MLB Slugfest: Loaded

Baseball purists may fine MLB Slugfest – Loaded to be grossly inaccurate, foolish, and even offensive; but to the ordinary Joe, Slugfest is the triumph of excitement and originality over an ancient game that in reality is slow paced and often dull. Slugfest is definitely not your average MLB video game. Its advancements are more than just a new method of pitch selection, or more exciting dives. Slugfest is more than a new way of controlling a baseball game on Xbox; it’s a new way of playing baseball.

Slugfest – Loaded is associated with the MLB only in that it borrows player, team, and stadium names, and that it is played with three bases and a ball. Other than that, it’s a whole different animal. Anyone who ever enjoyed a game at an MLB ballpark but was entirely disappointed when they tried to watch the gruelingly slow-paced action on TV may be delighted by Slugfest’s improvements.

Slugfest has been advertised as baseball’s equivalent of NFL Blitz. Yes, you can hit other people, sometimes they drop the ball, and then you can steal a base. That’s about the only time they are similar. I enjoyed slugfest because it was fast paced. Games are seven innings, at-bats are short, and there’s no long frustrating pause between batters.

Any dead time is occupied and fulfilled by the humorous banter of the two play-by-play announcers. One of whom thinks he is Vin Scully, the other sounds more like a New Yorker who has lost his marbles. I dare say that Abbott and Costello’s famous “Who’s on First” routine, pales in comparison to some of the comedic pieces these two characters offer to tie the game together. MLB Slugfest – Loaded achieves something that, to my knowledge, has never been accomplished by any game developer, on any platform, before. The loading screens are actually enjoyable. Several times I caught myself not pressing [a] to close the loading screen, so I could continue listening to the two clown’s chatter about random nonsense. Their comedic routines often carry on for minutes after the game is done loading, but the developer’s didn’t seem to mind, perhaps knowing full well that it could be a breakthrough.

Similarly, Slugfest – Loaded is remarkable because the witticisms the announcers proclaim when the ball is in play rarely repeat. Too often in sports games the announcer’s repeat the same calls over and over again, to a point that by the end of your season, you play with the mute button on. In slugfest, I inevitably encountered this problem, because the announcer’s library is always limited, but to a much more tolerable extent than in any other baseball game.

Likewise, the graphics are commendable, not because they are exceptionally crisp or realistic, they’re not, but because the foul ball and home run graphics do not seem the same every time. Most baseball games have 6 outfield graphics, sparing those for when the ball is in play: 1) foul ball left field 2) home run left field 3) foul ball center field 4) home run center field 5) foul ball right field 6) home run right field. Slugfest has about 30 foul ball graphics, and depending on the shape of your ballpark, a seemingly infinite amount. At Wrigley, homers bounce around down the streets of Waveland Avenue, rather than just disappearing into the horizon or cloud of fans.

One of the games most appealing features is the versatility of the style. The “Slugfest” mode is the most innovative part of the game. It’s the part I’ve discussed already and has been featured prominently on Cable news magazine shows due to its violence and supposed degradation of America’s sacred game. It’s important to note that several star athletes are missing from the lineups in this game, due to their objection over its content. Apparently, athletes’ being accused of rape, murder, and drug abuse is no call for uproar from the player’s association, but when they’re portrayed comically in a game as somebody who might slug another guy in the gut, it’s going to far. Give me a break. Slugfest is obviously unrealistic, and the rules that defend against slander and defamation of character make exception to images that are obviously satirical or comical. Slugfest definitely falls under the realm of “comical”.

Fortunately, for some gamers who didn’t know what they were getting themselves in to, or just grew tired of the craziness of the Slugfest mode, there is another, more realistic mode. MLB classic offers gameplay more consistent with traditional baseball video games. This version is a viable alternative to Slugfest, and could possibly stand alone as its own game.

Gameplay in the classic mode is just like any other baseball game, and you know how that goes. The main components of Slugfest mode are Turbo, On Fire, Aggression, and trick pitches. I said earlier that the game is designed around the same concept as NFL Blitz. This is a novel concept for a baseball game, and ultimately I think it was a stupid premise, but the game is still and awesome play. For example, in football, we often get the urge to see players attack the other players, especially after a nasty tackle or during the final, tense moments of an important game. This is due mostly because football is primarily a contact game: people hit each other all the time, temper’s naturally rage much higher. In baseball, which is relatively peaceful and sedated, it seems outlandish for the players to hit one another. The 6 year old in all of us may find it disturbingly hilarious when Sammy Sosa smacks Nomar across the face, but this began to seem very immature by the second inning of my first game. The one exception to this rule is when there is a close play at the plate, and a player trucks into home Pete Rose style. In this case, going in cleats-up seems perfectly fitting and beautiful.

The Sound in Slugfest – Loaded is dominated by the voice of the two announcers, but the soundtrack and ambient noise which one would ordinarily encounter at an MLB game are well done. You’re allowed to scroll through tracks at the title screen, which is an awesome feature which we are fortunately seeing more and more of, particularly in sports games.

Slugfest – Loaded is worth checking out for anyone who thought they were interested in baseball until they played a baseball video game and saw how dull the gameplay is. Moreover, with its different modes and functions, Slugfest offers something different for every permutation of baseball fan out there. There are several different difficulty levels, and the Slugfest mode particularly is easy to pick up. I did have many problems with the MLB Classic mode at first, the pitching is very hard to master, don’t be surprised if you hit several batters in a row before throwing a single strike. In this sense, there is an enormous replay value to the game. Also, rosters are updateable via Xbox live, which means when Reggie Sanders switches clubs for the 8th time in 8 years, you won’t have him stuck with the Cardinals’ roster.

Finally, If you’ve ever played an MLB game, and realized that most of the excitement today in the MLB comes from the stadium’s garlic fries or outfield Coke Bottle slide, and then felt a sorrowing disappointment and emptiness, you are in for a treat. Slugfest stirs new elements into the game of baseball that make the game itself accessible to the rest of us. MLB has been focused on drawing more fans to the ballpark by offering non-baseball-related amenities, like wi-fi Internet access. Slugfest-loaded achieves the same goal, only it does it in a far more honorable way. MLB’s commissioner, Bud Selig, has a lot to learn from Slugfest-Loaded’s imminent success, which might explain why he has remained mum despite demands that MLB remove its license from the game. Slugfest-Loaded reinvents baseball in a way that only a video game could, and in doing so creates an example of how traditional customs can be combined with modern tastes to create something exciting and marketable.

Final Verdict

Favorite Moment: Collision at the plate, Jason Kendall, and the entire Pittsburgh Pirates by default, flying back ten yards as the ball pops loose from his glove and “Safe” flashes on the screen.

Forgettable Moment: Awkward pause after a play ends when you are supposed to pick a fight with a fielder to get him to drop the ball.

Graphics: If you want a tour of the historic big league stadiums, don’t bother getting on an airplane, just hit foul balls into different sections of the park, the stadiums are as real as it gets. Player’s faces are also exceptionally realistic. Looks an awful lot like NFL Blitz.

Control: Pitching can be easy to control, or as difficult and precise as you want to make it for yourself. Outfielder control can be frustrating. You’ll undoubtedly throw the ball all the way home when you meant to send it to first. For some maneuvers, you’ve got to press a whole lot of buttons at once, which is strange for a sports game, but can be gotten used to.

Sound: Announcers are hilarious; sounds are strikingly similar to average ballpark experience. Soundtrack is full of music that anyone who thought the Atari’s version of “Boy’s of Summer” was a good baseball anthem would love.

Gameplay: This game will please the sunshine baseball fan, and offend the true patriot. Anyone who likes the IDEA of baseball, but hates the slower aspects of the game will love Slugfest-Loaded. If you never thought you could enjoy a baseball game before, you will be pleasantly surprised by this game.

Replay: There is tons of stuff, even other teams and stadiums, to unlock. Several different game modes give the game an unusual amount of depth for a sports game.

Handicap: Game is not meant for T-ballers who might take it too seriously. If you can’t enjoy a little gross-out comedy and stupid antics, you will be annoyed by much of what goes on in Slugfest. Conversely, if you keel over laughing anytime somebody gets kicked in the nuts, you’ll find Slugfest’s innovations hilarious.