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Home Run King Package Art
 GENRE
  Sports
 DEVELOPER
  WOW Entertainment
 PUBLISHER
  Sega
 NUMBER OF PLAYERS
  1-2
 CONNECTIVITY
  no
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Home Run King

The demise of the Griffey series of baseball games left a void in the Gamecube’s potential lineup. While never acclaimed to the degree of Acclaim’s All Star Baseball titles, Griffey offered a fast-paced, arcade take on the sport. Sega’s WOW Entertainment steps up to the plate with Home Run King, to not only replace Griffey, but assuage Gamecube fans burned by World Series Baseball’s new exclusivity to the Xbox.

Make no mistake, All Star Baseball is the once and future king on the console, and won’t likely be toppled soon. However, that realistic take on the “thinking man’s game” may not be for everyone, especially those with a taste for rapid, high-scoring games. Is the Jeff Bagwell-endorsed Home Run King baseball’s answer to NFL Blitz or is it just another smear on the cleats of Acclaim’s reigning champion?

visuals

Home Run King is a curious blend of both excellent and horribly ugly graphics. Obviously the most development attention was allocated to the player models, as they are the center attraction of any baseball game. The characters themselves are well-modeled, with small details like clothing bulges fully rendered. The only real problem is jagged seams at the elbows and sometimes the knees. Either WOW ditched class during Soft Skinning 101, or every last player in the Major Leagues has suffered crippling joint injuries.

Animation and framerate are usually smooth, though both sometimes stutter during replays from certain angles. Batters have myriad stances, from Bagwell’s painfully low crouch to Ichiro’s famous, elegant windup. Particle effects are well-implemented, especially evident during inclement weather scenarios.

Perhaps of all the facets of Home Run King, the most impressive is the use of incredible face maps. Nearly photorealistic in a few instances, the faces are unparalleled in any other baseball game. Unfortunately, while players such as Bonds are recreated down to the most minute detail, many have somewhat generic appearances. A grotesque oversight lies behind these as well: faces instantly change when different emotions and shadows are portrayed, resulting in a jarring, broken image. Identification photos accompanying batters are low-quality, even when compared to the in-game models. Uniform textures are sharp and colorful, with each player’s name crisply printed on the back. Even shoes and safety gear are wrapped in clean images, making players overall nearly perfect except the nagging issues of seaming. All the major league stadiums, even Enron *cough* Field, are recreated with a significant amount of detail, but questionable texture work slays any visual benefit this may have offered. While scoreboards and logos are sharp and detailed, the field itself looks unnatural and most environmental textures are blurry.

Worst of all is the inexplicably hideous audience. Some seating sections are brought to life through poorly animated, mostly grey sprites while those in the outfield are usually as flat and dead as a train-victim penny. Overall, while in some respects Home Run King is visually more advanced than the competition, its shortcomings are far too dire to overlook.

audio

With only a few exceptions, the aural elements of Home Run King are generic and unpolished at best. Real-time commentary is one of the most important parts of any next-generation sports title, and in this case does not impress. The first time this is noticed is at the commencement of any game: team names, cities, and more are spewed forth in staccato bursts instead of a coherent, smooth stream. If narration as jointed as the players’ elbows ended here it might be forgivable, but it rears its ugly head in other places as well. During gameplay, the voicework occasionally consists of uninspired, blanket-situation gems that would make Vin Scully weep for his profession. By no means is the commentary miserable or the worst of its breed, but it barely gets the job done without becoming exceedingly repetitive. Other sound effects are limited but sound nice, like the satisfying crack of a bat on a sweet hit.

The noise of the crowd is aurally well developed, and conveys an organic feel that makes it easier to look at the rigid audience. Rich cheers, revelry and even hecklers flesh out the ambiance, but it’s largely just a collection of similar sound clips with scarce variation. Home Run King lacks a few touches found even in last-generation titles, such as standout voices clamoring for hotdogs that add to the experience. Cheering is context-dependent of course, but is generally only triggered by a near-homerun or base hit.

Bland would accurately describe the music in this game. Repetitive organ tunes or menu guitar riffs rapidly grow old, especially when the same bit is played for six consecutive batters.

gameplay

Sega touts Home Run King as a pick-up-and-play, action-packed alternative to simulation titles… but that’s not entirely accurate. This is not the baseball-Blitz many predicted it would be. It’s still baseball through and through, though Sega’s definition of “arcade” apparently means “simulation stripped of features and depth”.

There are four main gameplay modes: Home Run Derby, Exhibition with a Quick Start option, Season and Playoffs. Those who have played almost any baseball game in the past few years are familiar with these self-explanatory features. Sega’s offering lacks simulation-derived, memory-hungry experiences like a Franchise mode, but allows for a certain amount of in-game customization. This Customize interface allows players to manipulate team rosters and create players. The Player Create mode is only a step above bare-bones, but it’s adequate for a baseball title. The game boasts a certain degree of sim detail such as enabling injuries, but doesn’t get much more deep from there. Though it offers a shallow degree of customization, the game chews up 34 blocks of memory, well over half an entire card.

The batting system in Home Run King is innovative but lacks the depth found in simulation titles. Both the batter and pitcher press a direction on the control stick, based on the different throws possible. If the batter correctly guesses the selection made by the pitcher, his “sweet spot” is enlarged and it’s easier for him to get a solid hit. Even incorrectly guessing a pitch can help because the batter will know what not to expect. Besides that, batting is fairly straightforward and doesn’t deviate from recent trends.

This system lacks one important aspect, though: it’s nearly impossible to direct the trajectory of a hit. While in All Star Baseball one can aim a ball in the direction of his choosing, now the only real element of control is timing. Connecting with a ball too early or too late will deflect it off to one side, but weakens the hit. Batting as a whole is thus largely dependent on luck, both in guessing pitches and hoping the ball will go to a hole in the defense. It’s certainly easier than in simulation games, and novice players should be hitting in no time, however. While one would expect a game promising a wild, arcade experience to be full of homeruns, they’re surprisingly not far more prevalent than in other games. Time between pitches is significant, and with no acceleration option detracts from the “arcade” atmosphere.

One now infamous installment of Sega’s World Series Baseball garnered notoriety through its automatic fielding system, which seemed more like a cruel hoax perpetuated on an unsuspecting public than a true effort. Fortunately, Home Run King features an option to switch between automatic and manual fielding. The problem is, while manual fielding is generally the better choice, it’s flawed in itself. Sometimes it’s unclear which player is being manipulated. Throwing a runner out is accomplished by designating a base with the control stick and pressing A, but inexplicably the ball will be thrown to the wrong bag at times. One of the only areas in which this game is truly larger-than-life is the possibility of making ridiculous plays, such as double plays from the outfield.

multiplayer

Sega’s take on America’s greatest natural resource offers 2-player competitive action. The guessing game of batting and pitching is enhanced by trying to delve into a friend’s sick psyche, though if Sega wanted to make this a true arcade/party game, one of many additions could have been a four-player mode. The lack of a Franchise option prohibits players from using their own carefully crafted, time-worn teams in a game, but players attracted to WOW’s entrant won’t likely have regrets.

overall

Home Run King begins with a lengthy load ending in flashy but flawed menus, which in truth is a fitting analogy for the rest of the game. A foul-tip among baseball games, Sega should have taken a vastly different direction from Acclaim’s sim series if it wanted to succeed with a truly arcade take on the sport. Casual fans disinterested in the micromanagement of a Franchise mode may want to give this a rent, but will likely find themselves tired of the shallow gameplay before long, with little reason to continue.

final score 6.8/10





WRITER INFORMATION
Staff Avatar Neil Aschliman
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"I'm your lover, I'm your zero. I'm the face in your dreams of glass."


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