The Bases Loaded series has made its return, this time for mobile phones. The return of the NES and SNES baseball series, which thrilled fans throughout the late '80s and early '90s, is a good-looking baseball game that unfortunately is marred by several fundamental problems that detract from the overall hardball experience.
First, the good news. We were impressed by how attractive Bases Loaded looked when played on an LG VX7000. Player sprites are attractive from the get-go and they animate well. There's even some variation in pitching animation, such as the traditional and sidearm styles. The game doesn't feature any MLB licensing, however, so Bases Loaded teams are only distinctive by their uniform colors. Luckily there's enough variety to keep things interesting, and several of the uniform color schemes appear to be borrowed directly from real baseball clubs, which certainly adds some authenticity to the game.
When the ball is put into play, the camera moves to an overhead angle that shows the infield and scrolls to the outfield, should the ball travel there. Both the infield dirt and the outfield grass have satisfying textures that convey the differences between the two surfaces. When fielding, the currently active player has a small arrow above him that clearly indicates whom you are controlling, and it's hard to find much fault with the look of the running animations for fielding payers.
Unfortunately, it's pretty easy to find fault with how these animations are utilized in the game. For one thing, the speed at which players run seems way out of whack. It takes a pitcher way too long to get to first base when covering; you're much better off simply running to the bag yourself--and even then, you may not get the guy out. For another, the artificial intelligence that drives the fielding choices made by the CPU-controlled players seems especially artificial, even for a mobile game. Pitchers will chase ground balls all the way into the outfield; short stops rarely, if ever, play in their proper position, making it way too easy to put a ball between second and third base; and pitchers throw pretty much nothing but strikes from the mound.
In terms of control, Bases Loaded has a decent amount of depth. There are a number of control assist settings for all facets of the game. With all batting assists turned on, for example, a simple press of the 5 key will cause your batter to swing the bat. With assists set to auto, you can choose to swing your bat at three different heights by choosing either the 2, 5, or 8 key. By removing all assists, you can place your bat in any of the nine different segments of the strike zone (by choosing a corresponding button on the numerical pad; to cause a right-handed batter to swing high and to the outside, for example, you'd press the 1 key). Similarly, the pitching game can be as complex or as simple as you like it: It's based on a two-button-press method--the first for pitch speed, the second for placement. Toss in some relatively complex controls for bunting and base-running and you have a baseball game that gives you a pretty remarkable level of control over your diamond strategy.
Despite this level of control, however, you'll usually find your offensive tactics reduced to playing small ball in Bases Loaded. Except for a few home runs swatted in home-run derby mode, we rarely knocked fly balls into the outfield and never once knocked a single dinger. Even the power guys in your lineup won't have much luck finding the outfield; instead, you'll be looking for bloop singles or taking advantage of that hole between second and third to advance your runners and hopefully score a run or two.
As mentioned earlier, Based Loaded doesn't include the MLB or MLBPA licenses, but it's hard to count this against the game--especially because every player performs with nearly the exact same level of success. There are 12 fictional teams to play with, and you can adjust your batting, fielding, and pitching lineups before each game. Each player has a small graph that indicates his status in areas such as throwing, running, home run, average, and RBI, giving you an easy graphical clue to his skills. If you've got the patience, you can even go into the game's custom mode to rename players, adjust stats, and alter ratings. In terms of sound, a few fun tunes in the menu screen and during the game are catchy, but after a few listens, you'll likely tire of them and turn the sound off completely. You won't miss the roar of the crowd or the crack of the bat if you do so, because Bases Loaded for mobile doesn't include these sounds.
In all, Bases Loaded isn't a terrible baseball game--the controls are flexible and fun, and the ability to save and continue games is a welcome feature--but it just doesn't nail some of the fundamental emotional aspects of America's favorite pastime. You can have a fine time with Bases Loaded in short spurts, but don't expect the game to hearken back to the good old NES days.