Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Day 135: All-Star Weekend 2008 with Tommy Lasorda Baseball

You know how I'm alway bitching that I never know which randomly chosen fielder I'm controlling in most baseball video games? Well Tommy Lasorda Baseball solves that problem and gives me something brand new to bitch about: the robot voice that yells out which fielder is active every time a ball is hit into play. It doesn't completely solve the problem, since it's still hard to tell which little guy is which sometimes on the extremely jumbled fielding screen.

Let's see, here we have six members of the pitching team, two umpires, two base coaches, three base runners and three more base runners on the field map in the bottom right corner of the screen. Notice how it looks like there's a man running from first to home about to collide with the batter running to first? That's not confusing at all in the heat of the game.

Tommy Lasorda is a pretty average representative of the last generation of baseball games before they were all replaced with baseball simulators. Pitch movement is still controlled using the d-pad rather than just selecting curve or slider and aiming. There are no real teams. No real players. No real stadiums. No real stats. In other words, Tommy Lasorda Baseball looks and plays like pretty much every other 8-bit and 16-bit baseball game out there.

That's not necessarily a bad thing. The game moves fast and is easy to figure. It feels familiar because it is. Tommy Lasorda Baseball lacks both the personality of earlier games like Bad News Baseball and the realism and depth of later games like the MVP and MLB series. It's sort of stuck somewhere in between the baseball game and the baseball simulator.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Day 134: All-Star Weekend 2008 with Steve Garvey vs. Jose Canseco in Grand Slam Baseball

Steve Garvey vs. Jose Canseco in Grand Slam Baseball finds some very ingenious ways to solve the problems that plagued baseball video games of the time. For example, fielding, especially in the outfield, is often difficult in these older games that use a ball follow camera view, meaning players have to move fielders that currently on screen. In Steve Garvey vs. Jose Canseco in Grand Slam Baseball this isn't an issue since batters rarely make contact with the ball. In one nine inning game I recorded 23 strikeouts against the computer and struck out nearly as many times myself.

In other baseball video games, I sometimes get frustrated when my infielders automatically move to cover a base when they should be be one fielding the ball. That's not an issue with Steve Garvey vs. Jose Canseco in Grand Slam Baseball because none of the fielders ever move on their own. To record an out at first base, I first have to throw to the first baseman (Done by moving the joystick down and to the right and pressing the fire button. Left and fire throws to the second baseman. Up and fire throws tho the center fielder. Seriously.), then manually run the first baseman to the bag, hopefully getting there before the batter.

Sometimes, with other games, it can be hard to tell which fielder I'm controlling until it's too late and I've moved the shortstop away from a ball I thought the third baseman was going to field. That never happens in Steve Garvey vs. Jose Canseco in Grand Slam Baseball because every ball not hit past the infield grass is handled by the catcher. Even the pitcher graciously stands aside and allows the backstop to field balls landing just pixels away from the mound.

Another problem I often face with other baseball video games is having to individually command each over zealous base runner to retreat on a fly ball. Steve Garvey vs. Jose Canseco in Grand Slam Baseball solves this by conveniently ignoring the rule that base runners can't advance on fly ball outs.

Steve Garvey vs. Jose Canseco in Grand Slam Baseball was a game that was years ahead of its time. I don't think I encountered a baseball video game with this level of realism until the first time I played World Series Baseball 2K1.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Day 133: All-Star Weekend 2008 with Reggie Jackson Baseball

Reggie Jackson was a big time baseball star in the 1970's. In the 1980's, his production declined and he became that guy who used to play for the Yankees and alway wore big glasses. By 1988, when Sega released Reggie Jackson Baseball for the Master System, he had retired from the game.

Reggie Jackson Baseball improves slightly on the first baseball game for the Master System, Great Baseball which, for the record, should have been called Awful Baseball. The gameplay remains basically the same, though the 20 home run per game common in Great Baseball has been reduced to a more realistic 10 or so here.

The option of auto fielding included here is nice, but the computer controlled fielders seem to do an even worse job than I would. Outfielders appear to be scattered about at random and have to run in from off screen to field a ball no matter where it's hit.

The stadium's groundskeeper should be fired. The grass is brown. No one should play baseball on brown grass. And no one should look up at the stadium JumboTron and see this:

Is that one of the New Kids on the Block? Are they having a concert after the game or something? Shit. I'd better leave now. This game's a blowout anyway.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Day 132: All-Star Weekend 2008 with Legends of the Diamond

Legends of the Diamond is a pretty standard NES baseball game made better, as most things are, by the addition of Ty Cobb.

As with most baseball games of the era, fielding is tricky. Balls hit to the outfield require moving the fielder without seeing him. And the computer sort of randomly picks which players you will control. Infield flies are sometimes confusing because there are several players visible though it's not always clear which one is going after the ball and which ones are just moving to cover a base.

Strangely, though the game lists each player's position in their profile, it pays no heed to that when creating a lineup. Thus it's possible, in fact probable, to play a game with Willie Mays catching, Babe Ruth at short and Mickey Cochrane patrolling center field. The only players for whom position matters at all are the pitchers.

Despite the quirks, Legends of the Diamond is one of the more enjoyable baseball games for the NES. It's based on the same engine used for Baseball Stars, easily one of the best games for the system, and adds a lot of neat touches.

Harmon Killebrew does not like striking out.

Nor does he like being hit by a pitch.

I said take your base, Killebrew. Let's go.

There's even a fan wearing a glove in the stands to catch home runs. Pitchers and batters have unique stances and animations. Not necessarily modeled after the real players, but they do give each player a unique look and personality. It would have been nice to have a few more players or a few different ones. Bobby Richardson was a good ballplayer, but is really only "legendary" for the shot heard 'round the world. How about giving us Stan Musial or Ted Williams instead?

OK, I'll stop before I go into my list of who should and should not be included on a roster of legends of the diamond. Despite the exclusion of The Man and The Splendid Splinter, Legends of the Diamond is enjoyable game that's still playable today. Not bad for a bunch of old guys.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Day 131: Action 52 Friday with Meong

Today is a big day. I've reached the second screen of Action 52 games.

Eighteen game title that haven't been staring me in the face for the last four and a half months. They could be anything. It's like Christmas in July. But it's Christmas when you're in junior high and everyone stops giving you fun gifts and starts giving you pen sets and book bags.

Meong is the pen set of video games. It took no effort whatsoever and no one's ever going to use it.

As far as I can tell, the point of Meong is to move the little purple thing up the screen, avoiding all the black squares as well as the random deadly gray squares. I don't know what the destination is. I never made it that far since I have little patience for video games that kill me at random and then make me start over from the beginning. Ideally I could memorize a path through by remembering where I was each time I died, but since everything looks the same there aren't any landmarks to go by.

Meong is unfinished, severely flawed or just plain awful. Take your pick. Any future references to Meong made in my presence had better be in reference to these:

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Day 130: Super Tux Kart

Ten years ago, Super Tux Kart would have been a perfect substitute for Mario Kart 64. It looks and feels every bit the mid nineties PC games it wants to be. Which makes it so unfortunate that it is currently 2008.

With several well done and very creative tracks, a nice assortment of characters and power ups and challenges to complete, Super Tux Kart is the sort of game I would have paid money for back in the days when everyone but me owned a Nintendo 64. Now it simply looks outdated. And not outdated enough to be retro cool, either. Just old.

It has a lot of features that could make it a great game. There's support for up to four players, but no control pad support, so you and three of your friends could huddle around the keyboard and invade each other's personal space and interfere with each other's driving. Up to ten karts can be in a single race, at the cost of severe slowdown to gameplay.

When you get right down to it, Super Tux Kart is just another kart racer. If I didn't already have so many at my disposal, I might be more impressed with but, frankly, it does nothing to distinguish itself from the crowd.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Day 129: Robot Finds Kitten

Robot Finds Kitten has been ported to many platforms since its creation, most recently the Nintendo DS. I chose the Atari 7800 version because, frankly, given the unimpressive list of titles for it, this may be my last chance to visit the console.

Robot Finds Kitten isn't a game so much as an exercise in random time wasting. The goal is to find the kitten, which is one of the random symbols displayed on the screen. Touching an item reveals its randomly generated identity. The robot keeps searching until he finds the kitten.

The kitten is a different symbol each time you play, so don't think you can skate and just head straight for the purple sigma. Despite its simplicity, or maybe because of it, Robot Finds Kitten is strangely compelling. There are enough random objects to play for a while before repeating. Some of them are funny. Some of them are just strange. There are no bonuses for finding the kitten quickly, so there's no way for anyone to be better at it than anyone else. It's the perfect game for the age of everyone's a winner.