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As the years go by, the N64 lineup seems to shrink each season. The sports lineup for the 64 is indicative of this situation. For instance, this year, the only baseball game that will be released for the 64 will be Acclaim's All Star Baseball 2001. It must be said that if there has to be only one baseball game, I'm glad it's this one.
The All Star Baseball Series is a diamond in the N64 lineup. Few games have been as revolutionary in terms of gameplay, graphics and play control depth. Sport sim fans will tell you that if they like a game they'd prefer an evolution of the series rather than a revolution. Nobody wants to see future throw technology corrupted, just adjusted. In keeping with this philosophy, the coding house at High Voltage did an admirable job of maintaining the quality that sport simulation fans expect from this game and they also managed to add some nice bonuses to the franchise.
If you haven't seen, the graphics in the All Star Baseball series are outstanding. When the game emerged a few years ago I was literally floored by the advanced Hi Rez work Acclaim did. Expect more of the same in this go round. High Voltage added some newer camera angles, cut scenes animations and celebrations that add some nice touches to an already brilliant visual display.
What other game offers 100 genuinely unique batting stances, wicked pitch delivery physics, an in-depth in game menu and dozens of incredibly detailed ballparks? NONE. On any console. This is just one of the ways that ASB separates itself as the premiere baseball title.
I did notice some bizarre quirks like how the bat gets jammed in the turf when a player throws it in frustration, or some weird blips in the framerate but these are minor occurrences when you consider the overall presentation of the game. It's simply unrivaled. As for the menu system, little has changed from last year. That means a lot of heavy front end menus to get to the scouting reports. Also, the bullpen menu still doesn't demonstrate what role the pitcher plays, for casual fans this is really a nuisance. Still, everything in the interface comes together rather nicely.
It would have been nice if the game ended with some pyrotechnics or something other than the score flashing repeatedly. But hey, there's enough here to concede that All Star Baseball is still way ahead of the competition in terms of visuals so don't be too concerned about the minor things. In terms of additions, High Voltage added some really sharp cut scenes that feature some really wonderful shots of the stadium. For instance, when you lay into a pitch the camera angle instantly turns to a panoramic view of you crushing the hide off the ball. Also, there are some nice new additions to the celebrations. All in all, this game is unrivaled.
While the play by play voice is still kicking, the color commentary is gone. I don't think I agreed with all of the bashing that the commentary of this franchise has taken in the press. I actually liked… "the pitcher dominated this guy last time at bat, he struck him out with three pitches…" or "that pitch wasn't even close to the plate!". The strict adherence to play by play commentary now gives this game a more authentic feel in that the commentary is a little "looser". I think that some color commentary between the innings about the pace of the game or the next few batters would have kept the audioscape interesting. For instance, a comment like; "here comes the heart of the order, the pitcher should be concerned about these guys."
I noticed that the audio patch where the batter's name is announced is "in the red." This causes a distortion in the pronunciation, as the output level is too high. A sloppy mistake like this could have been avoided and becomes a real bother when Posada sounds like PO-sada.
You will hear all of the sounds of the game from umphs, to the crack of a bat to the umpire telling you to politely take a seat after your sorry ass has been bagged by a nasty curveball. In addition, the crowd ambience seems a little more responsive this year. Finally, the music this time around isn't as invigorating as last year's game but it is more appropriate. The techno track from ASB 2000 was a rip-roaring affair. This year's guitar driven summer tune is pretty cool as well and sounds more akin to baseball.
Hey man, if you haven't experienced future throw technology and pitch guessing you don't know what incredibly accurate gameplay control is all about. This year, the hits are a lot more accurate as well. Hits that last year would have been gobbled up by outfielders slide into gaps and die like a quail in the shallow outfield. Nice. For Blitz fans, after they shave their backs and palms they can play the easy batting system that doesn't involve any cursors, just timing and the analog stick. There is also a batting practice mode that lets you get more accustomed to the "screwgie" and other pitches. Finally, an arcade mode has been added complete with sound effects and hyperbolic gameplay. Feh. A sim is a sim. But I guess Acclaim had to appeal to less evolved gamers as well. Heh.
Even when there was four or five different baseball packs to choose from, none of them had the outstanding gameplay that this game has. The fact that High Voltage has tweaked that, well... you can see where I'm going.
The only four player baseball game. Take that with a grain of salt as two guys are going to be pretty bored on defense but it's still a cool idea at a party. Especially if you assign players to each player at the pre-game control screen.
This series is a home run and I consider it a testament as to what the N64 can do. You simply have to get this game and if you have it, update to ASB 2001. Honestly, I've got friends that can't stand sports games and they went out and bought ASB 2001 after playing it at my house. Playing is believing folks and in a dark period of the N64's lifecycle games like ASB 2001 is a pleasant reminder of the golden years of the 64.
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