Acclaim's All-Star Baseball 2003 is a contender for the title of most entertaining baseball game on any of the major consoles, and the new Game Boy Advance version is even better in some ways. Although the game does feature some annoying faults, it boasts impressive graphics, audio, and gameplay in a tight package that most baseball fans will enjoy.
The visuals in All-Star Baseball 2003 are slick, starting with the nicely laid out and highly legible menus. Once an actual game begins, you'll see some large, detailed batters and their impressive stance and swing animations. The game features all the real-life Major League Baseball players, as well as fairly well done background images representing the actual stadiums. Making contact with the ball gives you a look at the fielding perspective, where the small, pixilated characters don't look quite as good, particularly when the camera zooms in after the completion of a play.
All-Star Baseball 2003 also makes use of very accurate sounds and music that do a good job of bringing the ambiance of the ballpark to the game. Several of the songs and noises commonly heard at pro sports venues have been re-created, such that neighbors overhearing a game will immediately start thinking of baseball, summer, and hot dogs. Digitized voice is also used for the umpire's calls, rounding out an overall audio presentation that's as sharp as the crack of the bat when Barry Bonds makes contact with the ball.
The familiar All-Star Baseball gameplay mechanics have also been kept intact. The batting interface is controlled with a batting cursor that is shaped to represent the area in a batter's swing where he can best make contact--the indicated center being the sweet spot. This cursor can be moved left or right and tilted up or down in order to hit to the opposite field or take uppercut swings when greater distance is desired. For even more power, the select button can be pressed to remove the batting cursor entirely, leaving only the small, circular sweet spot in place. While it is much harder to make contact this way, solid contact almost ensures a home run. The man on the mound is handled by selecting from available pitches and then using a targeting icon to select where the ball should be hurled. Allowances need to be made for ball movement, and you have a slight amount of control after the ball leaves the pitcher's hand. It's simple enough to paint the corners, and there is a wide variety of pitches available, including two- and three-seam fastballs, sliders, sinkers, curveballs, and change-ups. Fielding can be handled automatically by the AI or by you, in which case you'll be assisted by dotted lines leading from the closest player to where the ball will land.
Unfortunately, while pitching and batting are handled well, running the bases can be more than a bit problematic. The instructions given in the manual for working the base paths appear to work only some of the time, as it often seems that you either need to hit the A button and the direction of the base you've left in order to advance a base, or just the D pad. Managing multiple base runners and retreating players can also prove to be overly difficult.
All-Star Baseball 2003 offers varying difficulty levels for its quick play and exhibition modes but starts at a fixed difficulty level for the season. Seasons can range from a shortened schedule to a full 162 games with unbalanced rosters. A balanced 162 is also included for those who want to use a home team that's not quite up to par. Thus, it's not hard at all to score more than 40 runs in the first few games in a season, although the difficulty level seems to ramp up considerably the deeper in you go. As an added bonus, winning games in the season mode will unlock official Donruss trading cards in the game that can be viewed, traded with friends, and used to unlock cheats. Rounding out the game's play modes are the batting practice session and the home run contest.
Video game baseball simulations work well when a certain number of key components are included. All-Star Baseball 2003 covers most of the bases with attractive graphics, excellent audio, stats tracking, the official MLB license, and relatively solid control. Anyone who wants a dose of hardball on the go or a solid sports game to play with friends would do well to pick this one up.