IGN Review of MLB 2K9 Fantasy All-Stars
Last year marked the first release of Major League Baseball Fantasy All-Stars for Nintendo DS. While 2K has been offering up yearly doses of ball on other consoles for over a decade now, the company's push towards the portable realm has been a tad bit slower; especially when it comes to the Nintendo side of things. Now offering up not only MLB Power Pros, but also All-Stars, the company is essentially competing with itself, though offering two very different games with each franchise. Last year's Fantasy All-Stars was pretty amateurish when it came to the DS technology – it felt like the team was developing without ever looking at previous DS sports titles, and fell into the same trap as other developers out there – and while many of the same issues remain for 2K9, this year's baseball offering on DS is a much stronger experience.
The biggest issue with MLB Fantasy All-Stars 2K8 was the reliance on all-touch control, and while that's still entirely front and center this year, its better implemented within the returning design. Players that pick up 2K9 will be getting the same "drag to pitch/hit" control, with base running and fielding handled almost entirely by touch, but movements have been made in the right direction. When pitching, the touch-based pitch selecting is now a bit simpler, having the icons "lock in" for a pitch much faster. Checking out the pitch designs is as easy as tapping a small icon in the bottom right of the screen (which will in turn show the draw path for pitches like fastballs, change-ups, screws, knuckles, and the like) though it still isn't perfect when actually pulling off the throws themselves. Specifically, a lot of the more intricate designs translate into curveballs all the time, and if the team is sticking with this design for next year's effort, I'd love to see them actually put the selected design on the touch screen itself, letting players trace it rather than having the game try to interpret the actual design drawn. All in all though, pitching is much easier to work with, and it makes for a better experience.
On the batting side of things, there's a lot more feedback to the entire experience, though the same "curve trace to swing" mechanic is there, and it's still a little unintuitive; it'd be much easier to have a meter that ran vertical, instead of requiring players (young ones, mind you) to trace half circles quickly, accurately, and based on where they want to hit. Added this year is a chart on the bottom screen that divides the swing zone up into hit types and directions, so if you want to knock one out of the park, you'll have to trace your line in a different spot than if you want to pull a grounder down the third base line. It's a bit of an information overload, especially if you again consider the age group that's playing All-Stars, but it works much better than the previous year's offering, and I found myself able to knock home runs, hit specific directional grounders, and power to the gap with a decent about of accuracy. It certainly takes a lot of focus to not only swing with speed and timing, but also hit to a specific zone though. As a nice addition, the last swing attempt now shows up during the following pre-pitch time, so you can see exactly how the game read your trace, and why you hit a weak pop-up or successful line drive.
Unfortunately, there are still some seriously glaring issues. The visual style is still an odd one, but even if you get behind the characters and stadiums there are problems to be had. The stadium gimmicks are really shoddily done, it's not always easy to tell where the ball is when dealing with deep hits in the field, and the game has serious pacing issues. You could crack a home run, make an impressive catch, or throw a guy out at home, and you'll be left guessing for a few seconds as to what really happened. When you tag a guy out, you'll get an on-screen "Out" icon, but there's no fanfare to any of it, and the game is really slow to inform you as to what exactly is going on. As for post-pitch/hit control, base running, pick-offs, and base throwing should really be changed to button control, as using touch just isn't accurate enough. I've only had a few random throw errors (where I try to toss the ball to third, only to have it throw home or 2nd base), but base running is way too complex for younger players, and despite trying to be simplified, it's really, really daunting. Use auto base running, or suffer the consequences.
The pace complaint is a minor issue, but it's found subtly in a lot of areas. Home Run Derby, for example, gives players feedback after every swing to tell where the hit ended up. The camera doesn't follow the ball, so it's crucial to get that info in order to assess your last swing. Unfortunately, the info often comes in late, showing up on the bottom of the top screen as the next pitch is already on the way. You'll hit a long ball, wonder if it made it over the fence, and then get the "Home Run!" message on the screen while you're already focusing on the next pitch that's just seconds from crossing the plate. That's far from ideal.
As far as modes go, online is now included, though it looks like there aren't too many people on playing, so you'll want to track down some friend codes if you want give it a try. Fantasy Tournament is back again, but there's still no in-depth season or franchise mode, so while you can create your own team and use them in a game, you won't ever get a long-lasting experience outside of exhibition and the simple tournament offering. The gameplay is starting to get there, but it still isn't enough to keep me coming back for more, and with a mode offering as shallow as All-Stars 2K9, gameplay is all you have to keep you going.
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