Ever since the release of the N64, owners of the system have been waiting for a good baseball game. This summer, N64 owners will have their plates full with no fewer than three baseball titles to choose from: Major League Baseball Featuring Ken Griffey, Jr., All Star Baseball '99, and Mike Piazza's Strike Zone. The only question is which one to buy. Major League Baseball Featuring Ken Griffey, Jr. would seem like the front-runner: It's from Nintendo, and it has Ken Griffey Jr.'s endorsement.
Griffey has all of the usual baseball game options: three levels of difficulty, trades, free agents, drafts, and three different modes of play - exhibition, season, and home run derby. Plus, when playing season games you will have to deal with injuries and fatigued players. (You may even have to bench your star player for a game or two if he falls into a slump.)
Graphically Griffey is the same as most 3D polygonal baseball games: Boxy players that move incredibly realistically; the people in the stands look like a watercolor blur; and the real-life stadiums are represented well.
But Griffey tries to makes up for its lackluster graphics with one of the best intelligent cameras in any baseball game to date. The camera tracks high above the ball from the moment it leaves the bat to the moment the outfielder throws the ball in. At the moment the ball leaves the outfielder's hand the camera view changes to a view that's fixed on the plate the ball is heading toward. The changing camera angles really dresses up the otherwise dull visuals.
The biggest and most important factor in the enjoyment of any sports game, however, is control. I dug the control in Griffey. You use the analog stick to control a circular target that resides in the strike zone. The target must be placed over a small box that appears indicating where the pitch is headed. The box may move a bit depending on what type of pitch is thrown. Once the ball reaches the plate and the target is properly placed, you push the A button to swing the bat.
It's almost exactly the same setup as All Star Baseball '99. The only difference between the batting control of Griffey and All Star Baseball '99 is that the target you move within the strike zone returns to the center of the zone in Griffey once you let go of the analog stick. The target in All Star stays where you put it. Simply, this means that the control in Griffey is more interactive and involving because you have to keep in contact with the analog stick at all times - you don't simply set a target and push a button. And because you have constant and complete control, Griffey's control is also more precise than All Star's and is very good.
On Griffey's pitching side, you just pick your pitch and hit the button. As the ball is hurled toward the plate, you can alter the ball's direction slightly by moving the analog stick. A target fades in and out, the idea being that you get a fix on where it is when you can see it, then when it fades out, you quickly move the target to where you want the pitch to end up. The yellow camera buttons represent the bases; for example, when fielding, if you press the left-C button the ball will be thrown to third base, the right-C button first base, and so on.
The control is incredibly precise and intuitive. The main reason Griffey is fun to play is its fast and easy arcade-style control. You don't have to wait for the catcher to throw the ball back to the pitcher after every pitch - you simply pitch, get the call, pitch, get the call. The only negative control issue is that it's hard to get infielders to change direction while running - but that's pretty minor.
Overall, Major League Baseball '99 Featuring Ken Griffey, Jr. is a sound baseball game and a good one. But if simulation-style baseball is your bag, you'd be better off with Acclaim's All Star Baseball '99.