Acclaim's All-Star Baseball series was the undisputed king of hardball in the Nintendo 64 era. Its high-resolution graphics and deep gameplay kept fans of America's pastime coming back for more. The series was exclusive to Nintendo's consoles for several years, but Acclaim recently released the 2002 iteration of All-Star Baseball for the PlayStation 2 to positive reviews. But the GameCube version of All-Star Baseball 2002 exhibits many of the traits inherent to a port and ultimately fails to impress.
The All-Star Baseball series has always been known for its wealth of gameplay modes, so it comes as little surprise that the 2002 outing on the GameCube is brimming with options. You can play four-player exhibition games using any of the 30 MLB teams or a legends team composed of Hall of Famers such as Mike Schmidt and Nolan Ryan. If you want to improve your batting skills, you can take some batting practice or work on your long-ball swing in the home run derby. The season mode is impressively customizable. You can adjust the number of games, select the type of schedule you wish to play, and create up to 25 players who may be picked up off the waiver wire. Trading players is governed well, and you won't be turned down if you make an appropriate offer. Statistics are tracked in 44 different categories, and you can go for awards such as the Cy Young, Golden Glove, and Rookie of the Year. If you lack the patience to play through an entire season, the series option lets you cut directly to the chase. Where gameplay options are concerned, All-Star Baseball 2002 lives up to its pedigree, but a franchise option would have been a nice addition.
It's been said that hitting a baseball is the most difficult thing to do in all of sports, but that doesn't mean it should be the hardest thing to do in video games as well. Timing your swing in All-Star Baseball 2002 is extremely difficult and can take a day or two to master. The pitches come in fast, and the players swing so slow that it's often hard to get around on a pitch before it's in the catcher's mitt. Once the timing is mastered, there's a great deal of depth to the batting. The basic cursor method found in most baseball video games has been instituted in All-Star Baseball 2002 as well. You must line up a batting cursor that is sized proportionally to the hitter's batting average with the incoming pitch and time the swing. Using the C stick, you can alter the trajectory of the ball off the bat--allowing you to place your hits wherever you please. If you're especially good at hitting, you can choose to take a power swing that will increase the distance of your hit but decrease the size of your batting cursor. The batting cursor's size is also affected by effectively guessing the pitch type or location. If all these batting options seem a bit too much, you can switch to an arcade-influenced batting mode that only requires that you time the swing. Each pitcher has his real repertoire of throws, and they're mapped to the buttons on the GameCube controller. You simply select the pitch, choose the location with the analog stick, and let it fly. Pitches may also be altered in mid-flight, but doing so drains the stamina of your pitcher. While the batting and pitching interfaces are incredibly deep, it can take quite a while to master the timing. Newcomers to the All-Star Baseball franchise will be frustrated with the game's hitting, but veterans will be able to step right into the batter's box and make contact.
Fielding in All-Star Baseball 2002 keeps the games exciting because you never know what will happen next. There are three different levels of fielding control, and each allows a different amount of computer influence. If you choose to field the ball on your own, it's often difficult to get a good jump on the ball because the activated player is usually not shown on the screen. If you allow the computer to field for you, it will often become confused when a bloop single is hit and watch what should be an easy catch drop in for a hit. The solution is to use the combination method, which allows the computer to move your closest defender into the general vicinity of the ball. From there, you can manually adjust the player's position to make the play. Even in this fielding mode, it can be challenging to line your player up underneath the ball, resulting in many botched fielding attempts on routine fly balls. Running bases is needlessly difficult and is made worse by the catatonic computer AI. In order to steal a base, a combination of the directional pad and a button press is required. Returning your runner to his previous base requires an equally confounding controller input--so going for an extra base is a big risk. Balls hit into the gap, which should be two-baggers, are turned into singles because the computer always requires the runner to run past first base instead of making the turn toward second. For a franchise that has been in 3D for several years, the fielding and baserunning in All-Star Baseball 2002 are surprisingly unintuitive and lack refinement.
Many Nintendo 64 games suffered in visual quality because they were ported from the PlayStation, and All-Star Baseball 2002 exhibits similar traits. All 30 MLB stadiums and two new stadiums exclusive to the GameCube version of the game are accurately modeled down to every last seating section and JumboTron. But the low-resolution textures used to cover them stand in stark contrast to the game's impressive player models. While the game's 700 different player faces appear a bit blurry, the player bodies are proportionate to the real-world counterparts and are modeled using plenty of polygons. A lack of environment mapping on the batting helmets is apparent, but other nice touches such as breath that can be seen on cold days, official mascots that entertain the crowd on top of the dugout, 130 different batting stances, and 50 signature pitching deliveries help make amends.
The most impressive graphical element of All-Star Baseball 2002 is also one of its primary issues. The animations really steal the show, and the more you play the game the more you'll notice the dozens of different throwing and fielding routines that help to bring the game to life. But these same animations can also present gameplay issues. There's nothing more frustrating than having to wait for a player to complete his double play animation before throwing the ball to first base for the second out. The animations can also appear awkward at times, especially when a player is facing one direction while unnaturally throwing across his body. The camera can also be uncooperative. When balls are hit down the line, it's often difficult to judge where to position your player to make the grab, and when balls are hit into the gap, it's impossible to see which outfielder you're controlling. While not visually offensive, All-Star Baseball 2002 is obviously a port that fails to take advantage of the GameCube's advanced hardware.
The major complaint with the Nintendo 64 versions of All-Star Baseball was the sound, but this is one portion of the game that has been drastically improved. The quiet, sterile games of old have given way to a game that pours on the baseball atmosphere via a host of ambient sound effects. You can hear people talking to one another or laughing between innings, but when the action gets intense the stadium comes alive. An organ player fills each stadium with music that's appropriate to the situation, and it's almost enough to make you think you can smell the aroma of roasted peanuts. The announcers used for the game tend to repeat themselves fairly often, but they will occasionally fire off some insightful commentary that explores the strategy behind the game. The sound in All-Star Baseball 2002 is it strongest trait, but it's not perfect. The sounds of the ballpark are incredibly immersive, but the repetitive announcers detract from the experience.
For the first and only baseball game for the GameCube, All-Star Baseball 2002 features a wealth of gameplay modes and an impressive amount of on-field control. But the game's AI quirks, challenging batting, and camera problems are indicative of a game that has been rushed to market. If you're a fan of baseball and don't own a PlayStation 2, All-Star Baseball 2002 is the best and only option. Casual hardball fans should pass, however, and wait for the needed improvements in next year's game.