- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 21, 2002

Game Bytes

The home of NFL Blitz, NHL Hitz and NBA Hoopz now has turned baseball into an over-the-top sports simulation that makes World Wrestling Entertainment look tame.
Considering major league baseball's current image, the time appears right for a game filled with pompous, muscle-bound individualists showing off their talent, more worried about being on camera than sportsmanship.
MLB Slugfest delivers on numerous levels through a fast-action, great-looking, decent-to-control challenge with enough brutal beatings to spruce up any tedious pitching duel.
Because of my membership in the Video Game Sports Generalities Union, I must quickly report that all teams, stadiums and favorite players are available. Gamers get a ridiculous amount of statistics, can play up to a 52-game season, have four modes of action and blah, blah, blah
Get the point? OK, now for the fun stuff.
Having no idea what I was getting into, I selected a Quickplay game between the Chicago Cubs (who I controlled) and Baltimore Orioles, held at dusk in Wrigley Field with angry clouds hovering overhead.
I knew things were going to get strange when Orioles leadoff batter Jerry Hairston Jr. held his hands in the air and a bat mysteriously was tossed to him while he stood in the batter's box.
Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood made an immediate mistake, due to my slow learning curve, and threw a fat pitch that Hairston cracked into the right-field corner. I got the ball to third in time, but Hairston punched my third baseman in the gut, making him drop the ball, and then easily scored.
These shenanigans permeate the game. Any time a fielder stands near a runner, he will get pummeled or can tag the player hard. A pickoff attempt often becomes a boxing match that quickly can turn a routine single into a triple. And forget about casually running to first base. The computer commands aggressive outfielders who throw from anywhere and accurately to first. Remember, kiddies, always use that turbo button to zoom after a hit.
Hysterical animations also pepper the game. Wood reaches between his legs to take a throw from the catcher, or Sammy Sosa hits a home run and ends up kissing the home plate like it's his wife. The hot dogging becomes a way of life for this crew of superstars.
Character renderings look great. There are more than 1,500 animations at work, ball movement always gets highlighted with laser trails and, of course, the mandatory Midway combustible element is back.
Players who string hits together begin to smolder and will burst into flames, temporarily obtaining incredible speed, power and attitude until called out.
The controls are a mixed bag. I actually hit the ball and became a decent pitcher, but refining my running and fielding game took some time.
However, dealing with some of the more frustrating thumb-knotting maneuvers on the controller like trying to wrangle with multiple runners and having one of them slide became irrelevant thanks to an entertaining commentary team that could easily appear on "The Best Damn Sports Show Period."
Tim Kitzrow does a solid job, but Chicago radio personality Jimmy Shorts adds a stream of consciousness that made it difficult for me to concentrate on my tasks but easy to laugh.
For no reason, the guy just starts blathering about hitting his head on the thing that sticks out of the shower stall the night before, or Jimmy cajoles his pal to pipe in that better umpires routinely have their bladders surgically removed so they won't need to use the bathroom during games. I really enjoyed the lunacy, and it made me forget that the game could be a real pain if I cared about winning.
MLB Slugfest brings a new, energetic level to the mundane world of baseball that anyone with a violent streak and a sense of humor immediately will appreciate.

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