Crushed Baseball is liable to be overlooked on store shelves because it doesn't feature a familiar cover athlete or include any actual professional teams, logos, or players. That's too bad, really, since developer Griptonite Games has put together a solid arcade-style baseball video game that ought to appeal to anyone who feels that traditional baseball simulators are too dull or too complicated.
What makes Crushed Baseball so unique is that, just by pressing the L button, you can give the players in the game the ability to throw trick pitches, make superhuman catches, kick in a boost of speed, or hit the ball so hard it sails over the fence or knocks down anyone who tries to field it. Each pitcher has a selection of four different trick pitches, with names like "fireball," "trapball," and "stunball." Position players have three different superpowers--one each for batting, baserunning, and defense. For example, a player who's up to bat could activate his "stun bat" ability, which prevents a fielder from throwing the ball immediately after it's caught, and then activate his "speed boost" ability while running the bases to stretch a borderline double into a triple. In the bottom of the inning, that same player could use his "gravity glove" ability to suck a hit into his glove and rob the opposing batter of a base hit.
The game employs a pair of related meters to limit the use of trick pitches and special abilities. One of these is called the mojo meter. It fills up gradually over time and increases in large increments whenever you do something good, like reach base or strike out a hitter. When you use a trick pitch or activate a special ability, some of this mojo is used up. If you don't have the required amount of mojo, you can't use these superpowers. The second meter is called the mojo strength meter. It measures the effectiveness of your trick pitches and special abilities. Getting consecutive hits or throwing out multiple batters fills up the mojo strength meter, making your mojo abilities more effective. Even though the two meters do reel in the use of trick pitches and special abilities, they fill up quickly enough that you can at least use your players' superpowers a few times per inning.
Despite all the flashy trick pitches and exploding home runs, Crushed Baseball manages to get the fundamental aspects of the sport right. The pitching interface lets you select different pitches from a list and aim them using a ball-shaped cursor. The hitting interface allows you to aim your swing using a rectangle-shaped cursor that grows or shrinks based on the batter's hitting and slugging ratings. You can make fielders throw to specific bases or have base runners take off toward specific bases by holding the corresponding direction on the D pad and pressing the A button. In general, the physics are decent--low pitches tend to result in ground balls, high pitches tend to result in pop-ups--and the CPU is smart enough to vary its pitches and make diving catches and fielder's choice plays when they're the best option. The fielding interface is set up so you can hold down the A button to make use of the cutoff man during long relay throws, which is a feature that's often left out of baseball games on the GBA. All in all, it's nice to see that there's a solid baseball game resting underneath the game's over-the-top antics.
Visually, the sheer volume of little details is more impressive than the game's overall graphical quality. When you activate players' mojo abilities, their bodies light up with bubble and laser effects. Flames and smoke trails surround the ball when you toss a trick pitch or hit the ball with a power swing. The players themselves are large and buffed up, which makes them easy to see on the GBA's tiny display. They don't have much in the way of facial expressions or body language, but the different animations for what they do in the field are quite fluid and smooth. The game's stadiums are unique in that each one has its own individual grass pattern, building architecture, and playing-field dimensions. Most baseball games on the GBA come with only a few different stadiums or paste the same field over different backdrops to create the illusion of multiple stadiums. It's great that the developers of Crushed Baseball went the extra mile to make the 10 stadiums in their game genuinely look different from one another. The crowd and scoreboards don't animate, which is too bad, but there are a handful of cute little animations to look at here and there, such as neon outfield signs, fountains, and traffic passing by on the highways outside the stadium. The game also takes advantage of the GBA's ability to resize and rotate 2D graphics so the top-down camera viewpoint can focus in on close plays or pull back to show more of the field on fly balls and relays.
While the game's graphics certainly could be better, they get the job done because the animation is smooth and because there are so many little details to see and appreciate. The audio, by contrast, falls flat for a number of reasons. With the exception of the crack of the bat, there aren't any other baseball-related sound effects. Separate voice snippets are used for calling balls, strikes, foul balls, and outs, and there's a commentator who chimes in with his own two cents every once in a while--but he doesn't speak up often enough and his repertoire of comments is limited to only a half-dozen different one-liners. His comments are pretty funny, though. It's tough not to chuckle at zingers like, "That swing was so ugly it should be worth two strikes." Rah-rah music plays during late innings to cheer on the home team, but, again, the snippets don't play frequently enough and there aren't more than a couple of them.
The main problem with Crushed Baseball is that it doesn't include any actual MLB players, teams, or logos. As nicely put together as this game is, it would have been that much sweeter if players had been able to throw trick pitches with Randy Johnson or launch fiery home runs with Sammy Sosa. Instead, the teams have names like Atlanta Frenzy and San Francisco Samurai, and the players have forgettable half names like F. Ford and B. Hawk. Some even wear animal masks to go along with their wild surnames. In all, there are 10 different teams and stadiums to select from. Play modes include exhibition, practice, two-player, and league play. In the practice mode, you can set up pitching or hitting drills or participate in a traditional home run derby. The league mode lets you create custom players, set lineups, make trades, and save your progress throughout the course of a season. Various options, such as CPU difficulty, number of innings, season length, assisted or manual fielding, and mojo meter quickness, can be set for each of the different modes. That's a decent selection of modes and options for this kind of game.
Lack of MLB license aside, Crushed Baseball is a fun, fast-paced takeoff on baseball that should appeal to anyone looking for this sort of game, especially those of you who loved playing games like Super Baseball Simulator 1.000 and Super Baseball 2020 back in the Super NES and Genesis days.