MLB Slugfest 2006 REVIEW

MLB Slugfest 2006 Review (Xbox)

If you spend a lot of time in the sports gaming community, you’ll figure out quickly that conversation often drifts to the same topics over and over again. You have your classics like sock color, gang tackling, and your self-proclaimed experts who like to declare a game “broken” after two games. Nit-picky, self-important, often mind-numbing conversations that show up every release season like lemmings without a cliff.

Of all these déjà vu moments, I will concede two legitimate beefs that seem to come up.

The first is exclusive license rights. I am still yet to find a single person who thinks that these agreements are a positive thing for the industry. Sure, people with a brain will quickly concede that they are great from a business perspective. Eliminate the competition. That’s business 101, baby. But, I’ve yet to see a compelling argument on where it helps the gamer.

The other common complaint is the birth of the $59.99 new release. Or, re-birth we should really say, since most of today’s young gamers don’t remember that a $60 price point was not uncommon over a decade ago. With technology improving and the ability to mass produce becoming cheaper, most would argue that prices should go down, not up. Welcome to America.

What does this all have to do with the MLB Slugfest 2006 review that you came to read?

Well, with an MLB license and a $19.99 retail price, Slugfest actually avoids both of these pitfalls – a rarity in today’s sports gaming world.

If you’re not familiar with the MLB Slugfest series, let me start by hitting you with one word – Midway.

Yeah, the same Midway that does the Blitz series and brought us NBA Jam also has a baseball franchise that often gets lost in the shuffle. Because it’s Midway, it’s safe to assume that MLB Slugfest 2006 is an over-the -top, unrealistic, carnage-on-a-diamond type of experience. "Blitz with bats", as you’ll often hear it called.

If you are familiar with the series, then you probably think you know what to expect from the 2006 release. Logic would say you’ll get last year’s version with an added mode or two, a couple fixes, and new rosters. Unfortunately, the team at Midway actually committed the mortal sin in the sports gaming world – they took away a play mode. And not just any play mode - they took away online play! That was simply shocking to me. A lot of developers scramble to throw in a rag-tag online mode just to have something. They already had something, and took it away.

Strike one!

With single-player gaming now the focus by default, I expected to find a new mode or perhaps a more robust version of the previous mode.
The only thing new is a pretty standard Create-A-Player mode that really adds very little to the whole experience.

The single player modes are an Exhibition Mode, Season Mode (one single season, I should point out) and a Ladder Mode where you try to beat all of the other teams in the game. Nothing new. Nothing groundbreaking. Nothing much to speak of at all. That really leaves the single player with a bland experience.

Strike two!

That’s not to say there isn’t fun to be had here. It’s still a good smack-talking game to hoot and holler about with your buddies. But, if you aren’t living the dorm life or in Mom’s basement anymore, it’s tougher to find those times. That’s why the omission of the online mode hurts even more. The fun is there. You just can’t get to it.

All that being said, I certainly can’t rip this game to shreds. It does accomplish what it tries to accomplish. It’s a great pick-up-and-play experience for the casual gamer. The controls are simple. Batting is all timing-based. No pitch guessing or cursor-based hitting. I can hand the controller to my four-year-old and she’ll get a hit within a couple swings.

Once you hit the base paths, everything is pretty normal for about 89 of the 90 feet with the exception of a turbo allotment that can actually be rather challenging to manage. It’s that 90th foot that separates Slugfest from your typical day at the ballpark. If you’ve not seen or played the game before, meetings between runners and fielders can be settled with fisticuffs. This ability alone makes playing with a room full of buddies a blast.

Ball one!

Pitching is broken up into the standard-but-nice quadrants, with the option to throw a strike or throw a pitch slightly outside of the zone for a ball. Again, great mechanics for pick-up-and-play, but the lack of a real challenge to the mode will keep a lot of the die-hards away.

One part of the pitching engine that I did like was the new trick pitch system. Almost stealing a page from their fighting game department at Midway, trick pitches are accomplished by using button and directional combos during the pitcher’s wind-up. Great idea. It was fun and I had a good time with it.

Ball two!

The AI in the game is surprisingly good. AI-controlled players tend to make the right decisions given the circumstance. You’re not going to find a great managerial mind that starts playing small-ball on you, but it plays a smart game of arcade baseball.

The difficulty levels really have a drastic, but realistic, effect on the AI as well. On the easiest mode, you’re basically taking BP. You’ll end up with a lot more NFL final scores than MLB. Conversely, on the highest skill level, it’s downright crazy-hard. The pitchers just throw smoke all game, usually catching fire in the first inning and making you look silly the rest of the way. The younger joystick jockeys with reflexes quicker than my old bones can produce should find a fun challenge.

Ball three! The count is full.

Despite being rather clunky-looking, the graphics in MLB Slugfest 2006 actually fit the game pretty well. The player models get the BALCO treatment (shh…don’t tell the grand jury) and move in a cartoonish manner. Yes, it’s over the top, but that’s what people who pick up this title are looking for. The animations are decent and you can make some pretty sweet-looking defensive plays to bring on the hoots and hollers from the aforementioned group of buddies.

The sounds of the game fit as well. They aren’t radically cartoonish, but they also don’t try to be too realistic. Tim Kitzrow and Jimmy Shorts provide the commentary or, more accurately, the really bad stand-up routine. The commentary, especially the color, is painfully annoying. I couldn’t decide if they were trying to be so buffoonish and unfunny that it became funny or if it was just plain not funny. I went with the latter.

Foul ball!

So what’s the payoff pitch going to bring for MLB Slugfest?

There is an audience for this game. With the MLB license, the multi-player fun, and the unbelievably reasonable price point, they will move units. I’d recommend a rental for most people, but the rental is going to cost you almost as much as the game itself.

You will have some fun with this game depending on your circumstance. I’m still blown away that they removed online play, seriously cutting a ton of replay life out of the title.

If you’re looking for a fun game to play with buddies, MLB Slugfest 2006 is a great choice.

If you’re looking for a deep single-player experience, move along.

The kick, and the delivery…

How appropriate.

Hit by pitch.

MLB Slugfest 2006 Score
out of 10