TOKYO--We learned something today, during day three of the Tokyo Game Show. Here's an important lesson for future gaijin gaming journalists looking to cover baseball games, or any sports game for that matter, in Japan. When trying to make your way through a game option to get to a straightforward game of baseball, you'd do well to pay attention to the icons that accompany the kanji text in the menus. It's a lesson we learned the hard way while checking out Power Pro Kun Pocket 9, a fun little kid's baseball game by Konami for the Nintendo DS.
In our haste to see the game in the allotted 10 minutes we had with it (unlike many publishers, Konami was pretty strict with the time limits), we waded our way through the opening text in the game and chose the first option available to us. Big mistake. Before we knew it, we weren't playing baseball of any sort. Instead, we were apparently "playing" the game's rather involved story mode, which dealt with some sort of foxlike creature dressed like a spy in a cloak-and-dagger movie. Thinking we could just fast-forward through some text and get to the baseball, we began clicking rapidly through the ever-evolving narrative, which switched scenes from a seedy dockside area and into a local diner, where our hero baseball player proceeded to seemingly chat up every person who had ever eaten at the diner and ever would eat at the diner.
Perhaps sensing our frustration of "Why am I talking to strangers in a diner when all I want to do is play baseball?" the helpful Konami assistant reset the game for us and pointed to another icon in the main menu. Soon, the traditional diamond came into view, and in no time we were playing America's pastime, albeit with the sort of cutesy and vaguely gelatinous players that compose the roster of Power Pro Kun Pocket 9. This is a kid's game, after all, so the players are bound to be cutesey. What's interesting is that these squishy little avatars are based on real pro players in Japan's version of Major League Baseball. The game we played, for example, pitted last year's Japan World Series champions Ciba Lotte against the Hanshin Tigers.
The controls were straightforward, as you'd expect from a DS baseball game for kids. When you're at bat, a small icon appears in the batter's box, which you can aim with the directional pad. Once the pitcher lets loose with the ball, a small icon pops up on the screen letting you know where the ball will cross the plate. From there, it's simply a matter of swinging the bat with the B button (or bunting using the A button). Pitching is just as simple--you merely aim where you want to toss the ball and let loose with the B button. The game speed is slightly slower than we were expecting, probably because the game is aimed at a younger set, but there was no denying its simple cartoon charm and approachable gameplay.
Once we found our bearings, we had a good time with Power Pro Kun 9. If nothing else, it's proof that a fun and flexible baseball game could be made for the Nintendo DS. Are you listening 2K Sports?