Hands-onBaseball Advance

Major League Baseball comes to the Game Boy Advance, courtesy of Sega.

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On display at a recent THQ press event was an early build of Sega and Smilebit's Baseball Advance for the Game Boy Advance. The game is being published by THQ in the States, and it'll come with the complete roster of 2001 MLB teams and players. But even though all 30 teams will be represented in the game when it ships this May, Baseball Advance will only have a handful of parks. Included in the build of the game that we played were Pac Bell Park, home of the San Francisco Giants, and the Chicago Cubs' Wrigley Field.

Hitting in Baseball Advance is fairly simple. The trajectory of incoming pitches is represented by a small red dot on the screen, and the strike zone is represented with a transparent box. Naturally, pitches outside of the strike box can be ignored, while those within it need to be swung at. Computer opponents seem to be smart about swinging only at strikes, although pitches on the edges of the strike box will always get swung at. Batting was a little tougher than pitching, since there's not a lot of time between the moment the ball's trajectory appears on the screen and the moment it whizzes by you. You aim by moving a transparent circle around the strike box and transposing it over the red dot, and if you time your swing accordingly, your bat will connect with the ball. Fielding seems to hearken back to the days of 8- and 16-bit baseball games. Fly balls are marked with large yellow circles, and you'll automatically assume control of the player nearest to the area where the ball is going to land. The A button seems to be a multipurpose action button, as it will cause your player to leap toward ground balls or line drives and is also used to throw balls to basemen. Overall, anyone who's played any baseball game should be able to pick up Baseball Advance's intuitive controls with ease.

The game boasts visuals that are surprisingly detailed and colorful. It's easy to make out the individual uniforms of all the various teams in Baseball Advance, and even some of the more memorable landmarks in the game's limited number of parks are clearly noticeable. Likewise, each player is surprisingly well animated for a handheld game, and actions like pitching, swinging, and sliding all have several frames of accurate animation.

Aside from the standard exhibition games, Baseball Advance will also come with a mode that will let you play through a complete season and postseason of baseball with any one of the 30 MLB teams in the game. Since there was only one display unit available, we weren't able to try our hand at the game's multiplayer component, however. Baseball Advance for the Game Boy Advance should appear on store shelves this May, just in time for the start of the 2002 baseball season.

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