii Remote integration of any third party game on the console. And by integration, I mean the integration of the technical aspects of the Wii Remote control – which are incredibly detailed on both sides of the plate.
Pitching is the crux of any baseball game, and Little League World Series 2008 definitely does an excellent job of delivering a pitching interface that is both challenging and enjoyable, and far deeper than the dumbed-down Wii Sports motion control. The difference comes in Little League World Series 2008’s use of additional motion controls – like twisting, and flicking – which opens the process up to a whole library of pitching throws and control.
The batting is similarly deep with surprisingly precise motion control, that is not only sensitive to the traditional swing but also recognizes low swings, high swings, power swings, and bunts simply from the movements of the Wii Remote. Hitting directions are controlled by timing the swing rather than by batter’s stance, but Little League World Series 2008 definitely raises the bar set by Wii Sports mad hacking.
In fact, in terms of pitching and batting controls – it is safe to say that Little League World Series 2008 has Wii Sports beaten, hands-down, simply because the game forces the gamer to take responsibility for his or her actions.
I don’t know about you readers, but I have a three children under seven, and although all three of them love Wii Sports baseball, it’s more because they can swing their arms willy-nilly without giving a second thought to what they are doing – and generally they can get a hit. Little League World Series 2008 requires a bit more thought, without being too complex.
Once Little League World Series 2008 gets to fielding and baserunning, all bets are off. And that’s because the fielding and baserunning are performed almost entirely automatically by the game. Sure the game requires both sides to shake their remotes furiously, but there is not much user responsibility beyond that. Fielders get to balls on their own, thrown balls pretty much go to the appropriate bases, fielders make the right cutoffs, and baserunners advance or retreat as they should. There are options to lessen the automated actions, and to let players choose base throws and such, but they are very disorienting whilst shaking the remote, and it is just too easy to let the game take care of the decisions.
Little League World Series 2008 at least allows the AI players to actually run multiple bases and/or be thrown out – which is still more than what Wii Sports Baseball allows – but this is where 2K and Konami’s MLB Power Pros 2008 begins to move ahead with its deeper degree of old-school button-based fielding and batting controls. But that’s not to say that their game does not have its own share of problems – but you will have to read that review to find out.
As for options, Little League World Series 2008 throws in a whole host of minigames based around pitching and batting; from the traditional batting minigames like Home Run Tourney (nee Derby) and Frenzy, to some really cool pitching minigames that blend in the world of bowling and carnival midway games.
As for the lack of a proper MLB license, Little League World Series 2008 is officially licensed instead by Little League. As so, the teams take the regional route, with names like “Great Lakes” and “Mid Western”. While it is a tad disappointing that you cannot play as your local MLB team, it is very cool that the game lets you build your own regional team from the bottom up – and girls will enjoy the fact that teams are co-ed.
Given the fact that this game came out with little fanfare from Activision, it was a bit surprising that the game sports such a high degree of presentation and polish. While all Wii titles are going to have some issues in the graphics department, simply because of the console’s own visual limitations – Little League World Series 2008 comes out looking quite well, and even delivers the Wii’s equivalent of HD in 16:9 480p (technically we would call this ED, for Enhanced Definition).
The character models try to bridge the gap between Mii-style characters and Japanese bobble-headed Anime. Featuring the basic top-heavy structure of the Mii’s, but with the big eyes and delicate facial features of Japanese kokeshi dolls. It’s kinda like Naruto-meets-baseball, but that’s cool in its own way.
The game does a great job with respect to special effects; with neat action cutaways, action blurs, and focus effects, the game might not bridge any new territory but does what it does very well.
The sound on the other hand, is incredibly thin. On one hand, the game tries to personalize the game with a very shallow level of voiceovers, referring to players by their numbers or tags like “the all star” or something similar. The announcers do call bases, and the umpires definitely sound authentic, and the diamonds even come with crowd noise – but still the game comes up a bit thin.
It does not help much that the background music is about as stereotypical as Japanese MIDI music gets – with only a few tracks that run incessantly, most gamers will quickly do away with the sound long before the first minigame has been completed.
Wii games get the benefit of being judged on their Value based on a few additional criteria than most console games. Items like motion integration, party play, and ease of use additionally come into play when we rate our Wii reviews – and as so Little League World Series 2008 comes up roses.
With great pick up-and-play gameplay, a whole library of skill-based challenges, and more depth that you’ll find in Wii Sports Baseball - Little League World Series 2008 is really a great package for the whole family. I had a pretty good time playing the game on my own – but it was an utter blast with the kids. They, more than anyone, really had a great time with the game, and left feeling elated that they had actually accomplished something – which makes a Dad feel great, and makes things like “dynasty modes” and “deep gameplay” irrelevant.
Little League World Series 2008 might not be the best or deepest baseball game on the Wii (for that, you need to look to MLB Power Pros 2008), but it does feature the best Wii Remote integration, and acts as a natural extension of Wii Sports Baseball.
I would definitely suggest giving Little League World Series 2008 a rental before splurging the full MSRP of $50, especially under the allure of Mario Super Sluggers. But I do think that there are a lot of gamers out there, especially kids, who will have a blast with Little League World Series 2008.