Developed by Sega and published by THQ, Baseball Advance draws its influences from a number of previous Sega baseball games, including World Series Baseball and Home Run King. Although it has fewer features than other baseball video games, Baseball Advance is both fun and impressive.
All 30 MLB teams are included, as are a majority of their players. Rosters are current as of the off-season, but a number of notable benchwarmers are absent. There aren't any trade options or custom player features either, so you're pretty much stuck with 2001's stars. Game modes include exhibition, season, playoffs, and the All-Star game, and a battery backup saves your progress.
Stadium models are colorful and lifelike. In both the batting and fielding viewpoints, the game re-creates every beloved cranny and landmark with remarkable accuracy--right down to the placement of bunting and territory markers. Such attention to detail does come at a price, however, as there are only four included stadiums: Safeco Field, Pac Bell Park, Fenway Park, and Wrigley Field.
You'll find Yankees fans grimacing at playing the entire season in Boston and Seattle, but you won't be able to deny that Baseball Advance is satisfying overall. Like in Sega's Home Run King for the GameCube, you select pitches based upon a set of arrows that denote the ball's overall track to the plate. To bat, you press down on the A button to coil your swing and release when you want to take a cut. The timing does take some getting used to, but the ability to vary between average and power is worth the learning curve. Bunting is similarly rich--you can adjust the height, plate coverage, and angle of the bat anytime during the pitcher's delivery.
The AI in Baseball Advance is typical of arcade-oriented baseball games--it is heavy on pop flies and home runs. The susceptibility of the CPU toward bunt base hits is also egregious. Nevertheless, many of baseball's traditional nuances shine through, thanks to the game's multifaceted design. Separate ratings for speed, power, hitting, and throwing reflect a player's abilities, while a luck statistic offers fluctuation between games. For pitchers, fatigue sets in as the innings lengthen and specific pitches lose their effectiveness faster than others do. For batters, a movable onscreen hit zone characterizes their overall coverage at the plate. In this manner, utility players like Melvin Mora have a much tougher time zeroing in on pitches than known hackers, like Ichiro Suzuki, whose hitting area engulfs the strike zone.
Unfortunately, fielding isn't nearly as ornate. You can dive for errant line drives and adjust depth, but that's it. An automatic fielding option eliminates defense altogether, but CPU fielders aren't perfect. Their ability to snag pop-ups contrasts with an unfortunate tendency to avoid double play and fielder's choice situations.
Likely, though, you'll forgive the game's shortcomings once you see it in action. Dead is the once accepted notion that tiny character sprites are requisite to re-create baseball on a handheld. Baseball Advance absolutely turns this belief on its head. From the batting view, hitters occupy a fair share of the plate and fill the screen from top to bottom. At the same time, you can actually see base runners jostling for a lead. On defense, pitchers and fielders move with overstated fluidity as they catch and hurl the ball. Minor details, such as Chuck Knoblauch's hunched stance or Hideo Nomo's odd pitching style, aren't taken for granted either.
Audio is similarly strong. Logically, there is no play-by-play commentary, but the number of incidentals, such as national anthems, ballpark organ music, and umpire calls, is significant. Key staples, such as the crack of the bat, meaty catches, and player slides, are also respectable.
Baseball Advance may come up short in many areas--outdated rosters, absent players, missing stadiums, minimal modes, poor statistics tracking, and the obvious lack of a two-player link option are just a few of the many complaints that dog the game's reputation--but its clever design and gorgeous visuals more than compensate for any deficiency.