Publisher: GT Interactive|
Developer: Devil's Thumb Entertainment
Sometimes the line between a good sports game and a bad one can be very thin. However, this is not the case for GT Interactive's Mike Piazza Strike Zone, which is clearly and undeniably a poor baseball game, especially when compared to its competition, namely All-Star Baseball '99 and Ken Griffey Baseball.
Developed by Devil's Thumb, Mike Piazza has neither the visual flair of All-Star Baseball or the fast-paced, yet intuitive control setup of Ken Griffey Baseball. In fact, we can't think of one reason -- one single advantage that Piazza has over the competition, unless, of course, it is comedic value you seek in your baseball experience.
If you're still reading, here are the facts
- Full Major League licensing for real-players, teams and stadiums
- 3D polygonal players and stadiums
- Season stat tracking, trades, create-a-player, etc.
- Rumble Pak support
- Two-player simultaneous play
- Multiple gameplay modes including Season, World Series, All-Star Game and Home Run Derby
- An endorsement by Mike Piazza
- It comes in a shiny box
As we've listed above, all of the necessary statistical options are included in the game, along with real teams, players and stadiums. Once a player has selected his gameplay mode of choice, whether it be a regular season, the world series, an all-star game or home run derby, it's off to the team selection process and then the game begins.
Players at bat will quickly notice any lack of real strategy. When a ball is pitched a blue or red streak follows it -- red indicating a strike and blue indicating a ball. If it's red, players would be wise to swing. If it's blue , the pitch is best left alone. The pitch/hit system isn't terrible, but it feels ancient. Honestly, better configurations were devised for baseball games in the days of 16-bit and gamers are expected to settle for this crusty incarnation even as other, more intuitive titles are engulfing the market. We don't think so.
On a good note, the game's AI isn't all bad and everything moves at a fast, arcade-like pace, though nowhere as effectively as Ken Griffey. Also, the game's wacky physics, which enable 980 foot line-drive home-runs, or pop-ups that soar into the sky and hang in the air for tens of seconds, are somewhat of a guilty pleasure.
First the bad; players are lifeless, faceless, jerky robots that animate as if they are being pulled along against their will by a giant puppeteer in the sky. It's painful to look at. Everything is void of detail or any real character. Everything is blurry, dithered and downright ugly. And somehow the framerate in the game is still not steady. Even the game's front-end menu system is barren and uninspired. The graphics in this title only reinforce the fact that it could have very well been a 16-bit baseball game, and a bad one at that, which has somehow made its way out of the vaporware dump and into GT Interactive's loving arms for distribution and a quick buck. Probably the most visually appealing aspect of the game is its 3D stadiums, which are well designed and even feature a few extras like live Jumbotrons displaying the action as it takes place. That said, this game will not be remembered for its graphics.
The funny part here is that the game's opening music is actually pretty good, but it all goes downhill from there. Devil's Thumb has developed some truly, err, unique sound effects to highlight the gameplay. For example, if a ball is hit out of the park a voice, which we can only assume is one of the game's programmers, shouts, "It's a home-run!" If a ball is caught, one of the programmers yells, "Out!" Or, there's the trusty line-drive shot into space, whereupon the programmer announces "That ball's belted!" And there you have all three speech samples in the game. The crowd effects are a constant and quickly become tiresome and the in-game tunes aren't worth listening to.
For some comical fun we suggest turning the crowd sounds and music off and then trying out the game's Home Run Derby mode. Here's what you can expect to hear every five or six seconds, quite possibly in this order: "That ball's belted!", (birds whistling), "Out!", "It's a home-run!", "It's a home-run!", "It's a home-run!", (birds whistling), "Out!", "That ball's belted!"
With All-Star Baseball '99 and Ken Griffey Baseball already available, there is no reason to buy this game, unless you've been searching for the least impressive baseball title for the console. We're confused as to why GT and Devil's Thumb didn't go back to the drawing board after seeing the first pictures of Nintendo's and Acclaim's offerings -- both companies can do so much better. Still, there is some fun to be had with the game, though admittedly most of it comes from laughing at it. If you aren't willing to avoid it altogether then give it a rent, invite a few friends over and turn off the music and crowd noises. We guarantee a few good laughs if nothing else.