Monday, June 23, 2008
Major League Baseball 2K8 Fantasy All-Stars
Uniquely Themed Stadiums - locations ranging from the Everglades in Florida to the Frozen North Supports two-player DS Wireless and Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection
Customer Review: A Huge Surprise
When I got a DS, one of the things I looked for was a baseball video game--one that simulated Major League baseball in real life. At the time of writing this, there are only three baseball video games for the DS: 2K7, Backyard Baseball, and 2K8: Fantasy All-Stars. 2K7 has received such unanimously bad reviews that it might as well have a plague warning label on it. So in essence, there are only two baseball video games for the DS. Backyard Baseball and 2K8 are both pretty solid games. And while they both have their similarities (from power-ups to the stadiums), each one has its particular appeal. Backyard is aimed at younger kids, so we should expect it to be cute and somewhat simple. And it does a great job at being both. But for someone who's looking for a more realistic presentation of the sport of baseball, 2K8 delivers better. This is not to say that 2K8 on the DS is anything like a baseball simulator. Far from it. The makers of 2K8 for the DS have gone for a very stylistic version of the game. The designs might be considered UPA style (some of the classic Warner Bros. Bugs Bunny cartoons are in this style). And the animation is fairly smooth and snappy. Even though all the Major League teams are represented, including full starting rosters (although outdated and with certain replacements, such as a character named Giggles for Barry Bonds), that is where any evocation of Major League baseball ends. There are no announcers, no crowds cheering. There is no Yankee Stadium, or Fenway, or Wrigley. Instead, we have themed playing fields, such as Alcatraz (with prison themes), or a ghost town, or a farm, or a lunar station. As we go along, we get to unlock more fields, such as Area 51 . . . and there are plenty to unlock. Aside from the fields, the user will be able to unlock design elements, such as uniforms for your custom team, hats, gloves, balls, and bats. And these are all very fun and sometimes hilarious when the players of your team sport them. Keeping with the tone of the game designs, certain power-ups are available for pitching, hitting, and fielding. They include items such as a fireball for pitching, an impromptu brick wall to stop home runs for fielding, and a chicken ball for batting, just to name a few. These can be turned on or off for gameplay. When playing this game, you won't be able to help but notice the level of detail in the environment, from the drifting sky behind the farm to the water surrounding Alcatraz. When a home run is hit, there's the equivalent of fireworks, except the celebratory gesture will be in keeping with the theme of the field--such as pigs being tossed out of a barn or water spraying from a water tower. If nothing else, you will realize that the makers of this game have invested an immeasurable amount of creativity in designing pretty much everything--down to the way the elements of a theme, including the music, are placed to create the field. The most extraordinary aspect of this game, however, is in the use of the stylus. There is no option but to use the stylus, in this case. There is no control-pad equivalent to the stylus for pitching, hitting, or fielding. And it's in the use of the stylus here that gives this game that extra dimension of split-second decision-making, where a player will get to swing at a pitch hard or soft, throw a fast ball or not at the last moment in order to give the catcher time to cut down a base stealer. The way the stylus controls are laid out is sometimes intuitive (such as with pitching, fielding, and base running) and is sometimes maddening (hitting). Yet, the developers have balanced the stylus features very well so that the novelty of throwing physics-defying pitches is easy enough to learn that it keeps you from wanting to toss your DS out the window, but the hitting is hard enough that it presents a challenge to keep you involved. One of the most impressive surprises of the game is the artificial intelligence (AI). Unlike other games where you can find loopholes in the AI and exploit them, here, the developers have tightened up the AI so that everything seems random enough--errors are made without patterns, a hitter might swing at a ball off the corner of the plate or not, and the fielders may or may not dive for a ball. This means that you can turn off control of the base running and the fielding and still have very good fielding and base running in the game. A nice little detail that comes with the AI is when a fielder who's not making a play will slide to back up a play or fall down when coming to a stop. These little details just enhance the visual enjoyment of the gameplay experience. The AI, by the way, has a difficulty range of 1 to 5. At 1, your opponent can't hit water falling into a pool. They strike out like crazy. They drop 50% of fly balls. And the pitcher throws nothing but breaking balls. They'll still dive and jump for balls, however, and they do make an all-out effort. But if you master hitting somewhat, you're basically playing home run derby against them (the key is to ignore moving the stylus within the arc of the swing zone and just move the stylus swiftly and diagonally toward the upper corner of the screen). As you go up the difficulty range, you will notice the AI improves. And at 5, they are nearly impossible to strike out, their fielding is very crisp, and the pitcher knows when to change speeds on you. So the difficulty level isn't merely about pitching speeds; it actually involves the intelligence and dexterity of the opponent--a very nice feature. Even though no one will mistake the look of this game for a baseball simulator, the developers have done a very good job in regards to scale of play. On certain baseball video games, the outfield is so small or a fly ball travels so low or fast that hitting a ball down the line or up against the wall will afford only a single, even though in reality, these types of hits will almost always guarantee extra-base hits. In other baseball video games, rollers to third base are sure base hits, or ground balls into right field can still get you thrown out at first. These plays make no sense in the world of baseball that we have grown accustomed to. Luckily, the 2K8 developers have designed the game well enough that fly balls to the wall stay up long enough for runners to round first and head for second. Hits down the line don't always guarantee doubles or triples, but half the time they do, depending on how fast the fielders get to the ball and if your base-running is alert enough. Routine grounders to third, well-played, will get the runner by a step at first. And hits to right field do not make you hold your breath thinking you could be watching a 9-3 put-out at first. Outs to the centerfield warning track will be far enough to easily get a runner home from third with a tag-up. Stealing a base isn't always guaranteed, and success depends on the speed of the runner and the type of pitch being thrown while the runner is attempting to steal. Swinging at a pitch early will tend to pull the ball, and swinging at the same pitch late will tend to take the ball the other way. You can control hitting a fly ball or grounder as well. The speed of the swing will influence the distance of the ball, and a check swing will cause the equivalent of a bunt. If you get jammed, you'll hit a lame ground ball. And, of course, nothing beats a good beaning, so you will be able to hit a batter and have him crumple in the batter's box. Pretty cute to watch. Some details that would have been nice but are not included are base runners' sliding. That's completely missing. And no one ever tries to take out the catcher at the plate. It would have also been nice to have your pitcher be able to control the vertical aspect of the strike zone, but here, we are limited to only the horizontal aspect--which is actually fairly clever when used in conjunction with the stylus feature to show pitcher fatigue. When your pitcher gets tired, your ability to throw strikes gets more difficult since your vision of the strike zone shrinks. Another detail lacking is that you can't shift your defense, which would have increased the complexity of strategy, especially since the game allows hitters to try to place the ball with early or late swings. Hits and errors are not recorded on the score sheet, and neither are any individual statistics, such as winning pitcher or who hit how many doubles or home runs. There is no season mode, and there's no statistical reference for any of the players. But you do get to create your own team by choosing various players from all over, and they have little star ratings regarding hitting, running, fielding, and pitching. These ratings are both useless and useful. They're useless because you're not merely pressing a button to hit the ball or to pitch, so the ratings have little influence on your players' performance. How well your players do is up to you. But they are useful in indicating relative ability pertaining to your effort: You can have a pitcher like Ben Sheets batting and hit shots to the warning track, but that same swing with Pujols, who has a higher rating for hitting, will take the ball out of the yard. Your custom team can be used only in single-player mode, which includes exhibition play and a pennant tournament play. In addition to these modes, you have training modes for pitching, hitting, and fielding. They are all challenging, fun, frustrating, cute, and for the most part, pretty clever. The terrific features of this game are dimmed somewhat by a few problems. First, there's no save feature for an individual game. But that's pretty easy to get over, especially since you could play exhibition games of 3, 5, or 9 innings. The second problem is that you are to never ever steal home. If you do, the game will go haywire and freeze or kick you out of your current game. It's just not meant to be. Besides, the pitcher can't throw the ball to the catcher and not have it be a pitch if the ball isn't in play yet. That means you can't toss a runner out at home who's trying to steal home. You would throw the ball to the catcher, and the toss would be called a ball or strike. Very odd. But the most frustrating glitch of the game is the multi-player mode. The game developers apparently tried to make this game a personalized experience in multi-player mode. So, when you and a friend are playing, and he's at bat during a crucial moment for him, his DS will start playing music to rally his team. Your DS will not be playing the same music. Therefore, your DS and his do not sync up perfectly. This is a great idea. The problem here is that . . . well, your DS and his do not sync up perfectly, because his DS will also register a slightly different version of what you're seeing. You may have hit a ground ball and run to first base, but he will be able to throw you out even though you've made it to first about two seconds before. That's because on his DS, you're still racing toward the bag. This strange discrepancy is murder on multi-player mode because, obviously, hitting is nearly impossible if you're not seeing the same pitch that your friend is throwing. This aspect of the game is so frustrating that I've pretty much given up multi-player mode altogether. If you want to have a decent experience with multi-player mode, you might have to opt for Backyard Baseball, even though that game has significantly less depth. How the 2K8 developers could have dropped the ball regarding the multi-player aspect of a baseball video game is hard to imagine. It's really quite a shame, since playing multi-player on a game such as this would have been phenomenal fun. There is also a wi-fi option, but I haven't tested that out, considering the frustration with the multi-card play. Normally, if someone had described to me that particular problem with this game before I had had a chance to play it, it would have dissuaded me from getting a copy. In fact, when I saw the previews of this game, I was reluctant to get it. Being someone who wanted a baseball simulator, I knew that this was a far cry from one. But, the developers have done such a fantastic job here that even the problem with multi-player doesn't really hamper the enjoyment of the game. It just means I'll have to play with the computer. Overall, I would endorse this game for anyone who wants a baseball game--be it someone who doesn't know what a ground-rule double is or someone like me who knows rules such as, "Yes, the run does count if a runner crosses the plate before another runner runs into an out to end the inning." I thoroughly enjoy this game (much to my surprise), and so does my friend, who, although she likes baseball, doesn't obsess over it as though it were the Holy Grail. It really comes down to the fun of the gameplay. When you're down to your last out with a runner on and behind by a run, instead of pressing a button and hoping the batter on the screen will jack one out for you, you can decide, like a real batter, to put all your money on the table and try to swing for the fences, via your control of the stylus. The stylus feature enables you that option, giving you a closer experience of being in the batter's box. I must re-emphasize, though, that this is not a baseball simulator. If the DS had a baseball simulator in its catalogue, I would have probably never gotten this game. But the choices for baseball on the DS are limited. So, by chance, I was forced into getting this game. How lucky I was.
Customer Review: Something different :)
Before playing this game you will need to keep 2 things in mind, a) this is a fun arcade version of baseball & b)this is DS, not a PS3 or Xbox 360. I think most of the reviews on the web have been accurate, fun and unique. I also enjoy the fact that I have to master the hitting, just like in baseball advance for the GBA, which I though set it apart from most baseball games I have played where you just had to press a button to hit the ball(boring). I will say that I would not recommend this to a younger child (they should stick with backyard baseball 09, which also is an excellent game), as a teen or older is more the target audience for this title. I would defintily recommend picking up this title, unless you want a true baseball sim, keep waiting or buy a PSP and grab a copy of the MLB the show.....
I respect Mike Lupica immensely. However, I respect Derek Jeter being the cornerstone of the New York Yankees for over the past decade even more. The pressure-cooker that is Yankee Stadium has been handled by Derek Jeter as naturally as his place one day in Cooperstown.
For Mike Lupica, or anyone to call Derek Jeter, "The Teflon Captain," is simply out of line. It is true that the New York Yankees have not won the World Series since 2000, and for that there is enough blame to go around, including Derek Jeter to some degree as Captain.
However, to insinuate that Derek Jeter is really any kind of issue with regards to the New York Yankees not winning it all lately is silly at best. His aplomb as the key that helped the New York Yankees win 4 World Series Titles, including 3 in a row, is testament to how Derek Jeter rolls, with calm, cool and mastery in the biggest spots.
In baseball, more than any other sport, it is a team game. Credit to Derek Jeter to transcend this for many Championship years in leading the Bronx Bombers. He is Derek Jeter, not God. He will fail, just as Michael Jordan and other sports heroes have, from time to time.
The real Teflon during this lull in Championship Yankee activity is at the level of Yankees Management, who has again fallen in love with high-priced home run hitters, instead of shoring up a pitching staff that got very old, without the proper fortifications.
Any New York Yankees glory in the near future will be due to Derek Jeter's presence in the heart of the action, and not in spite of it.cf baseball card center