"The general feel of a set of innings in Little League World Series Baseball 2009 doesn't seem to have changed much. You still control most of the important bits with the 'A' button and furious Wii Remote waggles. You still start a game out with mild swings—because that's all that is strictly necessary—and finish it up with wild convulsions that are enough to nearly put an arm out of socket because of their ferocity."
Not many sports gamers realize this, even though I did my part to spread the word, but Little League World Series 2008 was very good. It didn't feature the MLB license or a bunch of steroid-infused role models, but what it lacked in high-priced swingers it made up for with plain, old-fashioned softball fun. A sequel was justified and Little League World Series Baseball 2009 is that sequel. Developed by Now Production, the newest installment aims to appeal both to returning fans and to the host of baseball enthusiasts who perhaps let the sugary sweet presentation convince them that this was a series worth skipping.
As a yearly franchise, Little League World Series Baseball 2009 benefits from the same incremental upgrades that you might expect from a typical Madden or NHL 2K update, which is to say that much of what made the first game worthwhile has returned and is augmented by a handful of new features that expand the core experience without actually changing it in any obvious ways. In general, it's the safe way to go (even if it does result in dull reviews from game critics such as myself). Consider that a spoiler.
For the most part, Little League World Series Baseball 2009 offers more of everything that made the first game such a joy. That's not a bad thing. There are now 16 authentic teams from across the globe, to quote the helpful fact sheet, as well as 20 customizable teams. I can't confess to being a passionate little league devotee, but what I can say is that the roster here is suitably expansive and allows a person to browse for a fierce mascot (go sharks!). Colors and glowering animals aside, one team pretty much plays the same for me as the next. There are statistical differences reflected as you sift through the options, but these don't actually seem to play out on the field thanks to some factors that I will discuss in a moment.
Once you've chosen the team on which you will place your pennant dreams, it's next possible to customize your players to a pleasing degree. I don't remember that feature being available in the past. Now that I can sort through body types and pick specifics--hair, eyes, pitching and batting styles, to name a few--and gear... I don't know that I really care. It's nice to have all of the new options, I'll admit, but they're not something that really impacts the game for the more casual player. Changes can't be tweaked over the course of a season, either, except by spending skill points earned from victories to buff your team or individual players in certain areas. That limiting mechanic removes any strategic element that may have been permitted, at least until you play a second season with new settings.
For real strategy, you'll have to wait for a new feature to materialize: unlockable cards. These are awarded as you play through the game. Even the simple act of completing the useful "Training" mode grants you a few, plus you can pick some up when you work at the challenges. When put to use, cards can augment certain abilities. For example, you may be able to increase your chances of hitting a ball that someone won't catch, or to throw a ball that someone won't hit. This system is a nice addition to the over-the-top "Talent" skills that return from the first game. If you don't like the new layer of complexity, you can also choose to disable it before you start playing. The developers were wise to offer that option.
Aside from those things I've already discussed above, the general feel of a set of innings in Little League World Series Baseball 2009 doesn't seem to have changed much. You still control most of the important bits with the 'A' button and furious Wii Remote waggles. You still start a game out with mild swings--because that's all that is strictly necessary--and finish it up with wild convulsions that are enough to nearly put an arm out of socket because of their ferocity. Commentators Gary Thorne and Brent Musburger are on hand to provide credible banter and general comments about how everyone is just here to have fun, but I tend to lose track of anything they say between the sound of my shoulder joints popping and my own grunts of frustration as the opposing team's fielders catch every one of my hits that isn't a home run.
In that sense, Little League World Series Baseball 2009 didn't improve quite enough. As before, the "Training" mode hints at a deep system that gives you impressive control over the ball. Also as before, it still seems like every one of my hits--regardless of how I hold the Wii Remote and regardless of the bunt or grounder or power or control swing that I had in mind--finds its way instantly to the defensive team's fielders without the courtesy of a bounce on the turf along the way. Bunts, meanwhile, are scooped up almost before you can take a step toward first base. This makes it practically impossible to load the bases when you're on the offense, plus the ability to shift fielders--a welcome one, to be sure--is rendered unimportant by the realization that all you really have to do is be ready to catch pop flies. Any potential strategy therefore devolves to "Hit with full force when up at the plate and switch pitching styles like crazy when playing the defense." Even though the same handicaps apply to the opposition, the setup is limiting and feels like something that should have been fixed in the off season.
Fortunately, the single-player tournaments are supplemented quite nicely by multi-player. This is where the game shines like buttered corn. If you're going up against human players of a similar skill level, either as a team against the computer or as rivals, then you can have a great deal of fun for several rounds. My brother-in-law and I put this to the test and played for several exhilarating rounds, though even then the team that won was the team that managed the most home runs. That's not sour grapes on my part, either, since the team that won most often was mine.
For those who tire of the standard tournaments, there's moderately good news remaining: the skill challenges from the first game have returned and now there are two additional ones. "Around the Horn" lets you play a memory-based game where you have to remember the order in which a ball was thrown to the bases. At least for me, its potential longevity is killed by the fact that I seem incapable of remembering a sequence of more than eight or nine throws, but maybe you're better at such things. "Dunk Dugout" lets the player try to toss a ball and hit targets, but that can be extremely difficult since there aren't ever any decent directions on how to aim (plus the timed delay is murder). The end result is that while these challenges are a nice diversion for a few minutes, they're not really any sort of substitution for the main event.
Despite an occasionally disappointing lack of ambition, Little League World Series Baseball 2009 earns a recommendation because it's every bit as much fun as its predecessor and offers a few welcome tweaks for the dedicated enthusiast. With that said, it's becoming increasingly obvious that we need to see more improvement to the core mechanics if the series is to become the seminal treat that its developers and publisher no doubt intend. Give it a shot it if you've not yet been introduced to the series, but otherwise you might be better off waiting for next year's probable effort.
Staff review by Jason Venter (August 01, 2009)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
If you enjoyed this Little League World Series Baseball 2009 review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!