Home Run King (GameCube) review
"The situation is this: one out, in the bottom of the ninth, in the biggest game of your life. Your team trails by one. The most dominating post-season reliever of all time is on the mound. "
The situation is this: one out, in the bottom of the ninth, in the biggest game of your life. Your team trails by one. The most dominating post-season reliever of all time is on the mound.
At third base stands pinch-runner Tomas Perez, who entered after Mike Lieberthal miraculously started off the inning with a double. Perez advanced to third when pinch-hitter Kevin Jordan clipped a weak grounder to the right side, becoming the first out of the inning, but successfully moving the tying run a mere ninety feet away.
Seconds ago, Jimmy Rollins stood in there and took an errant cut-fastball for the team, holding his thigh as he hobbled down to first base.
Two on, one out.
Up to the batter's box strides... Doug Glanville. Available to pinch-hit are... Felipe Crespo and Nick Punto.
GOD HELP US!
The alert manager quickly realizes he still controls his own destiny; the odds can quickly be shifted in his favor. Bobby Abreu, who’s been crushing the ball all post-season, lurks on deck. With just one out, you know if Rollins can somehow steal second base, the by-the-book Torre will intentionally walk Glanville to preserve the game-ending double play, bringing your leading hitter to the plate. Even if Torre doesn’t, at least Glanville won’t hit into the inevitable.
It’s the ultimate in gutsy calls, but you give Rollins the steal sign. He’s out to a huge, four step lead. Posada is already on the balls of his feet. There’s no turning back now. Rivera delivers.
And Rollins limps into second with ease! He didn’t even draw a throw! The Yankees were happy to yield him the base.
AND TOMAS PEREZ IS OUT BY A MILE AT THE PLATE!
Home Run King is a thoroughly flawed affair. The instruction manual tells us we can control individual baserunners by utilizing the C-Stick, but this is not true. Fiddle around with the awkward yellow knob all you want: tilt it, swivel it, rotate it counterclockwise, repeatedly smash it in the direction of the base you want your runner to progress; he’ll still stand around dumbfounded, not reacting at all. The only way to move to the next base is by using the R and L triggers, and every baserunner will attempt to advance when you use these. You can’t steal second in a crucial situation like the one highlighted above without running another man into an obvious out.
I mention this as merely one of the annoyances I’ve suffered while playing Home Run King; the rest of this review could well read like a laundry list of faults.
Moving from the base paths out onto the field, HRK is quick to show off its flash. We have control of the fielders for the most part, directing them to where the ball's been hit, until we get within a certain range. At this point, the game “takes over” for a short span as the fielder makes the actual catch, usually with much flair.
With a runner on third base and less than two out, we want our outfielder to make as quick a transition as possible on a pop-fly to get the ball in. Instead of lining himself up and getting his momentum moving towards the plate to make the throw though, the game opts for our fielder to make a basket catch, and subsequently a run scores easily. BUT HE CAUGHT IT WITH SUCH STYLE!
A player hits a slow chopper to the third baseman -- we need to charge this hard, and we do. Until we near the ball, the game takes over, and we slow up to trap the ball against our body before casually making the throw. Wow, that looked like how a real Major Leaguer might make a play! Just not that particular play, however, as the game failed to realize we needed to get the throw to first in a hurry, not hang back and take our time.
The bases are empty and we hit a sharp groundball in the hole between first and second; somehow, the second baseman makes a spectacular diving catch and goes to throw us out from his knees... only he inexplicably throws the ball to second base. Why? Yet another case of visual flash over smart baseball; HRK was programmed so that on a diving catch by the second baseman up the middle, a case where his momentum is taking him away from the throw, he would quickly flip the ball to the shortstop who would then throw out the runner at first for an awesome play.
The few times I’ve seen it happen as it was intended to play out I was certainly impressed -- hell, it looked even better on the replay! But HRK was also programmed poorly, and can’t differentiate between when such a play is necessary and when it clearly isn’t. Have fun watching these nonsensical plays; the few "web gem" moments came at their expense.
Giving the play-by-play during the course of these events are two unimpressive, no-name announcers. When they’re not mispronouncing names (why not bring in Dodger pitcher Eric GAG-KNEE for the save?), they’re watching a completely different game. A groundball to the second baseman... ”An infield hit!” remarks the play-by-play man as the batter is routinely thrown out at first. A sharp single just out of reach of the first baseman... ”Base hit up the middle!” Meanwhile, the color commentator has a grand total of five long-winded tangents he goes off on (”I’m going on the record and second guessing the manager here...”), and while he’s on one of his babbling spiels the game keeps moving, resulting in a “catch up” effect as the play-by-play describes everything that happened while he wouldn’t shut up.
There’s no option to turn this jabbering off, either.
The pitching interface makes it easy to select your pitch -- and even allows you to change speeds! -- but the inconsistency of aiming with the control stick combined with a strike zone box purely for show doesn’t make it very worthwhile to mess around here -- ”Where did THAT one miss?” Had there simply been a cursor to spot the pitch as was seen in the Nintendo 64’s Griffey games, the fun to be had trying to fool batters would have easily made up for some of HRK’s numerous faults; instead, just like almost everything else about this title, it feels rushed and incomplete.
I say almost, because the batting does kick ass.
Unlike other titles, where all you have to do is move your batting cursor over the cursor of the incoming pitch, Home Run King only gives you the batting cursor. You have to focus on the pitcher as he goes into his wind-up -- finally a game that truly gives a sense of how deceptive hurlers like Mike Mussina and Hideo Nomo truly are. You have to try to pick the ball up as it leaves their hand, judge its speed, follow its trajectory to the plate with your cursor and finally swing at just the right moment; yes, this does take some getting used to, but it feels much more realistic than the approaches others take. It’s as close to the real thing as I’ve seen achieved, and when you’re finally able to smash the ball consistently, it’s certainly a rewarding moment -- hitting a Major League fastball isn't supposed to be easy!
Unfortunately the rest of this title is not nearly as refined. The baserunning is sloppy, the pitching leaves a depressing "what could have been" impression, and there is no trading AI -- feel free to swap Glanville for Barry Bonds. The fielding places more emphasis on visual chicanery than actually making the out, and the same stupid mistakes companies keep making in baseball titles, such as the inability to perform a double-switch (a key maneuver in National League baseball), are again repeated by Sega here.
Home Run King manages to do just one thing right; it’s sad that most of its contemporaries can’t even manage that, leaving me little choice but to keep returning to it every summer.
Community review by drella (September 12, 2007)
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