Are you ready for another baseball game from 2K Sports? The developer, which has already produced MLB 2K8, The Bigs, and MLB Power Pros in the past year, is looking to go to the hardball well once more with Major League Baseball 2K8 Fantasy All-Stars for the Nintendo DS. While the game is loaded with real-life baseball players (or, at least, cartoon approximations of such players as David Ortiz and Dan Haren), its approach to America's pastime is altogether different from the other baseball games in the 2K sports stable, thanks in large part to the game's DS-specific control scheme.
The stylus/touch screen combination entirely controls both batting and pitching in Fantasy All Stars. When on the mound, you'll first tap a ball icon on the lower screen to prepare your pitcher, then you can move the ball around in any number of different gestures while your pitcher cranks his arm in a cartoony-looking windup a la Bugs Bunny. By moving the ball past the mound (roughly at the midway point of the touch screen), you'll let your pitch loose; your pitch location will depend on the path you trace toward the plate. Obviously, the quicker you gesture during the windup, the more difficult it will be to put your pitch where you want it when tracing the line downward toward the plate.
Behind the plate, things are unconventional as well. Although dealing with the crazy windups and unpredictable ball motion from the opposing pitcher can be a hassle, the actual swing is easy--a simple stroke upward with the stylus on the touch screen. However, several factors play into how well you hit the ball. First is power, which is measured by how far back you hold the bat before your swing and how quickly you follow through with your swing. In addition, swinging outside the strike zone will cause your ball to launch in the air; swinging on the inside part of the plate will result in a ground ball and the timing of your swing will determine the direction. It sounds easy enough, but getting used to the timing and motion of moving the bat through the swing takes some time. And, even then, a hit sometimes feels completely accidental.
When on defense, fielding is surprisingly straightforward--you use the D pad to move your player to the appropriate spot on the field (handy icons show you where a ball will land while it's still in midair), and you can use the stylus/touch screen to make your throws to the appropriate base. Draw right for first, up for second, left for third, and down for home plate.
It wouldn't be an arcade baseball game without power-ups, and Fantasy All-Stars delivers with some truly strange things you can do to the ball and bat. You earn power-ups by doing such things as throwing strikes or getting hits--to enable a power-up, you simply select the power-up icon on the right side of the screen and guide it over the bat or ball. Power-ups include crazy ball, which causes the ball to move in one direction and then take a 90-degree-angle turn in another. There's also chicken ball, which is similar to the crazy ball, but for grounders, where the ball acts like a chicken and runs away from batters. For the batter, power-ups include the fireball bat, which adds power to your hit, or the ice bat, which freezes any fielder that touches the ball for a short period of time. Additionally, there are fielding power-ups that will give you lighting-fast speed or allow your player to jump higher to grab balls he might not normally be able to reach.
Game modes in Fantasy All-Stars include Fantasy Pennant, Exhibition, Create a Team, and Training. In Fantasy Pennant, you make your way through tournaments as your favorite MLB club or your created team. When creating a team, you'll be able to assemble a roster of great talent straightaway--there doesn't seem to be much in the way of choosing the best players in the sport to field in the game. Fantasy All-Stars will also support wireless play for up to two players.
The cartoon look of the players (from the long, lanky pitchers like Jake Peavy to the big beefy bruisers like Prince Fielder) is complemented by the outlandish playing environments, which include everything from Alcatraz and a ghost town to…the moon and several unlockable environments to boot. It's certainly a stretch from the staid and serious baseball of MLB 2K8, so we'll have to see if this decidedly cartoon take on hardball is accepted by DS owners and baseball fans alike. Look for MLB 2K8 Fantasy All Stars when it reaches its opening day of April 14.