MLB Slugfest 2004 Preview
We check out Midway's upcoming arcade-style baseball game.
Midway recently provided us with a new build of MLB Slugfest 2004 for the Xbox. Now in its second year, the Slugfest franchise is to baseball what NFL Blitz is to football and NHL Hitz is to hockey. That is to say, Slugfest tosses out the emphasis on endless statistics and heavy baseball simulation that dominates the genre in favor of accessible, easy-to-learn gameplay. MLB Slugfest 2003 was a solid start for the series that established a winning formula for the core baseball game, and now the 2004 version will add a lot of the features you'd expect from a typical baseball video game.
Slugfest is more or less in the same vein as NFL Blitz and NHL Hitz in that it's generally irreverent toward the sport of baseball. Occasionally, you'll see a batter come out with a spiked bat or some such nonsense, and like in those other games, your players will be termed "on fire" when they're hot and gain extra prowess as a result. But since baseball is a much more slowly paced and deliberate sport than football or hockey, the gameplay in Slugfest is tuned so that it fits with this slower pace while still retaining the extreme feel of Blitz and Hitz. Midway has definitely put a lot of work into the gameplay in Slugfest, and the result is a game that a lot of sports gamers will likely get into.
The biggest appeal of Slugfest 2004 is its accessibility. Just like NFL Blitz makes video football fun for the casual player, Slugfest 2004 makes playing baseball on a video game console easy and enjoyable. During batting and pitching, there are ample onscreen cues pertaining to the controls--which buttons do what, what you need to do next, and so on. Pitching, which can be a confusing and complicated affair in stodgier baseball sims, is exceedingly easy in Slugfest. You have a display in the bottom corner of the screen showing you what kind of pitch each button throws. Batting is similarly easy, with a heads-up display that lets you pick a type of swing and gauge how you should aim at the ball. There's also an onscreen display to keep track of your turbo meter, which lets you boost the power of your pitcher, batter, fielder, or runner.
Slugfest 2004 also carries on the tradition started by the first game of bringing a few brawling options into play. When your runner is charging at a base and the baseman catches the ball, one well-timed button press will give you a chance to clock the baseman and throw him off, thus avoiding an out. Similarly, if the runner tries this move and you're fielding, you can hit the same button at the right moment and block him, securing the out. Slugfest is full of such out-of-the-ordinary gameplay elements, and while they may run counter to the seriousness of a conventional baseball sim, they make it a whole lot more fun for the casual player.
The Slugfest series hasn't changed a whole lot in the gameplay department since its previous incarnation, Slugfest 2003. What has changed are the extra features provided along with the main gameplay component. The 2003 edition didn't feature much besides the quick game and tournament options, but the 2004 version does a lot to correct this flaw. New additions to the game include a create-a-team mode, which lets you compile your own roster of players and choose a team name and logo. There's also a home run derby for the times you want to just practice your swing without worrying about the other elements of the game. Of course, Slugfest 2004 has all the expected enhancements of a yearly sports update as well, like expanded rosters and new in-game commentary.
The Xbox version of the game is quite impressive graphically, of course, with impressive shadowing, lots of over-the-top effects like flames and ball tracers, and a wealth of motion-captured player animations. The player animations deserve a special mention, in fact, as they're generally somewhat wacky and quite entertaining. Anyone who enjoyed Slugfest 2003 on the Xbox should find that the 2004 edition has the same well-crafted gameplay and a lot more replay value, thanks to the bevy of new modes and features.
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