Review by Dave Giarrusso



Graphics: 5

Sound: 6

Gameplay: 7

Overall: 6

I tend not to play too many “realistic” sports games.  Aside from the wonderfully executed Tennis 2K2 (the latest installment in Sega’s Virtua Tennis franchise to the two clowns who haven’t played it yet), pretty much all of the sports games I play are on the other side of the fence.  The side of the fence where basketball players can leap OVER the rim with the greatest of ease.  The side where football players pile-drive each other as if they’re reenacting a pay-per-view wrestling match.  And the side where baseball pitchers can literally steer the ball with their evil thoughts as it crosses home plate.  My kind of sports video games indeed.

It’s probably a bit of a stretch to call PlayBall! a “sports” game, but at the very least, it’s a “sports-themed” game.  Either way, it’s not terribly realistic, so it’s definitely my kind of sports game.  The star of PlayBall! is a round character dressed in red sneakers, a matching red visor, and an oversized baseball glove.  You know those oversized foam fingers that say “we’re number one!”?  Same idea, but here it’s a baseball glove.  And it’s perched atop our armless friend’s scalp.

PlayBall! most closely resembles a multi-ball Arkanoid variant (although it predates Arkanoid by a few years) played in a stadium, a spin on the genre that wouldn’t turn up again until 1987’s Free Kick.  It offers silly characters, hi-quality digitized speech, and offbeat play as an incentive to try yet another Pong/Breakout descendant.  Here, although you can only move left and right, you can also wrap around from the left side of the screen to the right and vice versa.  The wrap around feature is especially helpful in later levels where the pace picks up significantly and there are more balls to contend with.  Er, yeah.

Two levels of seats are occupied by a handful of fans, a concession vendor, and a shady character bent on –literally– bowling your character over… with a vengeance!  The vendor tosses out a variety of balls, including beach balls, footballs and soccer balls.  The player must attempt to “catch” the balls by volleying them back upward.  After a few successful bounces, the balls will finally be “caught” and will disappear.  Volley / catch enough balls and you’ll clear the round.  The secondary task is to steal as many bases as possible.  Bases randomly appear throughout each level, running over one tacks on some additional points.  Additional bonus points are scored if you can manage to scarf up the peanuts, cotton candy, and other snacks that intermittently drop down from the stands.

All of the balls must be caught EXCEPT for bowling balls - catching one causes our neutered friend to explode.  Missing three balls on any round of the game will likewise cost the player a life.  If a fan manages to jump out of the stands and land on a base, “Yer out!”  Deduct one life.  Where else are you going to see a fan jump onto the field at a sporting event and call a player out, instead of getting beaten and escorted out of the place by security?

The third round brings on a slightly different challenge: smashing bowling balls with a baseball bat!  At the start of the round, the vendor tosses out a bat.  Miss it and you’ll regret it immediately, as bowling balls rain down like something out of Kaboom!  If you manage to catch the bat, it will replace the baseball glove and begin swinging away. Smash as many bowling balls as possible before the bat disappears, leaving our PlayBall! pal helpless yet again.

If it sounds like there are lots of things to keep an eye on here, it’s because there are.  Luckily, pressing the button grants you a time out.  Time outs temporarily freeze all the balls in play, giving you an opportunity to catch your breath and collect a few extra stolen bases.  Save ‘em up if you can, they come in handy in the later rounds!  Speaking of the later rounds, as you progress further into the game, more fans show up to cheer you on.  Nice touch.

If you’re looking for a realistic sporting game, you’ll want to skip PlayBall! in favor of something else, probably something with “Madden” or “2K2” in the title.  On the other hand, if you need a break from the more sportslike sports sims and you tend to gravitate toward Breakout styled games, check this one out.  It may be neutered, but it’s still got balls.

Lotsa balls.


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Last updated: Wednesday, December 10, 2003 03:30 PM