Developer: Now Production
Release Date: June 23, 2009
Over the years, Little League Baseball and its players have demonstrated traits that make it the polar opposite of Major League Baseball and its players. Whereas MLB players are being questioned as to whether their skills come from performance-enhancing products, Little League players can always be counted on to stay clean. While MLB players have a bad reputation for playing the game for the large paychecks, Little League players play it for the sheer love of the game. The MLB World Series is usually comprised of American teams, while the Little League version is truly a world affair with participants coming in from different countries. Despite the positive image it casts on the sport and a steady amount of popularity over the years, it's surprising to see that Little League Baseball really hasn't been represented in a video game since the NES era. Activision and Now Productions rectified that by bringing out Little League World Series Baseball 2008, a game that was met with some surprise and generally positive reviews. The publishing and development team have decided to work together again on Little League World Series Baseball 2009, a game that seeks to improve upon last year's version by improving on what was already good.
Because Little League Baseball hasn't really been represented in video games before, there are a few rules that make it a bit different than Major League Baseball. For starters, the games are shorter. It's a six-inning match instead of nine innings. The fields are smaller, with smaller outfields and shorter distances between bases. Aluminum bats are used in place of wooden ones, and the strike zones are much larger. Finally, no stealing of bases is allowed at any time.
The game comes with a few modes, and while they are all good, you can easily tell that there's more of an emphasis on multiplayer than there is on the single-player component. Training is rather self-explanatory, though the game will force you to go through some of it before you can explore everything else. Exhibition is your standard baseball game with standard Little League rules for up to four players. Skill Challenges is the mini-game segment of the disc, featuring six different games for up to four players. They range from carnival tank dunking and darts to bowling and home run derbies; they're actually not bad in concept and execution, so they'll certainly get some playtime in between the actual baseball games.
Tournament mode is where the real meat of the game is, and what's offered here is rather substantial. You start off by creating a team, the players, and the details that go along with the team, such as uniforms and logos. You also start to distribute attributes for your team among all of the available disciplines. Once all of this is done, you start on your quest of becoming Little League World Series champions by making it past the regional tournaments. Completing games, winning and making spectacular plays give you opportunities to improve your team with stat increases and special power-ups, which can be used in future games in the tournaments. The mode is well thought-out and gives the single-player game some substance. It also helps that your created team can be used in all other modes, giving you extra incentive to build a seemingly unstoppable team with which to dominate your friends and opponents.
Sports games on the Wii tend to live or die on their control scheme. Not only is the control scheme in Little League World Series Baseball 2009 rather good, but it's varied as well. Using the Wii Remote alone provides the user with a very simplified control scheme that's similar to that of the baseball game in Wii Sports. Batting requires you to swing the remote at the right time in order to hit the ball, though holding down the A button will give you the opportunity to bunt. Pitching is a bit more refined, though, since you're actually mimicking a real pitcher instead of just jerking the remote to throw a pitch. Aiming is done with the d-pad, while holding down the A or B button can change the type of pitch thrown. When fielding, hitting the A button while the ball is in the air can make the player do spectacular catches that have him or her jump in the air or dive for the ball. Throwing is the same as pitching, except you now have to hold down a direction that corresponds to the base that you want to throw to. Movement and baserunning are all automatic when using this control method, but the user has the option to shake the remote to make them all go faster.
The simplified control scheme is great for young players, but for those who crave something more advanced, Little League World Series Baseball 2009 has you covered. Adding the Nunchuk to the mix allows you to manually control the outfielders, making the title feel more traditional while still providing you with motion-based controls. For those who like things a bit more old school, you can forgo motion controls altogether and just use a Classic Controller to play the game. There's no support for the GameCube controller, oddly enough, but this is still varied enough to please lots of people. The fact that you can mix and match control schemes is an added benefit since both players can play with their preferred style instead of forcing everyone to conform to one control style.
Little League World Series Baseball 2009has not changed graphically since the previous version, bringing with it the same praises and caveats as before. All of the characters still sport an anime-like style, which makes it endearing and the closest thing to MLB Power Pros' style without blatantly ripping them off. Standard anime conventions such as large eyes, bright colors and giant sweat drops are the norm here. While the character models are vibrant and come alive in 480p, the rest of the game still lags behind a bit. The stadiums don't look too bad, but the crowd certainly does. Except for minimal head and body movements, each member of the crowd seems to be static and emotionless. Heads don't turn, pennants don't wave, and no one tries to go for a home run catch in the crowd. The same goes for the bullpen, which has the coach and bench players simply looking on at the game like statues in a museum. A little more movement in the crowd would certainly go a long way toward making this feel more exciting from a graphical standpoint.
For a title intended for kids, the sound is sometimes surprising in terms of the quality that's clearly gone into it. There isn't much music, which only plays during the menus and training mode, but what's there is the standard bouncy music you'd expect from just about any Wii title. It's generic and neither bad nor good, but it does its job. The sound effects fare better and come in crystal clear. The sounds of the ball hitting leather mitts and the familiar ping of aluminum baseball bats are reproduced faithfully in Dolby Pro Logic II, with the sound of the crowd adding to the ambiance rather nicely. Commentary is handled by Brent Musberger for the championship game and Gary Thorne for every other venue. While these two are legends in the broadcasting world, they come off a bit flat during their delivery of some lines. The fact that lines get repeated rather quickly isn't a good sign for those hoping for some variety in the game commentary. This is a bit disappointing since most of their lines and their delivery of said lines is quite good and encouraging, whether you're on the winning or losing side.
Little League World Series Baseball 2009 accomplishes what few other baseball games can do, and that's to create an accessible and fun baseball title for the Nintendo Wii. It might not have the MLB license, but it proves that such things aren't necessary in order to create a sports game that can be enjoyed by fans of all ages. As long as you aren't the type of fan who must have the MLB license before you even think about playing the game, you can be sure that this title beats the odds on the sports-challenged Wii console.Score: 7.5/10
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