Major League Baseball featuring Ken
Release Date: 5/28/98
By: Andrew Carty 6/27/98
Way back in 1996, Nintendo announced that one of its first titles, to appear during Spring Training '97, would be Ken Griffey Jr. Baseball. A year and a half later, it's finally materialized. Worth the wait? Read on.
Graphics : 85
The graphics in KGJ baseball are excellent. One thing that sets it apart from the competition is the amazing animation. Players swing, dive, and throw from their knees with incredible realism. You'll also notice how the base coaches signal to slide, teammates in the dugout celebrate homers, and players complain after a called strike. The player models are good, but you'll notice small calves and forearms. The stadiums also look good, featuring incredible detail. Crowds come and go depending on the score; and in season mode, how well your team is doing. Another great feature is the dynamic camera angles. The game's camera is continually changing to offer the player the best possible view. This adds some variety, and almost makes you feel like you're watching the game on TV. My favorite is when a player situates himself under a high fly ball, the camera switches to a behind the shoulder view. The bottom line is that KGJ's graphics will not disappoint any baseball fan.
Audio : 90
KGJ's audio is well done. The in-game effects such as the crack of the bat, the ball hitting leather, and the umpires are all standard fare. What raises its class are the ambient sounds, such as airplanes, crowd hecklers, and police sirens (must be Chicago). The crowd cheers and jeers appropriately, although sometimes the crowd falls dead silent. That leads to quite an eerie experience, akin to playing in a graveyard. Ken Griffey Jr. himself adds a little comment here and there, but nothing more than a monotone "great grab", or "going, going, gone." Subtle sound effects alert you of errors, when a player slides (on or off camera), and when you try to throw to a base when no one's covering. Overall, KGJ's audio does a good job of capturing the baseball experience.
Interface/Options : 75
Instead of opting for the standard menu selection, KFJ uses a unique baseball approach - rotating the baseball allows you to select Exhibition, Season, World Series, and Homerun Derby Modes. In season, you will be able to check the sports wire for free agents, trades and injuries. Minimal stat tracking allows you to follow all the major categories, including hits, homers and RBI. Post-game stats show box scores with all the players' individual performances, including pitchers. In-game subbing is easy to do, as the game features simple menus for easy navigation. For the good qualities that it has, however, it lacks in some major categories. There is no create-a-player, instant replay, or "controller select" option found in many sports games, which means no changing controls in mid-game, and no two players on one team. KGJ is also missing a way to quit games during play; in fact, you have to hit reset. For a hard-core sports simulation fan, or a serious baseball fanatic, there may not be enough options or stat tracking. For the average baseball fan and the casual gamer there should be enough to satisfy.
Gameplay : 95
I think that where KGJ baseball shines is in the gameplay. The game is well rounded, and the AI is excellent. The computer accurately subs players, steals bases, executes hit and runs, etc.: you won't leave feeling cheated. A fantastic part of KGJ is the ball physics. I can't remember a game when my third baseman charged a chopper, and it actually bounced over his head! And balls will bounce off the corner with realism, helping a speedy base runner get the triple. One of the most important part of a baseball game, the batting interface, was done really nicely here. The default setting is the "arcade mode" where batters must line up their cursors with the pitchers. The pitchers cursors fades in and our with his heartbeat, so lining up your cursor perfectly is difficult. As the pitcher grows tired, the fading will become more rapid, allowing the batter to hit a little easier. You can also switch to a "classic mode", where all you have to do is time your swing with the incoming pitch. Throwing is also done nicely, utilizing the Nintendo controller's "C" buttons. Right C equaling 3rd base, etc. Although much is done right, it does have its flaws. I would prefer if once the ball is hit, the camera angle would be slightly higher, allowing you to field more easily. Sometimes it gets hard to judge exactly where the ball will be. Another flaw is that you cannot change manually which player to control. The computer automatically switches for you, to whichever player is the closest. This is sometimes difficult for quick grounders, as you may find your self trying to move your first baseman left, when actually you should be moving your second baseman right. Overall, this game plays better than any other title for the N64.
Difficulty : 90
For exhibition play, you have three modes: Rookie, Veteran, and All-Star, with the difficulty increasing with each. During season mode, the games will get harder as the season progresses, being easy at first to let you master the controls. In All-Star, the computer controlled players will pitch better, swing at most anything in the strike zone, and play defense with much more aggressiveness.
Overall : 88
Although I found this to be the best baseball game for the Nintendo 64, I
felt with so much time in development there might be a little more. The
graphics are great, but not spectacular, the sound is nice, and the gameplay
is almost spot on. With some added options and statistical tracking, and
maybe a create a player feature, this game would be close to perfect. When
comparing it to the competition (All-Star Baseball by Acclaim Sports), I
prefer KGJ for its nicer animations, quicker gameplay, and superior
artificial intelligence. All in all, I would call Ken Griffey Jr. Baseball
a must-have for any baseball fan, and I highly recommend this to the average
gamer wishing to try out a baseball game. Kudos to Angel Studios' first
attempt at an N64 game.
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