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PS2/Xbox Review - 'MLB SlugFest: Loaded'

by Agustin on July 15, 2004 @ 1:10 a.m. PDT

MLB SlugFest: Loaded is the newest title in the adrenaline-style baseball series which, for the first time, takes America’s Pastime online with a host of new gameplay features. MLB SlugFest: Loaded will include the addition of the Baseball Mogul engine into its franchise mode, adding great depth and endless re-playability to the game.

Genre : Sports
Developer: Midway
Publisher: Midway
Release date: June 21, 2004

Buy 'MLB SLUGFEST: Loaded': Xbox | PlayStation 2

Ah, MLB MLB Slugfest: Loaded. The first MLB-licensed game to receive a Teen rating from the ESRB – for violence. “That’s silly,” you might say. “This is a baseball game.” If you are the type to say that about a Midway sports title, then obviously you weren’t around back in the nineties when NBA Jam had basketballs being launched about in flames, and it was fun. Or more recently, when NFL Blitz presented a violent, simple, minimal-ruled style of electronic football. Madden and ESPN fans might not agree with me, but I think Midway’s brutal arcade style sports games are the kinds of sports games are some of the most fun to be had when playing a simulated ball game on your home console. Sure, Madden is brainy, the ESPN games control like a dream, but when I want to get some controllers together and have a blast with some friends, I’m not going to wrestle with getting people used to Visual Concepts’s complex playstyle – I’m going to throw in a copy of Blitz, Jam, and yes, Slugfest. MLB Slugfest: Loaded is the best modern arcade-style baseball game out there, and man, is it a blast.

If you’re looking for a solid baseball simulation, I’m sure you already know to stay far from any Midway-branded titles. Slugfest is a high-octane take on baseball, perfect for gatherings of noisy friends to spend an entire evening with, and not get bored in the slightest. This game is aggressive. You’re not going to be having a leisurely game of ball here! Baserunners can and probably will punch out your third baseman while he’s picking dandelions out in the field. You can punch out players at even the most insensible times, having no effect on the actual gameplay – but it’s sure fun, isn’t it? This is about as close to an XFL-equivalent to Major League Baseball as will ever be seen, I’m sure.

The main mode of the game is “SlugFest”, the expected arcade-style playing mode. Every pitcher has a set of normal pitches to choose from: fastball, changeup, slider, curveball, knuckleball, and sinker. A set of special pitches correspond with each regular pitch – the expected fireball, eephus, Mr. Snappy, sweeper, whizzer, and bouncer. Obviously the trick pitches are a bit tougher to deal with than their normal counterparts. All pitches can be given a bit of a power boost by hitting the turbo button. This will cause the pitch to have a bit more “umph” at the expense of accuracy. Once you get your opponent to miss five strikes with the normal pitches, you get a special pitch which is almost impossible to hit. The ball pretty much flies around wildly, but always goes in for the strike.

Batting is very simple. If you get a few consecutive hits (the number depending on the player in use) your batter will be, classically, “on fire”. He will do everything a little better – hitting, running, throwing. No matter which position the “on fire” player is in, he will be at his top efficiency, including outfielders. The problem with offense (and this “problem” is mostly a positive for the balance of the game) is that running is somewhat difficult and required a bit of attention to avoid being taken out.

An MLB Classic mode is available as an alternative to SlugFest, though I’m not sure why anybody would purchase this game for the sake of playing a normal game of baseball. Mostly, it just removes all of the things that make Slugfest special: trick pitches, turbo button boosts, and players “on fire”. It kills all the charm! But it does add a pitching meter, similar to a football kicking meter, which adds some thought to the pitching process in the absence of the pitching craziness present in the arcadey SlugFest mode. This mode is pretty boring; if you want a simulation, get a different baseball game. There’s pretty much no reason to fire up the Classic mode unless you for some reason accidentally grabbed MLB Slugfest: Loaded off the shelf at your local Best Buy instead of the latest ESPN game.

The expected homerun derby mode is also present. The rules are simple: you get ten outs, and whoever hits the most homeruns wins. If there is a tie, it is broken by the average homerun distance. Make sure to grab the best batters in the league if you’re going to take on this mode.

The franchise mode makes use of the Baseball Mogul simulation software. It allows you to track states, make trades, call people up from the minors and send them back down if you don’t need them anymore. You can read newspaper headlines about performance from around the league, edit the pitching rotation, batting order, and edit coaching strategies. Franchise mode can be played in either SlugFest or (not recommended) MLB Classic styles of play. This is all a lot of fun, and adds the right kind of depth to this sort of game – not deep thinking, but just lots of fun things to play with.

The gameplay is a ton of fun, but it has its flaws, one of which is glaring. A big problem with almost all sports games of this type, MLB Slugfest: Loaded included, is defensive control. The computer doesn’t always pick the right man for the job when handing over the control to you, making one too many easy plays a more stressful event than really required.

MLB Slugfest: Loaded plays nicely for the most part, but looks only average. Facial details are good and fairly accurate for their real-world counterparts, but their bodies are almost too swull, something common with these arcade sports games. Then again, this might not be a problem, since most of these baseball players are probably taking some supplement or another to build up strength.

The crowd is pretty much unresponsive to everything in the field. It would be more interesting if they would react like a real crowd, as it would make the game much more fun when you’re playing alone, but instead the patrons of whichever stadium you’re having your game at will be hopping up and down like frogs on sugar I.V.’s.

Animations aren’t too fluid, and while we shouldn’t harp on the realism factor too much for a game like this, it’s always nice to have a smooth looking and moving game, isn’t it? The diving animations looks really off, and many of the pitchers aren’t animated with their own unique pitching styles, something that most other baseball games seem to have down these days. For a baseball fan, these things would irritate them. But a baseball fan probably wouldn’t be into a weirdo arcade romp like this in the first place.

The game sounds nice, for an arcade game. Everything is overstated, and it’s wonderful. Explosive sounds, teeth-chattering crunches, kung-fu punching sounds, everything is perfect for this kind of game. The only downside is that the commentary is repetitive and irritating, not at all amusing in that b-movie sort of way.

MLB Slugfest: Loaded can be played online, and it runs very well. There’s little lag present, something imperative to the performance of a sports game. It uses the stat ticker, so you are given the scores of real baseball games as you have your simulated video fun time. Tournaments are easy to get into and play, so you’ll be playing with the best in no time. The only downside is the fact that the over-the-top wackiness is much more fun when experienced with a few friends in the comfort of your living room. It’s great to have online, and it is definitely worth using, but it’s not the meat of the game by any means – the offline multiplayer is.

MLB MLB Slugfest: Loaded is not the best technical baseball game around; it’s far, far, far from it, in fact. This is an arcade blast based on timing and violence, and it’s a ton of fun if you don’t approach sports games as simulations of the real thing. This is a videogame in every sense of the phrase. At no point does it even try to be realistic (with the exception of the MLB Classic mode, which isn’t really as realistic as it is dumbed down). If you want to have some great multiplayer fun with a few friends, this is your game.

Score: 7.8/10

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