BASEBALL ADVANCE / Sega / Gameboy Advance

Baseball Advance is an otherwise great baseball game ruined by the worst batting system ever.

But let's start from the beginning and work up to that. First off, there is an MLB and MLBPA license in this one, so you get the full complement of teams and players from 2001 or 2002 or whenever this was released. You can play an exhibition game, a full playoff series, or skip straight to a World Series. There's also a season mode, though it's somewhat limited - you can't seem to make any roster moves other than changing your batting order and subbing in backups before each game starts, and you can control only one team. Plus you also have to play a full 100-whatever game season, there doesn't seem to be an option to play a shorter season. There's also only four stadiums available - Safeco Field, Fenway Park, Wrigley Field and Pac Bell Park. Regardless of what team you choose, you have to pick one of these as your home stadium, and you'll play every game in one of the four.

Graphics in-game are great with an absolutely huge sprite of the batter in the foreground, and very detailed renderings of the pitcher and baserunners. Reminded me of the Ken Griffey games for the SNES, but it's even better here. Sound is of at least decent quality in all aspects too. You can choose to have fielding and baserunning handled automatically, and the options of wind, injuries and potential random fielder errors can be turned on and off.

Now, the batting system, because this is likely the first thing you'll encounter upon starting a new game. You have a strike zone box in which you have to decide where you are going to swing before the pitch is thrown. While this isn't my favorite system, it's the one that a lot of 3D baseball games use and it's workable when they do it right. Unfortunately, Sega gums up the works here by not only asking you to line up your swing prior to each pitch, but also hold the button and let go to stop a sliding power gauge (which only slides up and down once, then completely stops, so if you do it too early you get an awful swing.) So, not only do you have to try to predict where the pitch is going to come in, you also have to time starting the swing absolutely perfectly to actually hit it with full power. It's just too counterintuitive and over-complicates things too much. I gave it the better part of an hour to practice and still came away only managing to land a pop-up here and there - more than an hour of practice is too much to ask for something that's a basic, fundamental part of the game.

Conversely, the pitching system is nice. As you start your wind-up, you have until the pitch is delivered to move a dot around in the strike zone to decide where you want to throw it. Much less random than other games where you just hold a direction. You also select the type of pitch before winding up by tapping in a direction with the controller.

So the game is basically a pitcher's fantasy but a batter's nightmare. It's too bad that one part of the game is executed so poorly, because the rest of it is really well done. It could use more flexibility in the season mode and more parks, and if they tweaked the batting system to something a little more user-friendly, this would be a top-tier 2D baseball game. Too bad.

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