Game Over Online ~ Baseball Advance

GameOver Game Reviews - Baseball Advance (c) THQ, Reviewed by - Fwiffo

Game & Publisher Baseball Advance (c) THQ
System Requirements Game Boy Advance
Overall Rating 85%
Date Published Thursday, April 25th, 2002 at 09:06 PM

Divider Left By: Fwiffo Divider Right

The last time I played a baseball game on another platform I was utterly overwhelmed by the complexity of America's favorite pastime and in the end, spent more time in the home run derby option than anything else. Baseball Advance rekindles that arcade feeling of baseball not only with its top-notch visuals on the GBA, but also meticulous care in crafting a game around the handheld format to provide fun, first and foremost, rather than realism. Baseball Advance is published by THQ and developed by Smilebit, the crew that put Jet Grind Radio on the Dreamcast and Jet Set Radio Future on the Xbox. So what do developers of futuristic skating know about baseball? As it turns out, they know quite enough to make a compelling game out of it.

Baseball Advance comes with four basic play modes: Exhibition Play, Season Play, Playoffs and All-Star. Some of the things we take for granted in franchises like Triple Play are missing but excusable due to the constraints of the platform. Surprisingly, Baseball Advance leads you through an entire hundred plus baseball game season, including stats tracking and improvement for your own team. The caveat, of course, is the fact that there are very little stats beyond your team and any notion of franchising is non-existent. There are no options to trade players or manage a team after the season, which turns out to be quite annoying if you go through a season wracked with injuries. But as the French say, c'est la vie.

The game of baseball in an electronic format can be succinctly broken down into four areas: batting, pitching, fielding and base-running. Indeed, in Baseball Advance you are responsible for all four by default but luckily, there is computer aid for the latter two, should you decide those are too much for you to handle. Fielding is particularly a nuisance due to the fact that the ball in Baseball Advance travels fast but the players you control are not exactly the speediest out on the field. This problem is exasperated by the fact that the game automatically selects which player is best for you, so if you were going to ask an infielder to go slightly deeper to catch a fly ball, the game might switch you to an outfielder and your motion to move upwards will actually move the outfielder further away. This would easily be rectified with a longer zoom angle when fielding. The game, however, offers a static monolithic view of the game when on field. There is pre-set panning but no zooming. Automatic fielding truly saves the day on this one but it is not without faults either. Foul balls directly behind the catcher contributing to an easy out are often completely ignored by the pitcher and catcher. To catch those, you'll have to manually move your pitcher behind the plate. This happens despite 'automatic fielding'.

Similar illogical behavior plagues base running. In hectic and desperate scramble situations, two runners will congregate at the same base, neither willing to move away for the other teammate's sake. The AI in that situation is equally bewildered as it doesn't know whether to throw the ball to that base, and simply walks up to tag the open runner out. However, such problems are fairly rare. They only occur, at most, once every game and the defects are overshadowed by the batting/pitching components. The most impressive aspect of the game is undoubtedly the batting. Here, you get to see extremely fluid animation and design. Some batters, like Chuck Knoblauch, have a completely different stance from someone like Carlos Delgado. And if GBA fans (and some critics) were inspired by the animation of a few pixels in other games, the visuals from the catcher's plate will raise their bar of expectations permanently. The mechanics of batting is actually quite fun to grasp. You have a power meter that you can charge, preferably during the pitcher's windup. You also have a target area in the strike zone with the area's size dependent on the skill of your batter (and not necessarily the batting average either). The better skilled your batter is, the larger the hit zone and less guessing you'll have to do as to where the ball is going. This lets you guess where the ball is coming from a pitch but as the ball closes in, your batter will make the decision for you. You can, however, anticipate a pitch in a certain area by holding down the A button to power up. If you execute all this in tandem with the pitch, you're more often than not going to get a home run. The batting is all about timing but it gives you flexibility over your at-bats that are greatly appreciated. Sometimes, it's better to forego power-ups to prevent easy fly balls and aim for low power line drives. True, this type of technique, when mastered, will result in a flurry of home runs but Baseball Advance has no pretensions in becoming a serious baseball simulation.

Pitching, on the other hand, is slightly simplified. You use the directional controls to select a type of pitch from your pitcher's arsenal and then use the target to aim inside or outside the strike zone. There is no easy way to strike out the AI players, but throw enough pitches at the outside corner of the strike zone and the AI batters will more often than not chase your pitches. Fatigue is depicted by increasingly slower pitches and increasing amount of inaccuracy by your pitcher, at which point relievers should be sent in.

Baseball Advance is a fond reminder of the days when baseball was considered an arcade game. Though it lacks some of the requisite derby modes, it features the full roster of Major League players and teams, as well as four of the famed Major League parks, although I'm still rather irritated SkyDome was not included, but that's my pet peeve with the game. The piece de resistance is undeniably the batting and pitching. The other parts of the game merely dress it up to become a full baseball title. It certainly has its Achilles heels, with respect to automatic fielding or base running, as well as the fact that in all arcade baseball games there is a propensity for ridiculously high scores. If you can accept that aspect of Baseball Advance, then you'll be surprisingly charmed. As for me, I'm glad someone has put the fun back into baseball.


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