Baseball Stars 2 almost has everything you could want from an arcade-style baseball game. The controls are easy to figure out, the action on the field is over-the-top without breaking all the rules, and the graphics are snazzy (by 1992 standards, anyway). However, the lack of play modes, particularly the absence of a team editor, may ultimately limit how much satisfaction you get from this Neo Geo game turned Virtual Console download.
After you press start, you have two choices: You can begin a 15-game tournament against CPU teams or launch an exhibition game against whatever mark to which you handed the second controller. The beginner and expert control choices actually lead you to two different leagues, each containing six teams. With such names as the New York Monsters and Taiwan Dragons, you're obviously not choosing MLB players or stadiums. Not that it matters because the game is 15 years old and all of the players consist of the same four body types. Once you get to playing, you'll be enjoying yourself so much that you won't mind the cookie-cutter people or the lack of Yankee pinstripes.
That's the thing about Baseball Stars 2: It's totally fun. Watching the goofy players step up to the plate, chew their wads of gum, and swing for the fences is a joy. Every hit is enthralling, whether it's a grounder to the shortstop or a towering fly ball because the exaggerated catches and slides (complete with explosive sound effects) make you feel like you're Hammerin' Hank or The Ryan Express during every at-bat. This game is thick with sweet graphical details. You'll see hitters angrily break their bats in half when they strike out, and close-up "camera" overlays appear whenever a close play happens at one of the bases. Sure, we're talking 16-bit graphics from 1992 here, but they've aged well because of the cartoonlike style. They've also aged well because of the large characters and fluid animations SNK's programmers were able to coax out of the Neo Geo.
The simple, intuitive controls make it easy to dive right in and have a good time. Using the D pad with just two buttons, you can swing, bunt, control fielders, control base runners, and have your pitcher toss a pitch or make a pick-off move. Hitting is mainly a matter of timing, though you can move the batter inside the box to adjust for outside and brushback pitches. Pitching depends entirely on what you do with the D pad while the ball is in flight. You hold down for fastballs, up for pitches that die, and left or right to nudge the ball inside or out. Pressing the B button on the bottom of the Wii Remote pulls up a menu that lets you make substitutions or give the current hitter a power bat that turns him into Barry Bonds for one at-bat. The player's bat doubles in size and any contact he makes will send the ball flying like it was literally shot out of a cannon. Don't worry, each team gets a limited stock of these bats, so even though there are plenty of towering bombs, both players must still make their fair share of diving catches and timely putouts.
Nevertheless, at some point, you're going to wish you could play a traditional season or create your own players and teams. Unfortunately, Baseball Stars 2 was developed for the arcade Neo Geo MVS hardware, and such features aren't typically found in an arcade baseball game. When SNK brought the game to its home Neo Geo AES console, the only change it made was to remove the timer that made you insert another quarter every three minutes. At least the Virtual Console download "only" costs 900 Wii points ($9), as opposed to the $100 or so that the AES cartridge still sells for on popular auction sites. Nine dollars may seem steep for a 15-year-old sports game that lacks editing features, but Baseball Stars 2 definitely delivers enough fun to make the outlay feel worthwhile.