Pennant Chase Baseball E3 2005 Hands-On

We build up our ballpark with Nintendo's upcoming hardball game.

The last time we saw Pennant Chase Baseball, it was just coming off the news of a delay from its original April release date. The game, now due in early June, was playable on the floor of the Nintendo E3 booth, and we took some time out to take it out for a few innings.

Though the game is styled as a simulation baseball game for the Nintendo GameCube, a lot of its features and attributes seemed designed to be more user-friendly than some of the current Major League Baseball games on store shelves. For one thing, pitch speeds have been toned down fairly drastically. People say hitting a major league pitch is one of the most difficult feats in all of sports; for many gamers, it's nearly as difficult to do the same in a video game. In Pennant Chase, the slower pitch speed means you will have time not only to get your bat on the ball, but also to get a good look at the type of toss coming your way. If you've always had trouble telling the difference between a curve ball and a slider, you won't after a few games with Pennant Chase.

On the other side of the ball, the big innovation is a superimposed bat cursor that is featured when you're standing in the batter's box. In order to make contact with the ball, it's simply a matter of anticipating where the ball will cross the plate, making sure you aim the bat cursor at that spot, and then swinging away. More often than not you'll make contact if you get in the general area of the ball, but if you manage to hit the sweet spot of the bat (which is colored slightly differently on the batting cursor), you'll have a chance for even better, more-powerful contact. Sounds good in theory, right? Well, it works well...after a little practice, that is.

In our last preview of Pennant Chase, we focused on the speed play system, a method of playing games in a quicker fashion by basically removing the fielding and baserunning from the equation. On the floor, the same mode didn't look dramatically different since our last look, so we were curious to check out other modes. One of those was the homefield evolution mode, which allows you to build up your very own major-league-caliber baseball stadium from a crummy-looking sandlot park. The demo we played had tons of additions to the parks already unlocked, so we got a chance to see a stadium evolve from its humble beginnings to a more full-featured ballpark, complete with nice fencing, upgraded benches and stadium seating, and perfectly manicured grass.

If we have any concerns about the progress Pennant Chase is making, it would be with the artificial intelligence, which seemed to exhibit some fairly obvious bugs, including some strange fielding choices and an overall lack of hustle. During one game, our artificial opponent attempted to throw one of our runners out at home, but when the throw came up short, the catcher made no attempt to get the ball, instead waiting for it to slowly roll to him. Add to that some strange throwing and running animations--balls sometimes flew out of players' hands at angles completely incongruous to where the player was aiming--and it looks like there's still some work to be done before Pennant Chase is ready for prime time. We hope to get a closer look at the game in the coming weeks, and we'll post our updated impressions as soon as we do.

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