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Triple Play 2000 (N64) Review

Publisher: EA Sports
Release Date: Spring 1999

Background Info





Ever since the Triple Play franchise first appeared for the Sega Genesis (nudging aside Electronic Arts' first baseball sim, Tony LaRussa's Baseball), EA loyalists, detractors, and just plain video baseball players have battled over the merits of the game. The appearance of the franchise on the PSX heated up the discussion (unlike Madden, the NHL series, and the NBA Live series, there was no Saturn version of Triple Play). When it came to the N64, however, EA was beaten to the punch by Acclaim (All Star Baseball 99) and Nintendo (Ken Griffey); moreover, several of EA's initial ports of its sports games to the N64 resembled the previous year's PSX effort (clearly the case, for example, for NHL 99). Now, it's nice to see Slammin' Sammy Sosa on the box, but will TP2000 for the N64 enjoy the same sort of season Sosa enjoyed in 1998? Or will it seem more like the Mets, who struggle to get enough bang for their buck?

Graphics : 75
I had been led by some pre-publication reviews to expect breath-taking graphics for TP2000, but that isn't quite the case. Oh, sure, all the usual N64 touches are there, notably the better blending of colors, but the rendition of players is far from extraordinary, and in many respects is just a marginal improvement from TP 99 for the PSX. The menu interface is clear, with green-tinted photographs of various major leaguers and events (Sosa hitting, Kevin Brown pitching, the Yankees clinching). As with many other N64 games, there is no long introduction (something that does not bother me at all--I'm here to play).

What did disturb me were the various minor errors that baseball fans will recognize in a second. I decided to try out the game with the New York Yankees (hey--I'm not a front-runner . . . I remember when #2 was Jerry Kenney and Bobby Murcer was the second coming). First, Yankee Stadium. It sits in the clouds--the structures just outside the stadium have been destroyed (same for Fenway Park--no soda bottles, no Citgo sign). This means that only in domed stadia do you have a complete environment. The field lacks some minor markings (such as the big NY behind home plate); the game includes a thin fence to represent the additional boxes down the foul lines that appear during the postseason, leaving players to wonder why there's a fence there in the first place (there are no stands or fans put there).

And then there are the Yankees themselves, who come out of their third-base dugout (sorry, guys, but it's been the first-base dugout for decades--remember those pictures of Roger Maris doffing his helmet after hitting #61?) with--sacrilege!--their last names on their uniforms! Nor is there a NY on the batting helmets (other teams also lack logos there). Moreover, the players don't exactly come out of the dugout, but materialize out of the ground near the dugout (the graphics assume a uniform relationship between the dugouts and playing field, and this is not the case in major league ballparks--this problem varies by park). Unlike TP 99, the crowds are always there packing the place (why is George complaining about attendance?). However, the customers seem awfully flat and still. And, sometime during the season, those fans found their scorecards next to useless, for all of a sudden Scott Brosius and Jorge Posada decided to share #20 (Scott wears #18); then, in mid-game against the Angels, Brosius decided that he didn't want to play favorites with the catchers, and so came to bat in the seventh wearing Joe Girardi's #25. The next game it was back to his old #18.

Now I know what some of you are saying--details, details. But good games pride themselves on getting the details right--or should if they are going to brag about their graphics.

Lest you think I'm totally down on the parks, I like the active scoreboards, and the video screens are okay (although all they do is show what you are seeing--no player intros, no welcome to Mrs. Webb's third grade class that is spending this year visiting every NHL rink in Faceoff 99). There are umpires, but no coaches or ball boys or ball girls (some people go to Wrigley Field just to see young ladies field grounders--or so you would think from watching a Cubs telecast). And the park is plastered with ads for those familiar EA products, Chork, Lobster Cola, and the like (although the humor will be lost on many players, because, unlike the PSX series, there are no plugs offered by the announcing team). Wait until MLB decides to place ads on the uniforms...

Ballplayers' faces, while not actual representations, offer variations of facial hair and hair and skin color; the players are not generic in appearance, and they have individualized batting stances, various between-pitches activities (knocking mud off one's cleats, stepping out for a moment), lean back from inside pitches and, when taking, follow the ball into the catcher's mitt. However, in some instances there are a limited number of animations (for example, whenever a batter is hit by a pitch, at first we see a number of reactions, but then he gets up, looks as if he's about to resume his stance, and jogs to first). And don't take a practice swing: you can get caught by the pitcher. Fielding animations are more varied, including collisions, pounding one's mitt while waiting for that lazy fly ball to come down, and scaling the fence; the same goes for baserunners. On the whole, these representations and animations are solid, despite the fumbled details. Someone should play as the Arizona Diamondbacks to see if the game does the uniform-of-the-day routine (the uniform room at Bank One Ballpark must resemble a walk-in closet).

Even more irritating are the limited number of in-game and replay cameras. TP2000 features an "action camera" that is supposed to simulate a television broadcast, and the player will have to depend on it for much of the variation (only with the action camera do most of the vaunted camera positions come into use). Yes, I happen to think that you need only a few in-game cameras (others may have different preferences), and the three provided (all behind home plate: ground view, box view, aerial view) are okay. But I've noticed that there are problems on defense when not using the action camera, including timing the throw to the pitcher covering first (the camera sometimes shows only the first baseman) or in cutting down baserunners attempting to steal (by the way, game designers, you do know that when a runner takes off, fielders yell, "he's going!" Why is that cue missing here?). The replay cameras can at times be simply worthless: try watching a collision at home plate.

On the plus side, between pitches the screen displays the score, balls-strikes-outs, an icon of the basepaths with runners indicated, information on both the batter and pitcher (or playing aids should one desire them instead), and pitch selection. As the pitcher prepares to deliver the ball, only the ball-strike-out count and the basepaths/baserunners icon remains on the screen.

The game claims to have weather, but what it really has is time of day, condition of sky, and wind. No rain, no rain delays, no temperature, and so on (all of which play a role in the real game). And the sun never moves.

Some of these observations about graphics concern minor issues, which many players will dismiss or take in stride; others address more substantial areas. Potential buyers should know what they are getting ahead of time--an attractive view that nevertheless does not take full advantage of the N64's abilities and that falls short in some ways.

Audio : 85
Rather than revisit the issue of the audio limitations of the N64, let's simply say that within those limitations, the game does a good job. There is only a play-by-play announcer (old reliable himself, Jim Hughson), whose commentary is much more generic and clipped than in PSX games--and sometimes he introduces players by position, not by name. The crowd noise is better than average, with prolonged buzzing after a home run by the home team, and an assortment of catcalls--including "This is the show. Show me something!" The PA has its amusing moments. Although the umps make calls, often they speak after the announcer has already given the results of the play.

Two additions to console versions of TP2000 offer effects that may have to be termed acquired tastes. When the home team bats, each batter is greeted with a short burst of modern music. The tunes' themes seem unrelated to the batter, and the limited selection grows old at times. And, although on the whole ball-bat-glove sounds are done well, there's a "whoosh" for balls deep into the outfield (warning-track blasts and balls off the wall as well as homers) and the occasional slide-whistle for foul balls (which can become annoying).

Where the game could improve is in offering verbal cues for the player when the opposition is stealing or taking other risks on the basepaths. That would make the game more realistic without costing much in the way of programming or memory.

Interface/Options : 90
Baseball games generally have three levels of interface: managing game options and memory card management (off-field mechanics), managing rosters and strategy (gm/field manager mode), and actual manipulation of players as they hit, run, throw, and field. TP2000 is very strong in two out of three of these areas.

Game Options and Memory Card Management: Solid. It's easy to navigate through the menus--the game even includes helpful and easy to understand prompts. You can play home run derby, a single game, or progress through a season or the playoffs (there are several length options for each). You select levels of difficulty (for both players or player and CPU), including a "custom" option, number of innings, wind, "weather" (see above), time of day, and cameras. Difficulty options include fielding, throwing, baserunning, pitch aftertouch, fielding aid, game speed, the type of between-pitch overlay (stats or help), and errors, as well as the skill levels mentioned above. You can also select a ballpark, view stats, and participate in various activities reserved for general managers and field managers.

There's only one flaw in the load-up routine. The game does not give you an opening option to load a season; rather, it first warns you that the card lacks sufficient space, and you have to tell it to continue; then you select "load" on a menu and follow the steps to load a season [this also happens when you go to save your progress later on]. Beware: this game is a memory hog. Multiple seasons or saving rosters separately will require more than one card.

General Manager/Field Manager: Here there are reasons to grumble and scratch one's head. Players wishing to update their rosters (which represent the rosters on January 1, 1999) will find it a bit difficult to pull off the Roger Clemens for David Wells, Graeme Lloyd, and Homer Bush deal, for you must trade equal numbers of players. This simply should not happen: it's easy to devise a better method, featuring a 25-man active roster plus five roster spaces for prospects, injured players, and so on (much like NHL 99, for example). For purposes of this review, Wells stayed a Yankee. There is the welcome create-a-player option as well as a healthy list of free agents.

Managers can manipulate lineup cards, pitching rotations, and fielding positions with ease from the roster menu (no position players pitching or visa versa, however). However, managing on the field presents a slightly more difficult challenge. This is due to the flawed nature of the difficulty options for baserunning as well as the absence of any meaningful manager menu for offense. Either you take total control of the baserunners or let the CPU do a great deal (you can try for the extra base, although sometimes the game overrode my decision, and you can steal). There is no middle ground, where the computer AI, factoring in a player's baserunning savvy [what's that? there is no such rating? WHY NOT?], makes the routine decisions while you make others (should I wave in the runner from third? hit and run? steal? squeeze? should my runners be aggressive? conservative?) with a minimum of button mashing. Ideally, you should be able to indicate a conservative/normal/aggressive stance for each runner, and then pull off plays without having to hit a bunch of buttons in proper order. (Yes, you can pull off what usually resembles a hit and run, a steal followed by a hit, but to do so you have to do a great deal that is rather evident to your opponent). TP2000 for the N64 is a step back from its PSX predecessors in terms of offensive strategy.

Having said this, TP2000 recognizes that one of the qualities of a well-managed game is how one uses the bullpen. You've got to warm them up before putting them in. Too bad it doesn't tell you when the CPU is doing the same. And there are defensive strategy options, which makes the absence of offensive strategy options all the more glaring.

And one hidden nugget in the game is so well concealed that it's a shame. If you pause the game, you can get all sorts of good information. There's a line score and batter season stats, but more helpful are the pitcher's energy and pitch count (as well as hits allowed and strikeouts). Go to the menu and examine rosters, however, and you can find out all sorts of information about your players, if you have the time and inclination to look. Between games, there is a deep stats system, with league leaders, team stats, and so on.

Player manipulation: Here the game shines. The designers made good use of the yellow buttons and shoulder buttons for throwing and baserunning (really; using the four yellow buttons to represent the bases offers the same ease of play found in NBA Courtside). Hitting is also rather straightforward, with two options: easy (push a button [A for normal, B for power] and use the joystick to direct the trajectory) and hard (same buttons; use the joystick to manipulate a batting cursor). You can also alter the batter's stance (closed, open, closed or far off the plate). I am pleased that EA decided to spare us the "pick up and play" option, for what's here is fine for all players. If I were to offer one complaint, it is that sometimes there is not enough time to position the batter before the pitch is on its way, and players will learn that how they position the batter is crucial to successful hitting.

All in all, two out of three ain't bad, but the hat trick was well within reach.

Gameplay : 80
The detailed descriptions of the interface and graphics will give the experienced player an idea of some gameplay strengths and weaknesses. Moreover, gameplay varies significantly according to the options toggled, the game speed selected, and the difficulty levels chosen. For example, with the CPU at normal difficulty level and the player at rookie (with easy hitting), you might be surprised at how many times a frozen rope freezes a middle infielder, leading to another base hit.

Having said that, this is no warmed-over version of TP99. There are singles, doubles, the occasional triple, and home runs (and the last are not nearly as frequent as was once the case). There are line drives, bloopers, Texas Leaguers, pop ups; home plate collisions; fielders diving for balls, only to watch as the ball rolls to the wall. Sometimes it's nice to see the CPU make an honest error; some errors are a bit more puzzling (such as the third baseman who jumped up in the air and uncorked a left field), and sometimes the CPU makes bad baserunning errors when handling the user's team.

Although I miss the offensive strategy managing options, I appreciated the simple, smooth play. In fact, the game reminded me of World Series Baseball and World Series Baseball II for the Saturn (with options those games lacked and should have had). And I did appreciate the absence of memory card problems that made TP98 and sometimes TP99 a little frustrating (although I hope I'm not being lulled into a false sense of security).

I especially enjoyed the pitching/batting interface (although my hitting needs work on the hard mode, with the batting cursor, which, unlike, say, the original Bottom of the Ninth, will not stay in place and does not shrink for a power swing). If you think like a hitter, and understand how those decisions translate into positioning yourself in the batter's box, you'll appreciate the result. I still have to work on my power hitting, but I found it better to single and double the opposition to death with the occasional homer thrown in for good measure; however, for single-game contests versus some friends, a more-arcade like power button that can really hammer the ball might be fun. A word of advice: wait on the pitch. It's easy to pull balls foul (and, with high-contact, good bat-control players, I've been known to foul off ball after ball just to put a little wear on the pitcher). And think about using the ball cursor, for that compensates for the lack of depth perception that you would have as a hitter.

Pitching remains an exercise in painting the corners and setting up hitters, and here and there a pitch simply gets away (pinpoint control is not always to be expected). Fielding is made easier by the presence of a bull's eye and a series of arrowheads pointing from the player-controlled fielder to the ball; you can make a fairly solid normal throw or put some mustard on it by hitting the L shoulder button (speed at the sacrifice of accuracy).

Is the gameplay perfect? No. But it is more than acceptable, and the game is easy to play, so you may be surprised at how fast you can plow through a season.

Difficulty : 90
There are so many options that players should be able to arrive at an acceptable combination of player skill, CPU skill, game speed (this is more important than some people realize), and various batting/fielding/baserunning options. Even better is the fact that you can adjust the difficulty level within a season, so as you get better you can increase the challenge.

Overall : 84
TP2000 beat All Star Baseball 2000 and Ken Griffey's slugfest out of the box, which is no minor consideration in light of EA's reputation across the broader gaming public, especially for those people who will pop for only one baseball game. Reaction to it has been mixed (and in some cases criticisms are overblown and not substantiated--incoming!). I enjoyed playing the game and admired its ease of play, but it would not have taken much more to have created a significantly better game. Instead of bestowing unstinted praise or savage and excessive criticism upon the game, the above review is designed to offer players a more informed choice. Moreover, although one hears a great deal about how both Acclaim and Nintendo have build upon their initial effort, my memories of Breakaway 99 leave me a bit wary. Players who want to choose one game might want to wait to see what the next few weeks bring; while TP2000 may satisfy a large number of players (including the occasional or recreational video game player), more hardcore video gameplayers should consider surveying the field.

By: Brooks Simpson 4/12/99

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