Hitting is not a purely timing-based mechanic nor is it an abstract round cursor. Instead, you get a bat-shaped cursor that's anchored near the batter's hands, which is certainly more lifelike than a moveable set of crosshairs. If you have played PYS’ American cousin, MLB Power Pros, you’ll be familiar with this mechanic. It also reminds me a bit of Acclaim’s All-Star Baseball series when it appeared on the Nintendo 64. In some ways, the hitting system seems like a throwback, yet changes in size allow for a higher degree of batter individuality.
Within the cursor is a sweet spot that maximizes a swing's chances of success. A small, but important, touch is how dynamic the sweet spot is depending on the situation. As you approach a batter's hot zones -- represented by various shades of red -- the spot naturally and subtly increases in size. The opposite applies to cold zones.
In addition to the bat-shaped cursor and sweet spot, you can elect to attempt to pull the ball or push it the opposite way. This is handled via two distinct buttons rather than an analog movement before or during the swing. I’m not sure this is better than the way the MVP series handled "going with the pitch," but it does make that batting decision very concrete. Swing type is something you need to think about and put into action if you want to be successful.
Pitching and Defense
On the other side of the plate, pitching is handled with a shrinking cursor mechanic, similar to a lot of iPhone and downloadable baseball games. This is not revolutionary, but it is effective. I think, however, I would still take MLB 2K or The Show’s analog method in a showdown.
He is just in awe of how good this game can be.
On the fielding side of things, the game plays very fluidly. In fact, I’d say this game animates better and has a greater sense of control than any of the American games currently available. Things like changing a throw mid-stride and various degrees of dives and stretches make playing defense one of the best parts of the game.
Layered on top of all these very functional and effective control methods is a dynamic skill set. It’s sort of lifted out of an RPG game, but it does a great job representing a player's unique skills and greatly enhances the game.
For example, the “Sticky Hitter” skill makes a batter a better hitter with two strikes, which is handled by giving the player a slight ratings increase. Streaky players and natural momentum are handled through skills like “Consecutive Shots” and “Multi-hit” skills. Some skills, like the “Intimidation” skill, even cause a pitcher's ratings to dip.
Not all these skills are positive either. A hitter who can only pull the ball will lose power when you elect to swing to the opposite field. Pitchers have a larger range of negative skills, representing the shaky reliever who gets rattled when things go wrong or a slow-starting starter who has trouble in the first few innings.
Again, these are outstanding additions that really mold each batter-pitcher duel into a test of individual ratings and skills. I would love to see something like this added to other baseball titles.
Graphically, this game is on par with our top-tier American games. The stadiums look great, and again, the animations are superb. There are some arcade-like flares, like a subtle ball trail and some moments that seem to play out in nuanced slow motion, that might be a positive or negative depending on your outlook.
The only graphical element that I can really complain about relates to the player models. They look good from a distance, but in some close-ups, the faces have a sheen that seems a bit off.
The audio and presentation elements are also very good. I think the announcing, despite not understanding any of it, effectively communicates the drama on the field; the same goes for the crowd noise and chants. The camera angles and cut scenes also do a good job of re-creating a televised experience. All in all, the game creates a fantastic baseball atmosphere.
The only thing truly holding me back from recommending this game to everyone (other than the language barrier) is my lack of player knowledge. Even if this game was entirely in English, it would lose a bit of appeal based on the player set. I don’t know much about Japanese baseball. If you do, you are a way ahead of me when it comes to appreciating this game in its entirety.
Still, if you are a connoisseur of baseball games -- and are willing to work through the language problem -- Pro Yakyuu Spirits 2011 is worth a try. I wouldn’t be the first to wish that this were turned into a full-featured MLB game; if that were to happen, it might rival The Show for American baseball supremacy.