MLB Slugfest 2004 Review
Quick, can you name the top selling baseball videogame of last year? You're going to be surprised that it was Midway's MLB Slugfest 2003. That's right the most arcadey version of the nation's pastime overcame a late release date and injected some much needed life into the genre. MLB Slugfest 2004 (I refuse to type the inane 20-04) takes the same gameplay as last year and tries to add some depth, hoping you'll pony up the cash for another year. It's a solid effort, but one that gets old really quickly if you don't have a bunch of friends to play against.
If you've ever played one of Midway's sports games, you'll have a good idea of what to expect from Slugfest 2004. The basic game of baseball is intact, but you can use turbo to crush the ball further than ever, sling a fastball well over 110mph, throw at batters to diminish their skills, and pummel anyone standing between you and the next base. This year they've added bigger rosters and have made the lesser players not quite as good in an effort to add a little bit of depth to the game. These changes are appreciated, but nobody on the planet is going to come to this game looking for depth, because there's really none to be found.
The controls are simple and easy to learn, in no small part due to them being constantly plastered all over the screen. This information overload ends up getting obnoxious pretty quick, but it does save you from constantly pausing and flipping through the instruction book. Some of the button mapping, like stealing being a shoulder button is questionable, but is really not a big deal since the game is slower paced than most sports titles.
The games are high scoring, and you'll have to come to grips with even your most un-hittable fastball being crushed 450 feet into McCovey cove. The turbo button will allow you to hit the ball further, add some extra juice onto your fastball, and even allow your fielders to leap high in to the air to snag a ball. Most of these features are well balanced and fit in well with the gameplay, with the exception of the super throw from the outfield. I just felt it was a little much to hit a solid single into the gap only to be throw out at first all the way from left-center field. I can see this being a good tool for nailing someone trying to stretch a single into a double, or to make a play at the plate close, but taking away an earned base hit is weak. It's not the end of the world, just my two cents.
Another thing I could take or leave is the violence they've added to the game - it just seems too forced. Is there really any need to be able to punch the second baseman? It doesn't add to the gameplay like the things Midway usually adds, it's just something that looks cool (I guess) in commercials. Beanballs are a part of the game, so the way they've made them stand out is fine, but it just feels like they are grasping at straws at ways to make the game edgier.
The game is good looking, but really doesn't do anything spectacular visually. The best thing it has going for it is large detailed player models. Sure, each guy looks like he uses more steroids than Barry Bonds, but it's all good cause they can all hit the ball at least 400 feet. Each stadium looks like it should, but there's nothing really outstanding about them, the basic detail is there, and it suffices. One small gripe I have is the jumbotron showing you hitting in real time while you're at the plate. This obviously doesn't happen in real life, and for good reason - it's incredibly difficult to hit when you see yourself mirrored three times on a giant screen in centerfield. If you try, you can focus past this, but it's tough, and unnecessary.
There are no shortage of outrageous animations in the game either. From the batter wielding his bat like a samurai sword as he steps into the batter's box, to the same batter looking like he got hit with a cannon ball after being beaned by the pitcher, there are plenty of moves to keep you interested. Overall it's a decent looking game, but one that looks like it was designed to be ported to the arcade as well as several different consoles.
The announcers are really hit or miss in Slugfest 2004, though it was all "miss" as far as I was concerned. Tim Kitzrow and "Jimmy Shorts" handle the action and are the worst announcing duo I've ever heard. I'd take the guy from the old Sports Talk games over these two obnoxious morons. Incredibly some people love the two, but I'd rather listen to Yanni than these two repetitive, unfunny hacks. The rest of the game's audio is perfectly average, with nothing too exciting, and nothing really horrible. The crowd is decent, but nowhere near as raucous as what's found in NHL Hitz Pro.
If the current crop of games does nothing but bore you and leave you yearning for games like R.B.I Baseball, then Slugfest may be right up your alley. It's a fun game to play, but just doesn't have enough depth to warrant a $50 price tag, especially if you're a solo gamer.
10/15/2003 Aaron Thomas