Go figure. On the system everyone counted out when it came to sports, Acclaim released the best console baseball title ever - All Star Baseball. Regardless of the lack of competition among N64 baseball titles, ASB proved that cartridge gaming did not preclude quality sports games. Not content to rest on their laurels, Acclaim and High Voltage are back this year with All Star Baseball 2001, and once again, it's not on the PlayStation or the Dreamcast but on the Nintendo 64.
Similar to last year's title, the game offers a variety of arcade and simulation modes. For those hankering for the arcade experience, single-button pitches and swings are the norm, while realists can enable variable pitching and batting-simulation cursors. All Star Baseball 2001 also sees the return of the 3D batting-angle system, which, when coupled with the game's subtle pitch-guessing feature, gives the title the best control mechanics of any currently available baseball title. Fans of last year's stamina and hot/cold batting meters will rejoice at their return, and now there are also hot/cold pitching-effectiveness indicators. Overall, ASB 2001's offensive and defensive interfaces are a joy to experience, with intuitive control systems, quick response, and the feeling that you are indeed in control. Additionally, the pacing is spot-on, and the management interface is both stylish and simple, making for gameplay that will please both casual and hard-core sports fans.
Featurewise, All Star Baseball 2001's offerings are standard fare, delivering season, exhibition, batting practice, and home-run-derby modes. There's also a moderate amount of freedom for player creation, trades, and team customization. It would have been nice if the game tracked an even greater abundance of stat categories, but considering ASB 2001 is second only to 989 Studios' PlayStation game, MLB 2001, in terms of stat tracking, such a complaint is minor at best. Frankly, the fact that they fit all 30 teams, 35 stadiums, more than 700 players, and a smattering of Hall of Famers on a cartridge is amazing.
Enhancing the gameplay, All Star Baseball 2001's visuals are crisp, clear, colorful, and full of depth. The polygon count for stadiums is high, allowing for advertising banners, scoreboards, and even the occasional diamond-vision screen. Furthermore, player models are realistically dimensioned and styled, animating in ways one would usually reserve for broadcast television. Since sky and outside visuals are made up of flat background images, there are times when the illusion of a 3D environment is broken, but compared with the PlayStation's offerings, this game's a masterwork.
While ASB 2001 makes the most of the N64's graphical capabilities, the same can't be said for the game's sound quality. John Sterling and Michael Kay's play-by-play is exceptional but is devoid of variety. Furthermore, while the game contains announcements for most player names, there are many notable omissions. For example, veteran player Stan Javier, the Mariners' center fielder, has no such player announcement. Adding insult to injury, crowd noise is minimal, and the various organ and interstitial music brings new meaning to the term "chagrin." Wise gamers take note: The sound menu lets you disable the more annoying sound categories.
Regardless of sound issues, All Star Baseball 2001 is the best console baseball game, bar none. The visuals are photo-realistic, the gameplay itself borders on perfect, and the variety of game modes and multiplayer options offer high replay value. Furthermore, the game is just fun - and that, when all is said and done, is what counts the most.