As the baseball postseason heats up, Konami has released their newest arcade hardball diversion MLB: Bobblehead Battle. A spin-off of the earlier MLB: Bobblehead Pros title, Battle strips the sport down to the contest between hitters and pitchers, completely omitting defense in favor of a grid based system of calculating hits and outs. This makes Bobblehead Battle a unique, if shallow, romp on the diamond that is sure to entertain most everyone for at least a little while.
As mentioned above, gameplay in Bobblehead Battle is pretty basic. The field is divided into different quadrants that designate whether a ball that comes to rest on them will result in a hit (Single, Double, Triple, or Homerun) or an out. The goal at the plate is to hit the ball to these areas to score runs. This somewhat simplistic approach is expanded by a really solid pitcher/batter interface that should feel familiar to fans of the Power Pros series. Pitchers are given multiple pitch options (depending on their real life counterpart’s repertoire) and can guide the ball where they want it to finish. Hitting isn’t just a simple button press, but requires moving a virtual bat (or just a crosshair if attempting a power swing) to match the position of the ball. The skill required to make contact keeps the matchups interesting and it’s equally fun to play as both pitcher and batter.
Also, doing its part to increase the depth of the game is a slick card system. Players have a selection of upgrade cards available to them during the game. These cards apply effects to the field, players, or the ball, which mixes things up pretty well. The effects range from giving the hitter a huge wiffleball style bat, changing tiles on the field, and enhancing either the speed or break of a pitcher’s pitches. Using a card spends points that the player accumulates throughout the game by winning different in-game situations. For example, each at bat accumulates points the longer it goes on. If the pitcher gets the batter out, their team earns the accumulated points and vice versa. The card system not only adds to the fun factor and general silliness of the game, but it also adds a level of strategy that would be absent without its inclusion.
Each of the stadiums in the game can be fully customized (once unlocked) in the game’s editor. You can adjust the status of tiles, move and place obstacles into the environment, and generally structure your own ideal playing field within a certain set of limits. While the editor is a neat inclusion and fun to mess around in, I found myself mostly going back to the stock stadiums for their solid, balanced design.
In addition to your standard Quick Game and Exhibition game modes, the game’s real highlight is the Challenge mode, which allows players to earn new cards, stadiums, and customization options. The mode consists of going down the list MLB teams and completing certain tasks during the game. For example, the game might task you to hit three objects in the field before winning the game to win some bonus items. Each MLB team you defeat unlocks their stadium for use in any of the game modes. This is where the meat of the single player game lies, and it’s certainly an enjoyable diversion.
Of course as is always the case with a game of this type, the real fun is playing with your friends. This is the perfect low-pressure trash-talk game to kill a few hours on. If you have a couple of like-minded friends, you’ll have a blast countering each others moves and attempting to run-rule your opponents into submission. Just make sure to play against people with a similar collection of cards to your own, as some of the higher-level cards can really change the entire landscape of a game and firmly give the advantage to the player that holds them.
Graphically, the game looks about like you would expect an arcade game from the Power Pros team about animated bobbleheads playing a boardgame version of baseball to look (because I know that picture has been in your head for years, wreaking havoc on your subconscious). Players are exaggerated “Mii” like caricatures of themselves with heads that bobble like they’re on the Shake-Weight program. The look, while simple, works well within the overall feel of the game.
While it certainly won’t be lining up against MLB: The Show for comparison shots anytime soon, Bobblehead Battle is a fun time killer that shines against other human players. The 800 point asking price is fair for the replayability, the customization options and multiplayer on offer. As long as you aren’t digging too deep, Baseball purists and non-fans alike should have no problem finding a good time here.
Review copy provided by publisher.