Too much attention was paid to shelf appeal and not nearly enough to actual design.
Famous names don't guarantee a great game. If you need proof, then step up to the plate with Aaron vs. Ruth, where too much attention was paid to shelf appeal and not nearly enough to actual design - a sure recipe for mediocrity.
The basic concept behind Aaron vs. Ruth is a good one: Take three dozen of the greatest players of all time and find out how they stack up against each other in a single game, a series, a season, or even a home run derby. You have the option of letting the computer handle team assignments or "drafting" players, except for season play in which you've got no control over the original rosters of the eight fictional teams. Through trading you can acquire both Hall of Famers, a few current stars such as Greg Maddux, and fictitious players to round out your squad.
There will always be debate anytime someone assembles a group of all-time greats, and there will be some hardball fans griping that players like Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Bob Feller, Dizzy Dean, and others aren't included in the game. But that's not really a fair criticism: These licenses cost money, and if Mindscape had included every single player fans thought should be playing along with the 36 here, there would be no way the company could ever hope to turn a profit on this game. And it was a pleasant surprise to find Josh Gibson and Saduhara Oh in the game, two outstanding players who never got the chance to play major-league baseball in the US. Well-written player bios and motion capture technology (Stargell waggles his bat at the plate, Willie Mays swings just as he does in highlight films) round out the package.
But the minute you start playing, Aaron vs. Ruth starts to fall apart like a single-A pitcher facing Mark McGwire. Even star players drop simple fly balls and pickoff throws with alarming regularity, and if you try to throw while on the run, about half the time the player will just keep trotting along. Set the controls for manual control of base running, and you'll be shocked to see that a guy on first won't advance to second after a great line drive unless you tell him to. That's ridiculous - manual control should only involve telling a guy whether or not to steal or take an extra base, not whether he should advance to second on a deep single.
Fielders move as if they're slogging through concrete, and when you're playing defense the computer never seems to highlight the player actually closest to the ball. There's also an invisible barrier at the wall that keeps you from snagging long shots that are definitely catchable, and many of the plays looked canned - you'll see the same few infield hits over and over again.
The batting interface is one thing Aaron vs. Ruth does right: You choose an area of the plate where you'll be swinging, but if you're fast enough you can adjust and get some wood on a pitch that was headed out of your target area. It's a bit too easy on the amateur setting, but on the professional setting it makes getting a hit about as tough as in real life. The superstar setting is a bit much, though - you'll be lucky to bat .200 with Stan Musial.
But things get weird again when you move to the dugout as general manager. The player ratings are, well, screwy: Willie McCovey gets a 91 percent in pitching, while Walter Johnson is rated 31 percent! You won't notice that during play, though, because once a game has been started you can't access player ratings. Trading is incredibly cumbersome because you can't search by position; you have to look at each team and scroll through its lineup until you find the player you want.
Stats are handled in an equally clumsy fashion - you can view stats only for individual players, not for a team or the league, and then only by entering the trading menu. Sim a bunch of games in a row and there's no way to find out when the last time a pitcher was on the mound or how many innings he pitched during that outing. That makes it sort of tough to know who to bring in as a reliever, but one thing you don't have to worry about is injuries - these guys'll get exhausted, but they won't get hurt. Finally, there aren't any box scores, an omission that's almost mind-boggling considering all the other oversights.
All of which adds up to a simple decision: If you want to see baseball players from different eras compete together, your best bet is to pick up a copy of Old Time Baseball, even though it's nearly two years old. As far as Aaron vs. Ruth goes, it's pretty much a case of wait till next year.