Little League World Series Baseball 2009 Review (Wii)
I recently reviewed Backyard Baseball '10, a cartoonish Wii baseball title aimed primarily at kids. I chastised that game for an overall lack of polish, including the embarrassing "World Champion Red Sox" video that seemed left over from 2008. It was almost as if the producers said, "eh, kids won’t know any better."
This time around I’m offering my opinion on yet another Wii baseball game aimed at children, Little League 2009 World Series Baseball. Does it avoid the missteps, mistakes and laziness of Backyard Baseball? The answer, in my opinion, is decidedly mixed. Ironically, "mixed" is an appropriate word to describe this game overall.
In the Mix
First, the gameplay seems like a mix of Power Pros and Mario Super Sluggers. It’s like Power Pros because the gameplay is not slowed down at all, or full of crazy rules or maxed-out players. In fact, this title plays a rather solid game of baseball. I have seen a lot of hit variety and some decent ball physics. There is also some strategy involved, especially when you have to change the defensive alignment or know when to bunt, which is appropriately effective in a youth-centered baseball game.
However, it controls most like Mario Super Sluggers. Pitching, batting and throwing require a flick of the wrist. Pitches can be selected by holding various buttons. Batting is done by using a horizontal swinging motion. The "A" button is used for jumps and dives.
Like Super Sluggers, there is also a power-up system (called Talents) that can be used for hitting and pitching, providing extra boost on a fastball or some distance on a long fly. Unlike Super Sluggers, though, there are not unique powers for each player. Additionally, the power-up system is a tiered three-step system: activate one "level" at a time or get super abilities when cashing in all the whole bar.
Better yet, the boost can also be applied while on defense. When using it as a fielder, a short timing-based mini-game is activated -- if your timing is good, you succeed. That leads to a final positive for the boost system: It’s not always 100-percent effective. I like that even though I may have powered up a batter, he can still pop out if I do not make good contact.
The graphics are just a bit odd in style, but they aren't terrible.
Now, returning to the word of the day: mix. The presentation found in this game seems to be a mash-up of various other games. Since it does have the official Little League license, you will find some appropriate nods to realism. For example, Howard J. Lamade Stadium and Volunteer Stadium are two real Little League stadiums that have both been rendered well enough in this game. (My wife went to college a few miles away, so I’ve toured both in the past.)
The game also includes broadcaster Gary Thorne, who does the play-by-play commentary -- the commentary gets fairly repetitive. Dugout, the Little League mascot, entertains you between innings and when the game is loading. The regional teams, while made up of generic players, are all accurately represented. Actual brands, like Wilson and Easton, are visible on some equipment. Also, when the players are introduced, the game lists the their favorite food and movie.
So, on top of all of these recognizable aspects of Little League, does it make much sense that all of the players look like they just stepped out of any generic anime cartoon? They would fit into just about any Japanese RPG or Saturday morning cartoon. Even the power-ups are represented by Pokemon-like flames circling the player. On top of all that, everything is then given a bit of cel shading.
This odd choice of player models does not necessarily detract from the overall experience, it’s just a bit of a culture shock at first. But it’s probably a better solution than trying to force a game to represent a photo-realistic style.
The game looks to be heavily influenced by anime style wise.
Road to the Series
Moving on to game modes, again it’s a mixed bag. There are various mini-games -- some are fun, some aren’t. There is also the standard exhibition option, and the Tournament mode, which has you take a team from regional qualifier to the actual World Series itself.
What’s nice about this mode is that it allows you to customize a team, including the player names, the equipment, the uniform color and the logo. It’s not terribly replete with options, but it’s probably good enough for your son or daughter -- yes, there are girls in this game -- and the customization options should be deep enough to allow your children to re-create their own Little League team.
One player on a team is the "Star Player" -- essentially it just gives the specified player a little extra power when using the boosts. Frankly, I didn’t find myself using the third level of power that often, so I rarely saw the Star Player’s special ability. However, I do know that the power is the same for every Star Player.
As you progress through the tournament, you can earn points which can increase individual or team attributes. My Star Player was not necessarily the best player at the end of the tournament.
Also of note is a card system, not unlike the old Madden Cards. They can be used to change your team’s abilities or to handicap the opponent. They are unlocked over a period of time, and each card is added to a collection.
No Perfect Game
Overall, this game was a pleasant experience, especially when compared to Backyard Baseball (a series I used to adore). However, it has its share of problems, too.
First, there are some quirky controls. While the pitching is gesture-based, it still relies on a meter (not hand speed) to determine pitch effectiveness. You twist your wrist for pitch movement, to varying degrees of success.
Baserunning is not at all intuitive when set to manual control. (I often set it to assisted or easy to ease my frustration.)
Probably the strangest control issue, though, is the difference between contact swing and power swing. The game teaches you to actually swing slower for contact, quicker for power. This seems very odd, as timing plays a large part in where the ball will be hit (as it should). When you want to hit a virtual baseball, it’s very difficult to teach yourself to swing slowly.
Essentially, this is another game that does not begin to approach Wii Sports baseball on the controls front.
Being a Little League game, it would have been interesting if the developers had included some of the roster rules, because then youngsters (or their parents) could better appreciate having to get everyone some playing time. Plus, there’s a lot of strategy to that kind of team management. Unfortunately, your team only has nine players, so everyone plays all of the time; there are no subs or pinch hitters.
Finally, there is some major graphical slowdown (see: frame-rate issues) when too much is happening on the infield.
Overall, this game is truly a strange breed of arcade baseball. It is based on the real Little League and has many authentic touches, except the game has anime characters, clunky controls and power-ups. Still, it’s mildly entertaining, and probably one of the better sports games aimed solely at children.
On the Field: Pretty solid baseball, with some arcade twists like power-ups and mini-games. Some strange and ineffective controls get in the way. One of the few baseball games where you need to pay attention to defensive alignment. "Rubber band" artificial intelligence seems to be in effect.
Graphics: The graphics are heavily influenced by anime. But the graphics are not terrible for a Wii Game, just a bit odd in style.
Presentation: Gary Thorne gets old fast, but at least he’s a real broadcaster. Some nice sound effects, like bat contract and catching, come from the speaker inside the controller.
Entertainment Value: Tournament mode is enjoyable, and could be repeated with various teams. Some mini-games, but they vary in quality. Lots of things to unlock, win and customize.
Learning Curve: A very lengthy and guided tutorial helps you get acquainted with the controls, which are not that different from other Wii games.
Score: 6.5 (Decent)