- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 19, 2007

Here’s a look at some hardware and software that’s available

The Bigs, from 2K Sports for Xbox 360, rated E for everyone, $59.99.

Fans dazzled by last week’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game can take part in the virtual fun with an exaggerated, arcade-style video game that immediately plunges them into the best parts of America’s pastime. For me, those key moments involve strikeouts, home runs and unbelievable catches, and all are served up and easily executed liberally in the Bigs.

Players of all ages can appreciate this title, which features a simple control interface. It also refreshingly dispenses with the bogged-down, stat-heavy, life-consuming career and franchise modes, seen in the typical baseball simulation, and gets to the simple beauty of the sport with frenetic five-inning contests.

Featuring a beefed-up lineup of stars from the MLB — who actually look like their real-life counterparts — and equally enhanced stadium and crowds, the action plays out mostly like the game created back in the 1800s. One exception — teams are outrageously rewarded for exceptional efforts as points build up in a pair of meters that keep track of performance.

Those meters can trigger boosts of speed, power and added pitching prowess for individual players as well as inject some special effects into the proceedings. The Power Meter is most crucial and can turn the tide in a game.

Once a team loads up 100,000 points for such efforts as the double play, climbing the wall to rob a hitter of a home run and legging out a triple, the fun really kicks in. When it is full, the meter gives the hitter the power to crank a ball so hard out of the park that it explodes through a scoreboard or allows the pitcher the ability to unleash almost unhittable fireballs upon the hapless batter. Of course, strategy will play out if both hitter and pitcher have the meters at their disposal, setting up an almost Wagnerian duel.

The extended adventure in the game is the Rookie Challenge where the coach creates a star and hones his skills from spring training through the World Series. The twist here is that between games, the player works through mini-challenges, such as running around obstacle courses, to earn points that can be distributed among his ever-growing attributes. His team also can steal players from the opposition, when they win, to add more stars to a lineup

The most enjoyable part of the Bigs arrives with the cooperative play potential in all of the contests as a pair of coaches can challenge another. Each coach trades off pitching assignments versus controlling a fielder every inning and takes turns when up to bat.

Even folks who could care less about baseball will appreciate the game’s Home Run Pinball option. Much like a David Letterman skit, hitters stand in the middle of Times Square and take batting practice on the surrounding structures to hit targets and gain high point totals.

The Bigs owners also can take part in a Home Run Derby as well as go online to challenge and work with friends. All of the above completes a great title that brings interactive fun back into baseball video games.

Those in need of a break can rest their cramped digits and watch a DVD devoted to the short-lived television show Home Run Derby (MGM Home Entertainment, $14.98) to appreciate some of the legendary sluggers of the game.

The series ran between 1959 and 1961 and pitted a pair of players against one another in home-run-hitting, nine-inning contests. Viewers get eight 23-minute black-and-white programs full of stunningly boring action enhanced by the desert-dry delivery of host Mark Scott, who sat behind a dented desk near home plate and aggravated the players.

However, to watch the sweet swing of contestants such as Willie Mays, Harmon Killebrew, Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks and Mickey Mantle as they pound out the long ball in Los Angeles’ Wrigley Field is so worth the price of admission.

Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; or send e-mail (jszadkowski@washington times.com).