IGN Review of MLB Slugfest 2006
Gone are the glory days of baseball videogames. Only a few years ago gamers could choose from MVP Baseball, High Heat Baseball, Sony's first-party MLB game, All Star Baseball and World Series Baseball (now under the 2K Sports name). With Take Two's exclusive third-party MLB license, the options in 2006 appeared limited to MLB 2K6, a solid baseball game but not the web gem we were all hoping for.
Well surprise, surprise, Midway snuck in there with its MLB Slugfest 2006, the officially licensed "arcade-style" baseball game -- apparently, Take Two's agreement only covered third-party simulation titles. Either way, we're excited to get our hands on the newest Slugfest, the NBA Jam of baseball titles, if only because it's another way to get some good wood on a virtual baseball. That, of course, doesn't mean it's a good game.
But MLB Slugfest 2006 isn't bad either. The problem with this budget title is that it does nothing to improve upon MLB Slugfest Loaded, released way back in June, 2004. The graphics, sound and gameplay are virtually the same, but gone is the franchise mode and online play. Instead, fans will have to make to due with the new create-a-player feature. Big whoop. Because Midway's arcade sports titles like NFL Blitz and NBA Jam are such excellent multiplayer games, it's a shame that Midway erased online play from the lineup.
On the field, Slugfest 2006 is fun and, at times, hilarious. Your turbo meter is the key to your success, and using turbo during the right moments of a half-inning will ensure your success. Using a special turbo pitch on a two-strike count, like a Gyroball or a Rockabye will usually ensure a K. Holding turbo down will let your outfielder cut off balls hit to the gap, holding runners to a single instead of a turbo-boosted triple. Runner trying to tag from third? Throw a turbo-infused rocket home for the out. When your turbo meter runs out, your fielders revert to mere humans, so save that turbo for big plays.
On offense, holding down turbo when you swing -- either for contact or power -- will put a little extra oomph in your swing, and on the base paths turbo will let you fly from first to third, although at the expense of about half the turbo meter. Caught in a pickle? Slide in spikes up to try and jar the ball loose from the fielder, which usually gives you some time to advance to the next base as well. On several occasions we stretched singles to inside-the-park homeruns using this method, although when the opposition does this to you it's about as fun as getting punched in the face.
These arcade elements are what defines the Slugfest franchise and, along with the kooky broadcast team, help make the title as enjoyable as NBA Jam or NFL Blitz. The trick pitches, especially the unhittable special pitches (throw five strikes to fill the special pitch meter), are awesome, especially in multiplayer mode. Players catch on fire for unlimited turbo. Pitchers can bean batters to lower their attribute ratings at the risk of the batter charging the mound and beating said pitcher unconscious.
But Slugfest is also running on a surprisingly solid baseball engine. The hitting system is similar to MVP 2005 in which you press up on the left analog stick as you swing to hit high pitches; down to hit low pitches; left to pull the ball for a right-hander; etc. Pitching doesn't have analog control of other baseball games -- you simply aim for one area of the zone and press X to throw a strike or Square to throw a ball. Fielding and baserunning are also very intuitive, offering a simple, pick-up-and-play experience. In fact, some games could take a small page from Slugfest's simplified controls -- baserunning is almost rocket-science in some recent titles. Overall, the gameplay is good, arcade-style fun.
Of course, Slugfest could take a page from every other baseball sim out there and go strive for a bit of improvement, especially in the graphics and sound department. The stadiums and player models appear exactly the same as a game that released two years ago with no graphical upgrade to speak up. Player faces look generic, overall, even for some of the games biggest names. There are a host of jaggies and aliasing issues that you'll notice constantly, although the player animations remain smooth and usually hilarious. Players groveling in pain after taking a cleat to the, ahem, special place particularly stands out.
For a game that released in June, it's a shame that the rosters were last updated in February. Bronson Arroyo, a dark-horse Cy Young candidate is still on the Red Sox instead of the Reds, which is sloppy and lame, in general. What's worse, some of the default lineups are ridiculous. The Yankees first four goes Damon, Giambi, Rodriguez and Jeter at cleanup. Jeter at cleanup! I can't talk about this anymore.
The game modes have been slimmed down too. Franchise mode, complete with 162-game season is gone, replaced by a 52 game season with no player trades and, without online support, no way to download new rosters. After the crappy season mode, there's Challenge, in which you take on every team in the MLB, from worst to first, working your way up the ladder NBA Jam style. Then there's Home Run Derby, Playoffs, Create-A-Player and Create-A-Team.
My guess is there were some licensing issues involved and Midway couldn't include a full season or any kind of simulation-like franchise mode, but still, at least update the rosters.
In the booth, Jim Shorts and Tim Kitrow make some generally funny comments, and a few times in the office passersby would stop and laugh out loud. Like all videogame commentary, however, it gets old after a while. It would be nice, being Slugfest and all, to have some vicious crowd heckling, but we'll have to make due with the broadcasters.
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