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All Star Baseball 2001 (N64) Review

Publisher: Acclaim
Release Date: April 2000

Background Info


There are two things we can count on every year. One is a new baseball title just in time for the opening of the season. The other is for that baseball title to be incorrectly titled. What year is this? So why is it that every sports title has to add a year? At least the other three major sports play into the next calendar year, but baseball starts and ends in the same year. Notwithstanding the fact that Acclaim and every other publisher under the sun can't read a calendar, Acclaim throws us a high fastball of a game that will satisfy both sim and arcade fans for this baseball season.

If you are new to baseball games or are looking for a reason to upgrade to the latest title, you won't go wrong with All-Star Baseball 2001 (ASB 2001). The game features fast arcade-style play for the impatient or more realistic simulation-style play with games lasting around three-quarters of an hour. Either way you slice it, ASB 2001 recreates the baseball season with the current assortment of major league talent. The game hits a home run with its wonderful blend of eye pleasing graphics and solid gameplay. Without a doubt, Nintendo 64 owners will be stealing home with this one.

Graphics : 92
Acclaim has always had a rich tradition on the Nintendo 64 when it comes to the graphical quality of their sports games. In some respects the glitz has come at the sacrifice of adversely affecting the rules of the game. The Quarterback Club series is notorious in its inabilities to hang in there with the Madden-class of football games. The same can't be said of the All-Star Baseball series; this is one series where Acclaim has always hit the mark both graphically and in the game play.

This year is no exception, as the graphics of All-Star Baseball 2001 continue to amaze on the near-forgotten Nintendo 64. As in the previous editions of the series, players have a look that's appealing to the eye. Smooth textured players are the rule, and everything down to the cleats is perfectly modeled. As the ballplayers swing the stick the animations are flawless. Perhaps the only graphical glitch with the players is with the names on the backs of the uniforms. The names are clear and can be read with no problem but as players swing, their upper torso twists. This twisting motion has the effect of distorting the names on the back. So rather than having stitched-on numbers, players look like they swing with Silly-Putty uniforms.

Player models are relatively restricted. Some players are modeled after their real life counterparts. The major stars have appearances which resemble the real-life players. But there are many times where the players have a generic look to them. Craig Biggio does not look at all like how he is portrayed in the game. Furthermore, players have a limited number of sizes and batting stances. You have the big boys like Mac and Gwynn, but unless the player has a big or small build, he's pigeon-holed into the same generic body style.

The ballparks are perfectly done. For my test of the game, I picked the hometown Astros. For those not in the know, the Astros have a new ballpark - Enron Field. Other than the fact that it's quickly getting the reputation as a hitter's park (a 315 foot left field and 326 foot right field will do that to a park), it's also known as a park with a ludicrous feature - a flag pole in the field of play. While the hill in centerfield leading up to the pole is present, unfortunately Acclaim left out this most distinctive feature. It did, however, have a sign reminding us to play the Texas lottery. Nonetheless, the rest of the park looks great. And everyone will recognize special features of their home parks. Boston has the Green Monster, and Arizona has the swimming pool in the outfield. Parks feature Jumbotrons that clearly display the action as it happens. The only negative with the parks is the look of the crowd. For the most part the crowd is modeled as a smooth collage of colored patches. But the first few rows will sport detailed faces that look like something out of the Goldeneye game. It's actually kind of creepy looking.

Animations are everywhere in the game. Acclaim has motion captured everything imaginable. The animations tend to be recycled frequently. For example, if a player strikes he usually tosses the bat up in the air and quickly snags it by the barrel. Swinging motions depend on the player; players with compact stances have different swinging styles than those with an upright stance. Baserunning utilizes a variety of animations. Sliding into a base is either head or feet first, and you can actually try to evade the tag by sliding around the defense. In one game my opponent came up short and was crawling on his hands and knees to get to the base. In the outfield, you can make spectacular dives or climb the wall to snag the ball.

Presentation/Audio : 75
All-Star Baseball 2001 tries its best to capture the essence of the game of baseball. It does an admirable job, but unfortunately it falls a little short. The game features a two-man booth with John Sterling and Michael Kay from the Yankees crew calling the game. Every time I hear it, it actually sounds a little like Vin Scully to me. The commentary is sparse and repetitive. It sticks to telling you the pitch type, the score, and perhaps a player's last at-bat statistics. Rather than offering its intended TV style play-by-play, the commentary almost reflects that of a PA announcer - not a lot of pizzazz.

Speaking of pizzazz, the crowd at the Astros' former home, the Astrodome, was never known to rock the house. At times you could hear a pin drop in the Dome. It seems like Acclaim decided to mike my Houston brethren for ASB 2001. The crowd is dead except on hits or strikeouts. There's no building rumble as you rally from behind nor is there heckling of the players.

Acclaim did do a fine job with the sounds of the ball and bat. The crack of the bat stands out (thanks to the mute audience). Players have a grinding sound when they make slides and thuds when diving for balls in the outfield. Balls bouncing off the outfield walls have a realistic sound to them. And pitches whizz by with a brush of air.

Gameplay : 92
ASB 2001 utilizes similar controls compared to other baseball games out there. I sometimes wonder if Nintendo designed their controller with baseball in mind. The C buttons are set up perfectly for baseball games, and as usual they point to the bases. The game utilizes every button on the controller for both offense and defense. My only complaint, and it's common to all console baseball games, is that because there are so many possibilities with men on base you have to be on top of things mentally. When batting, you can guess pitch type and location easily enough. You can then adjust your batting location and even the hitting angle (rather than just utilizing a rectangular batting target, Acclaim adds a third dimension - you can rotate the target in two directions to give yourself a better chance at hitting a grounder or pop-up and hitting to a specific side of the field). But you've got to manage this and your baserunners in just a second or two, as the pitchers don't waste much time with their deliveries. On pop-ups your players may be halfway to the next base before you can mash the right sequence to return them.

ASB 2001 lets you play quick arcade style games as well as going through a full simulated season. Seasons vary in length from the full 162 game schedule to a 28 game season. For purists I'd suggest the full season. ASB 2001 implements a hot-cold streak that really plays in the games. Batters who continue to produce at the plate are rewarded by getting hotter. Slumping players go cold and it takes a tremendous amount of effort to pull them out. Similarly, pitchers who give up the long ball too often quickly slump, yet those with good control are rewarded by becoming more dominant. And the system really works well. In one series against the Cards, I thoroughly abused J.D. Drew. The first time he stepped to the plate he was a little on the cold side, say medium-cold. I quickly found he was a sucker for the high curve and used it to my advantage. With each subsequent plate appearance, he dropped off even more until he was ice cold.

Besides implementing a streak system, ASB 2001 does have a good statistical engine. Though still in the early part of my season, the statistics are mostly accurate. I've got some players who are in slumps and aren't batting their weight, and I've got Jeff Bagwell putting up MVP type numbers. Pitchers come in with realistic ERAs, and batters have a good mix of averages. Just like the real deal, it's hard to sweep a series, and that's represented in the game - not just for my team but for the whole league. Subtle rules of the game are reflected in ASB 2001; if a batter gets thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double he is rewarded with the single. Likewise, errors in the outfield are a curse to the batter as batters are not awarded a hit while still being charged with an at bat.

To test the league stats, I played to a particular point in the season and compared the league leaders' statistics to actual MLB players. What I found was that while the names have changed, ASB 2001 does a pretty good job simulating current statistics. The exceptions were better pitching in the game over reality; each league had five or six pitchers with ERAs below 2.00. At this point in the season, that honor is restricted to Pedro Martinez in the AL and Tom Glavine and Randy Johnson in the NL. The offensive numbers were almost all right on target.

If you want to bypass the realism in the game, ASB 2001 serves up a quick Arcade-style game. This version of the game is actually quite entertaining and takes away all the though involved with the sim side. While you can still guess pitch type, there's no batting target to worry about, and just about every swing puts the ball in play. While pitching, you just select a pitch and go. No placement to worry about. For long ball lovers, check out the recycled home run derby.

Replay Value : 90
If you are a baseball fan you will not be disappointed with All-Star Baseball 2001. While there are shortened seasons available, for the true experience I wholeheartedly recommend playing either a half or full season schedule. By doing so you can test both your managerial and playmaking skills. With the streak system in place you have to juggle the subtle nuances of the game. With games lasting under an hour you can play a complete series in the time it takes to watch a single live game with the overpaid pros. At that rate if you are up to the challenge of a full season you are looking at close to 120 hours worth of play ahead of you. Pretty cheap (and quality) entertainment.

Unless a sports game is seriously flawed, it almost has to have replay value. Finishing an entire season in some sports (all save football) will keep you busy for months. Certainly some games have a seasonal feel to them. I currently have no desire right now to play a football game, but come the Fall I'll be right under center. And honestly, this title will probably be shelved once that time comes. But in the meantime I will be enjoying the best baseball series on the Nintendo 64.

Overall : 89
We are in the dying days of the N64. That is certainly reflected in the dwindling number of titles coming out on the platform. In fact, this is the only baseball title released for the 2000 baseball season. With no competition you would think that Acclaim could dump any product onto the market and it would be soaked up. But we lucky N64 owners can relish in the fact that even though this is the only baseball game in town, it is a good one.

By: James Smith 5/5/00

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