Little League World Series 2010 Review
Personally, I think the Little League World series is a step too far for kids of that age. It’s a world stage that has too much pressure, too much of the limelight, and too much fanfare; the idea of no scoring in Little League games is ridiculous, but the World Series does seem unnecessary in my eyes. That being said, we still could use a decent baseball game for the younger generation. You know, an experience that doesn’t require much in the way of intricacy or an intimate knowledge of the sport; one that is more about fun and accessibility rather than technical aptitude. The Backyard Baseball series has definitely run its course – those titles have ceased to be satisfying long ago – so perhaps Little League Baseball 2010 can deliver the goods for parents and children alike. The good news is that it’s significantly better than the aforementioned franchise; the bad news is Now Production needs to iron out a few kinks before it becomes a wholly recommended purchase.
The graphics really aren’t bad at all. They’re colorful to the max and certainly cartoony, the players and characters have nicely animated facial expressions, and the special effects are passable for this type of game. The animations can be stiff and erratic, though; you’ll notice this when a fielder goes to field a fly ball that appears to be out of reach, and because there is no dive animation, the body just sort of zips under the ball. This leads to an annoying gameplay flaw that I’ll get to in a moment. Perhaps another problem is that we never really get a good look at the crowds and stadium surroundings. Most matches feel too much like a local Little League game rather than a World Series matchup, which sort of detracts from the overall sensation and presentation. But even so, the visuals are quite pleasant and such a boisterously colorful palette should leave a smile on the face of the targeted audience.
The sound is okay, but it suffers from a seriously repetitive announcement track and lackluster music. The effects themselves are all right, as everything from the simple sounds to the more advanced effects resound nicely in your ears. They can even shine when your star player smacks a moon shot or when the chatter of the crowd corresponds well with the actions on the field. But the announcer, while decent, doesn’t have anywhere near enough to say, as you’ll hear the same lines at least a dozen times over during one game. The music is also repetitive – albeit fitting – and one of these days, developers will have to realize that depth and variety are essential, even in regards to smaller, lower-budget productions. Perhaps the kids won’t mind, but to assume they won’t notice the lacking is doing them a disservice. Children can be pretty perceptive and while they’ll appreciate a lot of what this title has to offer, they’ll most certainly notice the announcer’s constant repetition and repeating music track(s).
Maybe it’s because I’m recalling three consecutive years of tremendously bad Backyard Baseball titles, but I actually had a fair amount of fun with Little League Baseball 2010. Its pick-up-and-play accessibility is relatively solid and reliable, the learning curve seems a touch steep for the intended age group but it remains entertaining, and the addition of a few interesting elements keeps the experience fresh. However, there are some definite flaws that unfortunately hamper the mechanics and overall gameplay, which really can’t be ignored. In fact, they even dominate the game, which means you’ll have to continually overlook such shortcomings if you wish to play for extended periods of time. It’s great that we can participate in a full tournament, earn Ability Points to distribute to our team or to individual players, and even use Cards to add a definite twist to the standard baseball experience. But we can’t just bypass the negatives.
Let’s get those out of the way now: first of all, you can choose between “Easy” and “Technical” settings for fielding and pitching, and while excelling on the Technical side of pitching yields rewards, it’s almost impossible to really get good at the Technical fielding. This is due to the mistake of choosing a perspective on defense that focuses on the flight of the ball rather than your own fielders. And because the fields are small and the ball travels very quickly, you rarely get a chance to position your defenseman appropriately. You really have to set the fielding to Easy if you want to get anywhere, and that’s a major issue. In the old-school Earl Weaver’s Baseball, the batting and pitching camera perspectives were the same, as they were when the ball was hit. But the camera view zoomed out to show the whole field from above after the hitter made contact, so you could have time to move your fielders to the right spot. You just don’t have the time here, and that's a glaring minus.
Then there’s the pitching, which is a little bizarre. You can select the type of pitch (two-seamer, four-seamer, or off-speed), and then the direction with the left analog. When the latter happens, the catcher will move his mitt in the intended direction, which would mean you’re aiming at that spot, right? But when the power meter comes up, and you perform perfectly and get the line to land in exactly the right spot, that ball will just end up going over the plate for a strike…regardless of the previously indicated direction. I suppose it still helps to confuse the batters – because it does seem to work out okay – but it’s still weird. Lastly, there’s the seemingly expert fielders; these are supposed to be Little Leaguers and they very rarely, if ever, commit an error. They can also cover an immense amount of ground, which means that hits and especially extra-base hits can be difficult to come by.
But really, the rest works out well. There are no hideously blatant miscues on the part of the development, in that outfielders can’t throw out runners at first base on a groundball through the infield, there are no severe balancing issues (i.e., a high four-seamer won’t always result in a strike), and you really do have to get your timing right at the plate. The inclusion of Cards, as I mentioned before, is kinda cool: you will earn some Cards that can be “played;” they’ll give you an extra out (or even a whole inning) to work with, give your batter a skill boost, or some other positive cheat. Of course, the computer can use these against you, too. Then there’s the ability meter that consists of three bars; once one of the bars is full, you can execute a special game-breaking skill; it lets your pitcher throw serious heat or gives your hitter a power boost. If you let it fill up all the way and your star batter is at the plate, hit L2 and it’s basically a guaranteed moon shot; i.e., tape-measure home run.
It’s too bad we don’t get a Home Run Derby but you can always play with a friend, the Tournament Mode is deep enough for the intended age group, the gameplay – despite the perspective failures – is definitely accessible, and you will feel quite satisfied with any given win. On the other hand, the downsides may prove to be far too much to handle, especially if you have a problem with repetitive sound, the inability to really get the most out of defense due to a development error, and the genius defenders that don’t let much of anything by them. It just isn’t as refined as it could’ve been and even kids will easily notice the problems, which is why the game falls short of the goal. Even so, it’s a darn sight better than the Backyard options and next year’s installment might end up being…you know, good.
7/24/2010 Ben Dutka