MLB Slugfest seems to be tailor made for this era in professional baseball. Violence on the field (ask White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski about that one), jacked up players taking the cover off the ball, and players walking to the plate covered in flames-.. ok, maybe that last one hasn’t happened (yet), but the comparison still stands. It’s into this environment that Midway Games brings us the newest installment in the baseball version of its Blitz/NBA Jam series of arcade style sports games. Priced at a wallet friendly 20 bones, they look to expand the dwindling library of baseball games on your shelf, without expanding your already astronomical (if you’re anything like me) gaming budget.
As with every game in the arcade sports genre, Slugfest delivers high speed, high adrenaline and high powered sports action with a casual disregard for realism and physics. Unfortunately, although it offers some fun for players looking for an alternative to sim style hardball, some disappointing flaws make it more of a ground rule double than a BALCO fueled shot out of the park.
Graphically the title leaves a bit to be desired. It is nearly identical, visually, to 2004’s Slugfest: Loaded, and looks its age. You won’t be recognizing most of your favorite players by face alone, as the player’s faces are pretty generic. The animations, however, are of fairly high quality. From a mundane underhand from 2nd to 1st, to the wildest catch, everything runs smooth as silk. While the detail on the real major league ballparks could stand to be increased, the parks that were invented specifically for the game are pretty creatively designed. All in all, I hope that if Midway gets another shot at this title next year, which they may not, considering Midway’s MLB license is expiring here soon, I hope they make an effort to clean up the visuals a little bit.
Of course, the Slugfest series has always been about gameplay, and that’s no different this year. Simple, yet surprisingly effective controls, insure that everyone from the most seasoned diamond veteran to a fresh faced rookie can pick up this title and enjoy it. When batting, there’s a contact swing button, a power swing button, a bunt button and, since this is Slugfest after all, a dodge button for when a pitcher decides to go all “Clemons to Piazza” on you. Gameplay is very similar to Slugfest: Loaded, which isn’t at all a bad thing. Of course, since this is a Midway sports title, Turbo is a huge gameplay factor, resulting in fantastic catches, physics defying pitches, and towering Home-Runs that would make a Grand Jury salivate.
Game modes are surprisingly limited considering most sports titles seem to want to cram everything but the kitchen sink in their titles. (On a related note, look for EA Sports presents: The Kitchen Sink 2008 in stores Q4 2007. If it’s in the Sink, it’s in the Game!). Slugfest contains the standard Quickplay, season, and Home Run Derby modes that people have come to expect, but eschews Franchise mode and the last game’s online component. Season mode is also trimmed down to 52 games from the usual 162. I don’t know if Midway thought gamers would be dropping dead from the adrenaline of a full season or what, but even at a budget price this is a feature that shouldn’t have been scaled back. Taking, in a way, a page from their own Mortal Kombat series, Slugfest also allows you to take on all the MLB teams in ascending order in Challenge mode. You start off playing the teams that are one step from packing up and moving to Montana, and end up playing divisional powerhouses.
Midway also added a Create-a-Player mode this year, which is nice but feels a little out of date. Of course, it’s hard for me to come down on this game too hard for a lack of single player modes when, number 1, its only $20 bucks. You can’t take a girl to the movies or in the case of most of us unlucky gamer geeks, take yourself to two movies for that. And number 2, this game is so much better, much like the aforementioned movies, when experienced with others. You will have a blast playing this title with your friends. Unfortunately, due to the lack of online support, you’ll have to have friends who are local.
Midway brought back Tim Kitzrow and Jimmy Shorts to do commentary this year, and they do an admirable job. Most of the jokes are pretty funny, although they can get old over time, and they definitely do a solid job in the booth. Sound effects are par for the course, and everything from the crack of the bat to the crack of the batters ribs after taking one a bit inside sounds great.
Overall, while some flaws do prevent Slugfest from being a top flight title, it’s 20 dollar price tag and multiplayer hilarity make it worth picking up for fans of the series, or anyone looking for a fun pick up and play title. I think that Midway’s best bet for next year, however, is to drop the MLB and MLBPA licenses and do Slugfest in the same vein as the incredibly solid Blitz: The League. Think about it, illegal activities by the players, performance enhancing drugs, superstars with “Bigger than the game” attitudes, maybe they could even get a certain embattled Bay Area superstar to be on the cover. Actually though, come to think of it, they probably shouldn’t do Slugfest that way. After all, they aren’t looking to create a simulation title.