Home run by a rookie!

User Rating: 8.5 | Greatest Nine GBA
Ah, it's that time of year again! The smell of fresh-cut grass, delicious, over-sweetened lemonade, and the thrilling sound of wood against hard leather. You know what I'm talking about: it's baseball season! As could only be expected, America's favorite pastime has been made into a video game a number of times, but unfortunately, many iterations are not at all good. Therefore, rookie developer Smilebit shocked GBA owners with the release of Baseball Advance. Imagine! A quality baseball game on a handheld system!

So, just what is it that sets Baseball Advance apart from the crowd? There are so many subtle differences that make it different from other baseball games, but the most obvious is the different approach to game play–specifically, hitting. The batting mechanic approaches things with a slight twist: on the side of the screen, there is a power meter of sorts. If you hold down on the A button, the meter will quickly rise; when the meter hits the top, it will then quickly fall. Obviously, the higher the meter rises, the stronger your batter will cream the ball. The trick, then, lies in timing your swing to maximize the power in your shot. Additionally, there is a blue aiming reticule; the size of the reticule depends on the skill of the batter. So, a real power hitter will have a huge reticule, while somebody like a pitcher has a far smaller one. This implementation ensures that batting is far more realistic, and as a result, the game is significantly more fun.

While Baseball Advance does offer some slight innovations to the typical baseball-game formula, it still sticks to the tried-and-true necessities of the genre. Fielding is a fairly mundane part of the game: when the ball is put into play, you are automatically given control of the nearest fielder. Simply run toward the ball–if it's a pop fly, a blue cursor will appear where the ball will land. If it's a ground ball, you merely must run to the ball and try and throw the man out. Pitching is also a fairly straightforward matter, but it still very enjoyable. Pitches are selected through use of the D-Pad; once you've selected the type of pitch, you must aim the throw as the pitcher goes into his windup. Pitching does not prove to be a particularly difficult part of the game, but it certainly is fun. As any baseball player knows, pitching requires quite a bit of strategy. Amazingly, Baseball Advance combines the authenticity of real baseball and meshes it with a simplicity that's never been topped by any baseball game ever made.

One of Baseball Advance's key strengths lies in its lack of ambiguity. Baseball Advance is not a game that will take you hours to learn to play. Rather, it's "pick-up-and-play" value is incredibly high; absolutely anybody can have fun with this game. Gamers who don't know a home run from a pop fly can still have a blast with Baseball Advance, and the game also provides quite a bit of depth for long-time baseball fans. Baseball Advance is one of the few sports games that breaks the boundaries placed by fans of the sport, and can instead be categorized with just one word: fun. Simple, addictive, downright fun.

Just because the game is straightforward, however, doesn't mean that baseball vets should pass this over. Baseball Advance sports a ton of replay value and customization, thanks to a number of different play modes. If you want to just play on the go, then Exhibition was created for you; there is also the ability to play a full season, as well as an end-of-season playoff. The only real problem with these modes is that the rosters are painfully out of date–after all, this game was released way back in 2002. Still, though, if you can get over the antiquated list of players, the different modes of play will keep you occupied indefinitely.

Even once you feel you've mastered the game, there are extra difficulty modes–four, to be exact. Rookie does a great job of easing baseball idiots into the game, whereas All-Star provides quite a challenge. In easier modes of play, hitters and fielders are poor and make numerous errors; once you up the difficulty, though, you'll have to be near-flawless to crack the opponent. The game can be tough, but never frustrating. After all, there's always a chance that you can come back–put your rally caps on!

Surprisingly, there are only a few areas where Baseball Advance falls short. One of those areas, as you might imagine, is the graphical quality of the game. As stated earlier, this is a 2002 GBA release, so the visuals definitely aren't as good as we of the DS-era might hope. They're grainy and not very detailed, and are very underwhelming. When you compare Baseball Advance to graphical GBA masterpieces like Gunstar Super Heroes and Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance, Baseball Advance definitely comes up short. Even for a GameBoy Advance game, though, the visuals are pretty bad, and it would have been really nice if the developers had invested just a bit more extra effort to make it a bit better-looking. The awesome game play mechanic still rocks and isn't really hurt by the poor visuals, but it's always disappointing to realize that a game's graphics could have easily been a lot better.

Likewise, the sound effects in Baseball Advance aren't nearly as good as they could be. There's no music to speak of (aside from the National Anthem at the beginning of every game), and the sound effects really represent the bare minimum. Aside from staple phrases of Major League Baseball ("You're outta there!"), there's nothing at all that will impress you in the sound department. You might just be like myself and find the lack of music and incessant, annoying sound effects just too much to bear, and opt to play with the volume off. Don't worry -- you won't be missing out on anything.

With regard to graphics and sounds, it's clear that Smilebit pushed them to the rear to allow game play to play an important part of the project. That's very understandable–actually, it seems as if Smilebit is one of the developers that's thinking the right way! The lack of multiplayer in the game, however, really just seems like a lazy oversight. Single player mode is an absolute blast, and it's honestly hard to comprehend just how amazing it would be to be able to play against a live opponent. It's hugely disappointing to see the dearth of GBA-link-cable compatibility–on the plus side, if Smilebit ever decides, by some stroke of providence, to create a DS baseball game, we're in for a huge WiFi treat.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Baseball Advance is probably the best baseball video game ever made. It features a brilliant game play mechanic, combining both simplicity and depth to create a game that you won't want to put down. It's fun for both baseball vets and newcomers alike, and provides an endless amount of baseball fun. The graphical quality, as well as the audio, is a bit disappointing, but it's clear that they were given the back seat to game play. The one big disappointment is the fact that there is no live connectivity. But when you're nitpicking over a lack of multiplayer, you know you've got a true gem on your hands. Baseball Advance is a must-have game for everyone who one who owns a GameBoy Advance–Smilebit truly has hit a grand slam here.