Nintendo Pennant Chase Baseball Speed Play Preview
We check out the sim-style speed play mode in Nintendo's upcoming baseball game.
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We recently had the chance to get our hands on Nintendo Pennant Chase Baseball, the upcoming baseball game from Nintendo and Exile Interactive. While Nintendo is aiming to have the game offer all the features discerning sports fans would want from a first-party baseballer, it's also working closely with developer Exile Interactive to ensure Pennant Chase is more than just a by-the-numbers sports game with little to distinguish it from the pack. One of the ways Pennant Chase will offer players something fresh is its unique speed play mode, a fast-paced competition that will let you play a streamlined nine-inning game in a fraction of the time it would normally take. Our time with Pennant Chase revolved around getting a taste of what speed play is all about, and it gave us a hint of what else to expect from the upcoming game.
The speed play mode in Pennant Chase Baseball folds the core pitching and batting gameplay mechanics into a sim-style, stat-driven experience that is much more streamlined than playing the normal game. The basic premise finds you alternating between pitching and batting against a human or artificial intelligence-controlled opponent. Although speed play initially appears to be an arcade style experience, that's not quite the case. What speed play mode offers is a focused, fast-paced experience that relies on player stats to quickly move you along. So, while you'll be pitching and hitting, the CPU will, for the most part, be handling the fielding duties. You'll still be able to have a member of your team try to steal a base, as well as swap players out, but the emphasis in speed play is the competition between pitcher and batter.
So how does this play out? Pretty well, from what we've played so far. The game's control is solid and manages to offer something for both novice and veteran players. Novice players should be able to pick up the batting mechanics like a charm thanks to the game's use of a standard interface that relies on a reticle to aim your hit. The bat-shaped icon helps give you a good idea of your hit range. You'll simply hit the A button when you're ready to swing at an incoming ball and have lined up your shot as best you can. How well you do this determines the strength of your hit. Veteran players can add some finesse to their swings by using the C stick to direct where their hits are likely to go.
When pitching, you'll select from an array of available pitch types and then throw the ball by using a meter that centers around the pitcher's mound, requiring you to hit A twice, once to initiate the throw and a second time to stop a moving bar in a "sweet spot" on the circular meter. An onscreen reticle will show you where the ball is currently aimed when you initiate the throw. As with batting, the simple mechanic should be easy for novices. However, vets will find some nice features to play with too. First, the C stick will let you determine the spin and power of your throw, which will affect its accuracy. Tapping down on the stick once or twice will yield two different variations of your throw, which will come in handy when trying to deal with a tenacious opponent. The catch is that by doing so you'll reduce the size of your sweet spot, forcing you to be more accurate with your button presses. You'll also be able to psych out your opponent by masking your aiming reticle, when pitching, to throw off your opponent's aim.
Once you've hit the ball, rather than have to deal with fielding, a 2D map of the field will show you whether your player made it to a base or was tagged out by using the game's collection of detailed stats. You'll have some control over your teammates while at bat, as you can get them to try to steal bases by pressing the B button. But, as with fielding, that bit of drama plays out on the 2D screen. The end result is a considerably quicker play-through for a nine-inning game. During our time with the mode, we got through a game in about 15 minutes or so, which is obviously much shorter than a proper baseball contest.
The graphics are still taking shape, and the work in progress version was a mix of nice touches and rough edges, which is to be expected at this point in the game's development. The stadiums we saw were ably re-created on the Cube and featured a fair amount of detail both on and off the field. Character animation is looking good and is fairly fluid, even at this stage.
Pennant Chase's audio is shaping up nicely, as there's a good amount of commentary from some well-known larynxes in baseball. Bob Brenly, Chicago Cubs announcer and former Arizona Diamondbacks manager, is Pennant Chase's color commentator, while Rick Rizzs, the current voice of the Seattle Mariners, is the play-by-play man. And finally, Tom Hutyler, the Mariners stadium announcer, rounds out the package as the game's stadium announcer. In addition, there's an immersive array of sound effects to put you in the moment.
While speed play is just one facet of what Nintendo Pennant Chase Baseball has to offer, it's an interesting twist that looks promising. Our first impressions of it are that it provides a good middle ground between simple arcade-style gameplay and the deeper experience offered by the more traditional sim-style mode that's also included. We'll be getting a better look at the game in the coming weeks, so look for more on Nintendo Pennant Chase Baseball soon. The game is currently slated to ship this June for the GameCube.