Sports games have been around for as long as we can remember. There have been numerous titles for all kinds of sports over the years, with some selling millions every year. Baseball games, while not as mainstream as the FIFAs and Maddens, have also been part of the mix for a very long time. While these games were fun in general, they could be narrowed down to two categories. The arcadey feeling ones which are more approachable to general audiences, and the ones that lean more towards simulation which is targeted towards the fans of the sport. But there was one franchise that threw both formats out through the window and focused squarely on fun. One that featured real world players in ridiculous situations and environments. That was the MLB Slugfest series. A gem from the rather recent past that truly shined, before the games based on the sport resorted to simulation heavy formats. Let’s take a trip down memory lane with MLB Slugfest.
Okay, calling a game series from early to mid-2000s a retro game is a bit of a stretch. But Slugfest is every bit as retro as any game that would qualify as a retro game, save for the time period in which it was released. The gameplay is old school and fun as hell. The graphics may look dated but have bit of quirky charm to it. The setting ranges from real-world environments to the downright whacky, and above all, this game is truly a product of its time. Creating a game like this is certainly not possible today, at least from a business point of view. So, what was it that made the Slugfest series as good as it was?
This was a Baseball game that feature real life MLB players, with real life stadiums. Big hitters like Derek Jeter, Jason Giambi and Hideki Matsui from the Yankees are all here. As are the stars from all other Major league teams. But while their likeness and game attributes reflected well on the models on screen, how they acted on the field during the game didn’t. Jeter would run towards the Pitcher and slug him for having delivered a beanball, leaving the pitching gasping for air on the floor while he runs back to first base, this for starters.
Then there is otherworldly stuff. Like Martians, Rodeo Clowns and Horses assuming the roles of the players (Skins), and stadiums like Atlantis. That’s right Atlantis. This game blended the real with the ridiculous without breaking a sweat.
If you strip down the wackiness and comedic flavour, Slugfest still had a decent Baseball game underneath it all. The gameplay has just the right amount of depth to suit the tone it was going for, and to encourage some strategy against the opposing team, whether AI or the Human next to you on the couch. The ball play was snappy, and rarely felt sluggish, which made for some very interesting game sessions.
Above all this game kept rewarding when played well. With consecutive strikes your pitcher will be on fire. Literally. So will the batter if he constantly gets to base or hits a home run. This in turn gave unlimited ‘boost’ while you were on fire, and the only thing stopping you now was your next screw up in the game. And this system worked wonders when played with a friend on local multiplayer.
Slugfest truly came alive when you played with your friends. The gameplay was perfectly tweaked to encourage split second reflexes, while also providing the opportunity to deviously plot a “Beanball” when your opponent least expects and gain the buffs for yourself while your friend suffers from the hit. The games quirky charm was infused in the gameplay in subtle ways like this.
And the icing on the cake for the game as an experience was that impeccable commentary. Yes, they did get repetitive at times but some of the lines and the style in which they were delivered was just comedy gold. For instance, when you swing hard and miss the ball resulting in a strike, the commentator goes “Man, I felt the breeze from up here. Hey is my hair still on?” or “I wish had arms like this guy. Mine look like dead chicken skin” and my favourite “What, is he afraid he’ll hurt the pitcher’s feelings if he hits the ball?”
These lines were insults that spiced up an already heated match between friends and the win after enduring such comments was that much sweeter. What can you expect from a game that had a dedicated button for “Slugging” the opponent, and another button dedicated to a “Cocky Catch” when you were fielding?
In today’s gaming climate a game like Slugfest can only be a dream. Any game that has a real-life sports star or licensing is a multi-million-dollar IP which is expected to make returns accordingly. As such, the fun aspect of the game takes a back seat, putting realism and big-name campaigns at the forefront. Slugfest was as good as it was because of what it was. A crazy, tongue in cheek take on a great sport. Here’s hoping that this series sees some form of revival.