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Platform

Playstation 2

 

Genre

Sports

 

Publisher

Midway

 

Developer

Midway

 

ESRB

E (Everyone)

 

Released

June 2002

 

 

- Fun and entertaining

- Some of the best sports visuals for Playstation2

- Great dialogue

- Lots of cheat codes

 

 

- Controls need more work (especially fielding)

- Games run a bit too long by default (but number of innings is adjustable)

 

 

Review: High Heat Baseball 2003 (Playstation 2)

 

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MLB Slugfest 2003

Score: 8.0 / 10

 

MLB Slugfest was originally scheduled to be released as a coin-op a couple of years ago. Mark Turmell, the mastermind behind popular Midway arcade sports releases NBA Jam, NHL Open Ice, NFL Blitz, and NBA Showtime, had wanted to give America’s pastime the same kind of over-the-top treatment. Unfortunately, Midway dropped their arcade division, and the fate of Slugfest became mysteriously clouded. Now, after a long wait, MLB Slugfest 20-03 is finally available. Could Turmell and his team do to baseball what they had done to the other major sports?

 

mlb-slugfest-2003-1.jpg (37744 bytes)          mlb-slugfest-2003-2.jpg (34901 bytes)

 

Once you start your first game, there’s no denying that the visuals are perhaps some of the best yet seen for a PlayStation 2 baseball game—and that includes All-Star Baseball and Triple Play. Before the game starts, you’re treated to sweeping fly-bys of the ballpark, which are awesome. You’ll notice some nice details, like the retractable dome at Toronto’s Skydome or the Boston skyline at Fenway Park. Most parks have a functional video screen which shows the action as it happens, which is a nice touch. The scene then shifts to players taking the field, and the player models are impressive. As with Blitz and Showtime, these players are muscular and well-built. Player faces are accurately mapped, so it’s easy to identify players by their faces, as well as by their numbers. Players swagger into the batter’s box with different animations, some of which are pretty funny. For example, one animation shows a batter digging in without his bat; he then puts out one hand and a bat suddenly flies in from off-screen, right into his hand… cool stuff.

 

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As with most of the other Midway sports games, Tim Kitzrow returns in MLB Slugfest 20-03 to offer his own brand of high-octane play-by-play. Midway has given Kitzrow a partner this time out to add some more wit and humor. The color commentator’s name, Jim Shorts, should give you an idea of what to expect as these two guys interact during the game. If you thought the NHL 2002 team of Don Taylor and Jim Hughson was funny, just wait until you hear some of this dialogue. In fact, while 

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loading each new game, you’re treated to some "behind the scenes" chat between Kitzrow and Shorts. Topics such as a "dead celebrities baseball fantasy team" and a cookbook filled with recipes for garbage will have you cracking up. Kitzrow does manage to chime in with relevant facts about each player’s performance every now and again, but the emphasis is on humor—and it certainly succeeds in that department. The incidental sound effects, like the crack of the bat, crowd cheers, and some humorous sounds that result from foul balls being hit into the stands wrap up a solid sound package.

 

Slugfest doesn’t seem to bend the rules as much as some other Midway games have done in the past, but there are certainly some differences from the real game. There are still three outs per inning, and nine (or ten) players per team. Most of the game’s action takes place during the batter/pitcher interface. Batting doesn’t involve a cursor, and almost any pitch is hittable; however, you stand a much better chance of putting a charge into a batted ball by either adjusting your swing to the location that you think the ball is being pitched to, and/or using your Turbo button while swinging away. As for pitchers, each pitcher has four pitches to choose from and they can also use Turbo to put a little extra zip or break into a pitch. One distinct option that you’ll notice when pitching is the option to actually hit a batter. Aside from being a tool to get back at a player for cranking a homer against you (or just because you might not like him), hitting a batter can also decrease his stats in one of three areas, depending on where you bean him. If you hit him in the head, his batting stat can decrease. If you go for the mid-section, his power rating can be adversely affected. If you go for the legs, his speed stat can go down. Beaning is fun, but be forewarned: it doesn’t always work, and in certain situations, players can "catch fire" and charge the mound, beating the pulp out of your pitcher. Batters can also catch fire by getting two hits in two consecutive at-bats. Once players are on fire, their stats increase and the only way to put out the fire is for them to make an out.

 

While pitching and hitting are executed very well in Slugfest, the fielding is somewhat suspect. Players are seldom in position to intercept ground balls, causing a lot of base hits—and plenty of runs. This is par for the course for Midway sports games, but it becomes very frustrating when simple ground balls go right by your infielders… especially during close games. There are a lot of line drives, too, and by the time you switch control to the closest outfielder to make a play, the ball is usually by him and this leads to extra bases almost all of the time. Another frustrating aspect to the fielding controls is that the dive and throw commands are mapped to the same controller button; if you try to throw to a base too early, your player will dive forward and the ball will get by him. Since Midway left out the option to adjust the controller configuration, this is a problem that cannot be fixed, and only a prolonged period of adjustment can help.

 

mlb-slugfest-2003-3.jpg (38307 bytes)          mlb-slugfest-2003-4.jpg (42914 bytes)

 

One other area of note is base running. While it’s fairly easy to advance and retreat runners with only one button, players can actually throw punches at other players. An offensive player who is on base can hit the defensive player covering that base and possibly knock the ball loose. If that happens, the offensive player can try to advance a base while the defensive player rolls around on the ground in pain. Defensive players can just beat on base runners to relieve stress, and if they use Turbo while hitting the base runner, they can actually sap Turbo from the offense.

 

Slugfest has a few modes of play, including Season mode, Challenge mode, and Quick Play. Season mode lets players pick their favorite team and have them try to advance to the World Series. Challenge mode lets players try to beat all of the MLB teams in order to unlock some hidden teams and other goodies. There are plenty of hidden cheat codes to be found, as well, including big (and tiny) heads, log bats, max power, and many more. In Challenge and Season modes, Slugfest also performs some decent stat-tracking. Season mode tracks player stats, while Challenge mode tracks your own individual statistics. Sure, these stats aren’t as in-depth as you’d find in High Heat or All-Star Baseball, but they’re accurate and a measuring stick for just how well you’re doing.

 

Slugfest isn’t quite the blockbuster success that titles like Blitz or Jam were, but it is a game that will grow on you after a few play sessions. While each game tends to run a bit too long, an option to reduce the number of innings in a game helps to alleviate that issue. The default length of a game is seven innings, but if you drop that to either four or five innings, it helps things to move along that much faster. Once you get the feel of the play controls and other nuances of the gameplay engine, Slugfest is a fun game that injects a healthy dose of humor into a sport that sometimes takes itself too seriously. If you’re a fan of Midway’s past sports titles, or even just a sports fan in general, I highly recommend Slugfest at the very least as solid rental.

 

- Peter Skerritt, Jr.

(June 29, 2002)

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