Video games are by definition fast-paced and exciting, perfect for those with short attention spans.
America's pastime, baseball, is intrinsically slow and methodical. Pitcher throws the ball, batter swings, fielder throws back to the pitcher.
So how well does the grand old game translate to the world of flesh-eating zombies and sassy squirrels? After watching Tuesday's Major League Baseball All-Star game, we decided to put the recent crop of baseball titles under the microscope.
Rock 'em, sock 'emThe makers of MLB Slugfest: Loaded figured out the easy way to appeal to the gamer nation: Spice up grandpa's baseball with fighting, sass and flames.
On this diamond, the laws of physics — and the game — get skewered slightly. Here, when a batter runs near a fielder trying to tag him out, he can start throwing a flurry of fists and elbows to knock the ball free. Unlike actual baseball, these scrums don't come with bench-clearing brawls. Even though we saw what the makers were doing — simply adding run-of-the-mill violence — it was still fun to smack Nomar Garciaparra of the Red Sox in the mouth as he trotted back to the dugout.
When each batter came to the plate, he brought with him a little of that "Fox Attitude," which seemed woefully out of place for a guy like the very vanilla Dodger Shawn Green. (Taunting the pitcher sure doesn't seem like any Shawn Green we know, but going down swinging on three consecutive pitches appears accurate enough.)
Then there are the flames. Make enough cool plays or pop a big home run, and flames appear around the player who is now literally "on fire." Let's see you try that in real life, Sammy Sosa.
The controls are the easiest of the games we tried, but that might not necessarily be good for those seeking a true simulator. The graphics looked decent, but Dodger Stadium at night was a little dark. All of the players looked about like they do in real life, except for those personality transplants. The commentary by a couple of made-up characters was horribly, horribly bad.
Still, the arcade-type action is what made "Slugfest" one of the better titles we tried.
Lighten upMVP Baseball 2004 is from the same company that puts out the Madden NFL Football series. Like its pigskin brethren, MVP is easily the best baseball simulator around. It's also too serious for its own good.
Sure, the simplicity of the controls makes it easy. For instance, pitching requires a combination of logical button hits, much like a golf game. Besides all the usual major league teams, two minor league clubs for each team are available to play or use to stock the major league roster. Gamers can also unlock old stadiums and older players.
Problem is, with all the effort that went into making it as honest to baseball as it could be, the makers forgot to make it exciting for the average controller hound. With the exception of a couple of mini games such as the home run showdown (in which two batters square off simultaneously, hitting enough home runs to meet a chosen cumulative distance), the rest of the play was ho-hum.
The players aren't modeled very well. However, the makers did manage to give Dodger Stadium a cool, retro feel by leaving the old-school scoreboard and simple blue walls.
Don't get us wrong: If you are a rabid baseball fan, this one is for you. The rest of us will have to look elsewhere.
Just like on TVHere's a question: Do the guys who create those cool ESPN graphics get paid double when their work is copied into the video games?
ESPN Baseball, like its football counterpart, looks and sounds exactly like watching a tilt on ESPN. The voices of commentator Jon Miller and studio host Karl Ravech are there. The screen looks the same as watching it on TV, and there's even that annoying little chime telling you a score update will now distract you.
The gameplay is easy to figure out and doesn't require a manual. The players are rendered well enough, although their hands seem a little too big and their faces a little too mean. Also, a few different rosters are unlocked at the start, like a team made up of the top players from the NL West, or a team of the best guys from the Dominican Republic.
ESPN also has the first-person view that was so cool in its football game. Here, however, it gets disorienting, especially when playing out in the field.
No matter, this is still another good outing from the "Worldwide Leader in Sports."
Bonehead playHere's an example of why MLB 2005 is so bad: Due to some errant baserunning, I ended up with two men standing at second base. An automatic out, right? Not so fast: The artificial intelligence of the opposing team made it throw the ball to third base. The third baseman held onto the ball and let my men at second lounge there long enough for me to go to the kitchen to get a salty snack. Ouch.
At least it wouldn't let me bunt during the home run derby.
Graphics? Bad. Controls? Complicated. Worth buying? Not a chance.
The starting lineup
MLB Slugfest: Loaded
Good: Arcade-style action and attitude.
Bad: Doesn't exactly play by the rules.
Details: PlayStation 2 and Xbox platforms; $39.99
Rating: T (comic mischief, mild violence)
MVP Baseball 2004
Good: True simulator in every sense of the word; great version of home run derby.
Bad: Truly boring for the casual fan.
Details: All platforms; $49.99
Good: Fun controls make it easy to pick up and play.
Bad: The first-person mode needs more polishing.
Details: PlayStation 2 and Xbox platforms; $39.99
Good: The immortal Vin Scully does commentary!
Bad: Why couldn't Vinnie have worked on a fun game?
Details: PlayStation 2 platform; $39.99
Rating: EveryoneCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun