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Baseball Advance

Review By:  Jared Black

Developer:  Sega
Publisher:  THQ
# of Players:  1
Genre:  Sports
ESRB:  Everyone
Date Posted:  5-29-02

If there’s one genre portable gaming has always been weak in; it’s the sports sim genre. In particular baseball sims have been woefully pathetic, with the lone exception being the World Series Baseball series on Sega’s own Game Gear. Since the GBA eliminates most of the problems (lack of buttons, inferior processing power, and small screen size) associated with bringing a good sim to market, one would expect serious baseball fans to finally get their due. The High Heat series has thus far been a major disappointment, but Baseball Advance proves that there might be some hope for handheld baseball after all.

The core of any baseball game is the face off between pitcher and batter, and Baseball Advance does an excellent job of handling this key aspect of the game. The pitching interface is simple. The player chooses one of several pitch types (depending on the pitcher) with the d-pad, then presses A to throw the ball. After the ball has been released, the d-pad is used to locate the pitch. My only problem with this is that being able to locate the pitch only after starting the wind-up doesn’t give the player enough time to locate the pitch properly. It just feels wrong, and forces the player to know exactly where they want to pitch before releasing it. A better way of handling it would’ve been to have the player hold down B or one of the shoulder buttons and then move the d-pad to locate the pitch. Once the pitch is located the player could then release B, and the d-pad would once again select the pitch type. I’m really being a nitpicker here, but it just bugged me and took away from the overall experience.

The batting interface is a bit more complex. Each batter has a batting cursor of varying sizes depending on who it is. Pre-pitch, the player tries to guess where the next pitch will be located by placing the batting cursor there. Once a pitch is made, the cursor shrinks down to a much smaller dot. If the player guessed the location of the pitch properly, the circle will automatically shrink to the dot and "lock on" to the pitch once it’s released. From there it’s just a simple matter of timing the swing right. If the player guesses incorrectly, then it’ll be up to the player to line the dot up with where the pitch is located.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? What makes it complex is the use of a power meter. Once A is pressed down to start a swing, the batter’s power meter will automatically start to fill up. The fuller it is whenever contact is made, the further the ball will likely go. Holding down A for too long will result in the power meter shrinking after it’s reached the top, making it necessary for the player to learn to time their swing at exactly the right time. I’ve found with most pitchers that it’s best to start in the middle of their windup. Altogether it’s an awesome batting interface that not only takes into account location, but also the timing of the player’s swing. Sega dared to be different here, and it paid off.

Fielding is pretty standard stuff…just make it to the big cursor on the field during pop-ups, time your dives/jumps at the right time, and press the right direction on the d-pad when throwing the ball. The GBA’s smaller screen and Sega’s decision to keep the camera centered on the ball during pop-ups sometimes makes it difficult to judge where the fielder is in relation to the ball, but other than that it’s pretty slick.

The one real disappointment in the gameplay department is that there’s no multiplayer mode. Sports games are meant to be played against friends, and to lack one in this day and age (especially when the GBA makes it so easy to do) is pretty lame. If you’re looking for a baseball game to play with your buddies on road trips, this isn’t the one.

What is disappointing about Baseball Advance is not what’s here, but rather all the details that aren’t here. I realize this is a handheld game, but some of these things would’ve been simple to add in with minimal extra storage space required. It offers up only four modes of gameplay, including Exhibition, Season, Playoffs, and finally All-Star Game. Not a lot to choose from when compared to console sports titles, but it’s adequate enough for the GBA. Would you want to play a Franchise mode over several seasons on the tiny GBA? I know I wouldn’t. At the same time, a Homerun Derby would’ve been very nice, especially in light of a batting interface that actually requires skill to master.

The season mode does simulate a real 162-game season, but outside of your own team’s statistics it tracks very little. It tracks the league leaders in all the "major" statistical categories, but doesn’t allow you to see the stats for any other players outside of your own team. It also doesn’t track any secondary stats, such as OPS. The most glaring flaw however is that you can’t see ANYTHING about the other league…if you’re playing in the American league, you’ll never know how many HRs Barry Bonds has hit thus far or who leads the NL East. Only four stadiums are included – Fenway Park, Safeco, Wrigley, and Pac Bell. Finally, the rosters are extremely outdated, with seemingly the only major off-season moves represented are retirees. There’s no Cal Ripken, but Jason Giambi’s still with the Athletics.

The graphics are definitely a step up from other GBA sports titles. The menu interface is a bit garish, but slick and vibrant overall. The pitcher/batter graphics are excellent, with huge player sprites animated very well. A number of different batting stances are included, and all of them (especially Ichiro’s…wow) look extremely lifelike. Field graphics are a little worse, as the player models are much smaller and the grass texture is fairly average. However, even the smaller player models are animated pretty well, and each of the four ballparks included in the game look as true to life as one would expect from the GBA.

The sound is excellent as well. Umpires call balls and strikes, the crowd roars at the right times (usually), and the crack of the bat sounds good (not realistic, but good anyway). If the home team is putting together a good inning at the plate, organ music will often kick up. Menu music has a very springy feel to it, and you’ll soon find yourself humming it after only a few games.

Highs:

  • One of the best batting interfaces yet, console titles included. It takes a while to adjust to, but once you get the hang of it it’s awesome.
  • Wonderful graphics that easily surpass any sports titles found on 16-bit consoles.
  • Pitching and fielding are solid, although they could use some minor adjustments.

Lows:

  • Missing a lot of stuff: extra gameplay modes, current rosters, more than four ballparks, and a baffling lack of ability to see what’s going on in the other league.
  • Where’s the multiplayer?

Final Verdict:

Baseball Advance is a wonderful sports title and easily the best baseball game yet to hit the GBA. It would’ve been nice to get a more complete baseball experience, but they had to leave something for next year’s game…right?

Overall Score: 8.2

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