All-Star Baseball '99The most beautiful baseball game ever makes its way to Nintendo 64.
Acclaim and Iguana are breaking new grounds again, only this time around it's not with Turok or even NFL Quarterback Club, it's with the latest addition to Acclaim's sports division, All-Star Baseball '99. Like QB Club before it, All-Star Baseball runs in high-resolution (640x480) mode, utilizing unsurpassed animation techniques and clever texture design for an end result that is nothing short of breathtaking. But the question remains: does the game play as good as it looks? Last year NFL Quarterback Club dazzled gamers with lush graphics, but came up short in the gameplay department, especially when compared to the likes of Madden 64. All-Star Baseball delivers on both accounts.
That's not to say the game is boring though, as that couldn't be further from the truth. The baseball action, whether it be fielding or batting, is top-notch, fast and tight. The game's batting system is unique and unequaled. Both the pitcher and the batter are represented in the batter's box -- a blinking cursor for the pitcher and a circle for the batter. Players batting must align their circle (the angle at which their bat will swing) with the pitchers blinking cursor (which disappears periodically with the pitcher's heartbeat, giving batters only a split second to align their bats with the oncoming pitch). Pitching the ball works exactly the same way, except the goal is to trick the batter and throw the ball when and where he can't see it coming. This adds quite a bit of strategy to what is normally a simplistic task -- far more strategy than, for example, Mike Piazza's Baseball offers with its straight pitch-and-hit system.
Players can steal, get caught in a tag-down (which looks amazing), make diving catches, off-the wall catches, slides, get hit by the ball -- all the fun of the game is captured perfectly. The game features all the stat tracking, player rosters and so on, but it also includes a valuable option that is somehow missing in Ken Griffey Baseball: create-a-player. Players can customize their own athletes, including name, height, weight, team, number, skin color, eyes, face, beard -- just about everything, and then send them off to play in the big leagues. The only gripe we could find with the way the game plays is the fact that it moves at a slower, more realistic pace than Ken Griffey Baseball, which spits out play after play in a matter of seconds. Simulation junkies will no doubt appreciate the realism, but others may be a bit turned off by it.
Imagine rendered stadiums that reflect changes in daylight, soft-skinned players with the faces of real athletes texture-mapped onto them, a selection of multiple camera angles, (including fish-eye batting, behind the catcher and over the catcher views), motion-captured animation, all with a fast framerate that never hitches. Not only is All-Star baseball the most beautiful baseball game we've ever seen, it's one of the prettiest games in existence. That said, the game does lack the little extras that add character. For example, when a player hits a home-run there's no real sense of achievement -- he just runs the bases. In Griffey, when a player hits a homer his teammates will give him high-fives when he approaches the dug-out. We're probably being picky, but minute details like this add quite a bit to the game.