Now that 2K Sports has sewn up exclusive rights to the Major League Baseball license, Midway's solid SlugFest series is out in the cold. But luckily, the company's own license lasts through the end of 2006--which, as it happens, is just enough time for the developer to bust out one last version of the franchise. We got a chance to go hands-on with this very game at Midway's recent press event to see how it's shaping up.
The core baseball action of SlugFest hasn't really changed, which is hardly a bad thing since it worked so well the last time around. The batting, pitching, and field interfaces are all accessible enough that even a novice can pick up the controller and get comfortable after a gentle learning curve. In fact, the developers have made SlugFest 2006 even easier to get into than last year's game with a new user-assist option that will tell you how well you're doing--or more to the point, how poorly you're doing. For instance, when we were batting, the game would tell us "swung early" or "swung high" when we struck out, so we at least had some idea of what we were doing wrong.
The 2006 edition of SlugFest looks like it will further the notion that this series is to baseball as Blitz is to the NFL. For example, the game will contain around 40 special pitches, such as "the volcano," that you can invoke with the right button sequence just before you throw your pitch. These super pitches will impart all sorts of special effects, such as setting the ball on fire. We figure a flaming baseball is probably harder to hit than a normal one, but then we've been wrong before. These special pitches seem to require precise timing, but the button combos will be listed in the manual, so it's not like you'll have to scour the Internet to find out what they are.
As you'd expect, SlugFest 2006's rosters are fully up to date with the current season--in fact, they're up to date as of February 10. But any roster changes that may have occurred after that can be easily amended in-game using SlugFest's new create-a-player and create-a-team options. Aside from the important stats of your players, you'll get to choose all the relevant elements like mascot, home city, stadium, and so on. Of course, you'll be able to trade created players into existing licensed teams, and you can likewise bring the real pros into your own created team if you want to dominate fully.
Finally, SlugFest 2006 will sport a new challenge mode in which you'll select your team and then play against a succession of other teams ranked from worst to best. This should provide a smooth ramp-up in terms of difficulty so you'll be able to hone your skills as you go. Of course, all the requisite modes from last year's game will be returning again as well.
Perhaps the best news about SlugFest 2006 is the game's budget price--it'll come in at around $20 when it hits shelves in May. Stay tuned for more on the game before then.