|World Series Baseball II||Saturn|
|Review by Jeff Cooper||Sega||Sports|
|Graphics: 8||Sound: 8||Gameplay: 8||Overall: 8.5|
It finally happened. For the first time in years, I threw a controller in the middle of a videogame. In fact, I threw it so hard I busted it. This was something special. See, I'm fanatical in preventing people from abusing my videogame equipment. When they were toddlers, my nephews played my 2600, but they were so brainwashed about being gentle with the controllers that they had nightmares about breaking them. When he got a little older, my nephew Chris, now known as the Pete Rose of video, broke my Arkanoid controller in a fit of anger, and suffered a lifetime video ban as a consequence. We still don't talk. (Oh, just kidding).
If I'm going to get angry enough to throw a controller, two conditions must be met. First, I have to be really "into" the game. I'm not gonna get angry if I just don't care. Secondly, the game has to have done something to frustrate the hell out of me. That pretty neatly sums up my response to World Series Baseball II for the Saturn.
Let me acknowledge that WSBB II is my favorite out of all the zillions of video baseball games I've tried. The graphics and realism are stupendous. All of the ballparks are included, and they look just great. And the details. Oh, the details. When you see your second baseman shovel to the shortstop who in turn leaps and pivots in the air while throwing to first for the double play, you'll know you are playing a special game. When you hit a grounder to right on a rainy day, the ball splashes in the outfield. The buildings behind Wrigley are perfect. The retired numbers are proudly posted out in Fenway's right field, as the Prudential Center (or is it the Hancock building?) looms on the horizon.
While gameplay is essentially similar to the first Saturn installment of World Series Baseball, many of the bugs and problems have been cleaned up and new features have been added. Now you will almost always get a double (sometimes even a triple!) if you hit the ball off the wall. Outfielders can no longer throw runners out at first base after fielding singles. The new announcer is also pretty good, if repetitious. He's accurate enough, for the most part, but one gets really tired of hearing, "that was a great pitch to hit!" over and over, or "I wonder what the catcher will call this time?" They should quadruple the number of sound samples. The game also features a nice create player mode that is lots of fun to use.
One publication rated this game a five star sensation. Another gave it mediocre grades, complaining that it was just a mildly souped up version of the first WSBB. At the risk of sounding hackneyed, I have to say that both of those views are extreme. The game does have its shortcomings. First and foremost, the crucial pitcher/batter set up is just too simplistic. Pitchers get only your basic (slightly steerable) slowball, fastball, curve left and curve right. The batter gets to swing. Period. If the timing is right, you have a better chance of getting a hit. Can you say NES? I don't entirely blame Sega. This is the same ridiculously simplistic setup used in the first WSBB, and the glossy mags let us all down by praising that game to the skies for its snappy gameplay and arcade simplicity. Sega needs to find a way to complicate pitching and batting--and to reduce the luck element--without sacrificing the quick pace and arcade feel of the game. They need to offer more kinds of pitches and allow for a greater degree of control. Maybe they could experiment with the kind of pitching meter they employed in the Clutch Hitter arcade game. Batting should involve something more than mere timing.
Fielding is pretty well done. Fly balls usually hang up long enough for you to track them down; infielders can make diving stops that look as impressive as hell. But amazingly, there STILL is no instant replay to allow you to watch your great plays, and that's just unacceptable. There are other bugs that creep in as well. Bunt fielding is a real adventure as the computer controlled "man switch" flashes wildly, first activating the pitcher, then the catcher, first baseman, back to the catcher--you get the picture. Control of the outfielders is sloppy. In every game there will be at least a couple key hits that you know you would've caught had the control been tighter. Errors are very much random and they hurt you way more often than they hurt the computer. And while I don't expect pitchers to whiff every time they bat, I don't expect them to bat .450 either, as they tend to do here.
My biggest bitch, however, is reserved for the computer's AI. The game is programmed to stay close. If you've ever played NBA JAM at the default setting, you know what I mean. Open up a big lead in JAM, and the computer will hit every shot in sight, while you miss layups. In JAM, you can shut this stupid feature off if you like. To my knowledge, you can't shut it off in WSBB II. If you open up a five run lead, chances are overwhelming that you are going to get bombed. No matter what you do, your killer curve won't break and computer-controlled .180 hitters will hit like Ted Williams. I hate it when I feel like the computer (rather than me) controls the outcome, and this game does it a lot. Which brings me back to my motivation for hammering a controller. I had opened up a six run lead in the top of the ninth, only to blow it in the bottom of the inning when my unbeatable closer served up a tremendous grand-slam to Jody Reed on a nasty screwball that was six inches outside. That could happen. Not. The rally had been set up by my shortstop booting two easy double-play balls for no reason at all.
For all the flaws, WSBB II remains a fine, if sometimes frustrating game. Many of the problems are less noticeable in a two-player contest. I suppose they had to leave a few bugs in it in order to justify WSBB III.
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