Grand Slam

Grand Slam has the feel of televised baseball down pat.

Publisher: Virgin
Developer: Virgin
Genre: Sports

Virgin's long-in-waiting and multiple-renamed baseball game makes it in time for the early 1997 series. Grand Slam's designers really show their baseball expertise, but they don't quite pass this talent to the graphic artists.

This game has all the necessary videogame baseball elements: exhibitions, All-Star games, seasons, home run derby (it's called Tater Tourney, probably due to licencing problems); full seasons with statistic and trades tracking. You can even opt to play a season game or have the computer calculate the winner for you.

The game introduces a unique pitching interface, similar to those in computer golf simulators. Press the button once and the needle in the gauge moves to indicate the speed of the pitch. As the needle winds back to its original position, you'll need to time it in the green zone, which represent an accurate pitch. The game emphasizes timing over ball-placement, making for some seriously unpredictable gameplay. And as the pitcher's stamina wears down, so does the ability to accurately time the pitch. This feature also makes for an unrealistic amount of hit-by-pitches, so you'll have to time your pitches to the pixel.

With its excellent play-by-play and stadium PA announcers, Grand Slam has the feel of televised baseball down pat. The play-by-play is done extremely well -- there's nary a time where he says something completely obvious like "He needs to hit the ball to stay alive." Most of the commentary is generic, but it's phrased and spoken in a way that makes it feel specific to the situations.

The designers also work around the fact that they don't have an MLB license. All the professional players are in here, as well as recreating all of the stadiums (unnamed, but they're pretty accurate), but don't expect to play as the Phillies or the Red Sox -- the teams are generically named as the cities they represent. But they dance around this quite well, replacing the team name with its city or nickname whenever they refer to it in speech or text. Clever.

The only thing dragging Grand Slam down is its primitive graphics. Character animations are choppy and unrealistic, and the sprites themselves are oddly squashed. The 3D stadium engine is relatively smooth, but those cut-out bitmaps they call athletes really stick out like a Monty Python cartoon.

That's a shame, and it makes the game unbalanced most of the gameplay, strategic, and statistical elements work well for Grand Slam, but the graphics don't portray the same quality. It coulda been a contenda, but instead it comes out a distant (but not too lengthy) second to Sega's own World Series line of baseball games.