Game Description: Bursting with stunning realism and high excitement baseball action Ken Griffey Jr.'s Slugfest drives home the winning run! Improved player animations and color commentary by Dave Niehaus-'The Voice of the Mariners'-make you feel like you're really at the game while easy-to-use controls updated rosters & statistics and an optional fantasy draft make it even more fun than being there!
In the world of Nintendo 64 baseball, two franchises stand above the rest: Nintendo's very own Ken Griffey series and Acclaim's All-Star Baseball series. Thus far, it's been a heated rivalry and like most fierce competitors, neither will accept defeat or rest on its laurels. It's a new season and with it comes a new set of entries. This year's Ken Griffey is called Slugfest and it's time for us to see if developer Angels Studios made the right moves in the off-season. Batter up!
Slugfest has a couple of things going for it that raises it above its competitors. It showcases the graphic potential of the Nintendo 64 processors as well as its aural prowess too. Recorded in full Dolby Surround Sound (one of the few video games with this feature), Slugfest scores as the most talkative and vocal of the baseball bunch. The umpire's calls sound on target, the stadium noises are authentic, and the kicker is the commentary from Griffey (which is inconsequential and silly, but still fitting). There's also an excellent create-a-player feature that's the best I've seen thus far in terms of simplicity and intuitiveness. In fact, simplicity is something that Slugfest, as a whole, excels at. And this is not a knock on Angel Studios and Nintendo. It's great to play a game that works so hard to not overwhelm the gamer.
That simplistic feel translates into arcade-style gameplay, but there isn't a real sense of control when it comes to manipulating your players. The camera angles change with every play. We get weird angles whether the ball's hit to the outfield or bounced in the infield. It's as if TV editors were put in control to offer the best looking shot for the audience. But unfortunately, this usually equates to some terrible views for the player. The hitting and throwing interface also needs work. You know where the pitches are coming from and where you have to swing to make contact, but doing so just doesn't feel natural. None of this feels particularly realistic either (it's not unusual for games to reach double digits in scoring before the second inning), but to be fair, realism doesn't appear to be the focus anyway.
Slugfest is a nice sports title. It's definitely one of the best baseball games out there, but it's, for sure, not complete. Things get precariously simplistic at times, to the point where it's purely functional, but for what it is, Slugfest is a treat. It offers the player a fun time with lots of energy. Maybe it's a sign of the times now that baseball has to speed things up and focus on the big draws like homeruns and showboat catches to keep up with other "jazzier" sports.
I agree with Dale that simplicity in Slugfest is for the most part, a good thing. I really enjoyed the easily comprehensible startup menus and create-a-player features. It was quite refreshing especially after wading through All-Star Baseball 2000's (ASB 2000) confusing and often needlessly complicated menu interface (keep in mind this says nothing of the actual gameplay). So initially, Slugfest comes off being very approachable and accessible.
So you can imagine my disappointment to find that as soon as I started playing, the game would reveal its fatal flaw. For me, it boiled down to one simple thing: the camera angles. While Dale pointed it out as a flaw, he didn't address it with the appropriate degree of severity. The camera angles in Slugfest destroyed this game. Rather then choosing intuitive angles that would be helpful and assist players, the developers opted for quirky and more dynamic shots that do absolutely nothing for the gameplay. The worst thing about the angles is how it breaks the continuity of the game. After the ball comes off the bat, not only is there the tiniest fraction of a second delay, but the camera proceeds to move to a uncomfortably high elevation. When the ball gets thrown in from the outfield and there's a play at the base, again there is a misguided view change to give us a close-up of the play. The problem is that it often feels like the computer is cheating on the play because we don't see the ball being thrown in on one continuous shot. These little things may seem insignificant, but it makes all the difference when you consider that these moments occur during the most crucial points in a game. Slugfest can hit proverbial home runs in the graphics, sound, and control department, but if something "trivial" like the camera angles can't be counted on to sacrifice and advance the bases when it needs to, it's a weakness that's going to hurt the team when it counts the most.
Baseball purists might as well stay away from this thing. You won't find a simulation in any part of Ken Griffey Jr.'s Slugfest, but you will have a good time. It's not heavy in realism or stats, but it does mimic the game of baseball and adds it's own personality, which can be appealing to all.