All-Star Baseball '99
Reviewed by Scott McCall
Like last fall's battle on the gridiron, Acclaim's diamond entry
seems to be getting the lion's share of attention and good press
over its competitor. But does it really deserve all that recognition?
Yes and no. All-Star Baseball '99 is certainly a much more realistic
and faithful simulation of its sport than Acclaim's previous two
offerings -- NHL Breakaway '98 and NFL Quarterback Club '98 -- were
of their respective sports. However, the game definitely has its flaws,
including some really annoying ones, that could relegate it from
the major league level, depending on what you want in a baseball game.
Compared to the competition (namely MLB Featuring Ken Griffey
Jr. -- don't even consider Mike Piazza's StrikeZone), All-Star
Baseball '99 is the realistic baseball simulation for the Nintendo
64. But for all the realism it has in statistics, options, and features,
there are some unrealistic things that are repulsive -- at least in my
opinion. Let's look at the positives and negatives of different facets
of the game, and don't forget to check out my review of MLB Featuring
Ken Griffey Jr. for even more comparisons.
First comes the control. Compared to MLB Featuring Ken Griffey
Jr., All-Star Baseball '99 has control that is more comprehensive but
also more cumbersome. For example, on the comprehensive side,
you can switch between power and contact swings, you can shift
the infield or outfield with a button, you can do bunt & slashes,
you can make a sliding catch in addition to jumping and diving catches,
you can do power throws when fielding by holding an additional
button, and you can even increase bunt power. You can't do any of this
in MLB Featuring Ken Griffey Jr. But it does seem like there are times
when the number of buttons could be paired down to something more
simple and intuitive (i.e., base running).
The pitching interface in All-Star Baseball '99 is also good and
not-so-good. Unlike MLB Featuring Ken Griffey Jr.'s one-step pitching,
you are first required to select a pitch (with the C buttons) in All-Star
Baseball '99 before throwing it (with the A button). That added step slows
down the game quite a bit and can be annoying after a while. In the
simulation mode, there are four pitches to choose from; in the arcade
mode, there are eight pitches. One cool thing is that the batter can try
and guess what pitch is going to be thrown. If the batter is correct,
the size of the batting cursor will increase; if not, the cursor size
Hitting is another "either you'll like it or you won't" aspect of
All-Star Baseball '99. Hitting is very difficult in the game. It
requires matching your batting cursor to where the ball will be.
Note that you're not matching a batting cursor to a pitching cursor,
but you have to move your cursor so the ball will appear in it when
contact is made. I personally hate this interface, and I hope the
designers include an alternate style in next year's edition like MLB
Featuring Ken Griffey Jr. has two options.
Now it's time to gloss over some of the options and features in the
game, which is really a big strength of All-Star Baseball '99 for
die-hard baseball fans.
In the options screen, you can change the game mode (simulation or
arcade), game time (day night), wind (on or off), injuries (off, one
game, or variable), pitch aid (on or off), ball landing target (on or
off), field control (manual, assist, or auto), number of innings (between
one and nine), camera options, and audio/video options.
As for gameplay modes, there's obviously the standard Exhibition,
Playoff, Season, and Home Run Derby modes. But inside those modes
there are many other options. For example, you can select who you want
to control each player on each team (CPU or human players), you can
choose how many innings you want in a season mode, you can change
how long the Playoff or Season mode lasts, etc.
There are many other features and options to fool around with,
too. Some of the features -- most of which MLB Featuring Ken
Griffey Jr. doesn't have -- include a spring training mode, the
ability to call up prospects from your farm system, trading
players (with no weighing of player performance), the ability
to cut/sign and promote/demote players, putting players on
the DL, changing rotations and lineups, and most importantly,
the Create-a-Player feature. I personally don't care if a game
has a Create-a-Player feature or not, but I know many sports
fans want this option, which is something MLB Featuring Ken
Griffey Jr. doesn't have.
Before moving on to some miscellaneous pluses and minuses
of All-Star Baseball '99, let's look at the audio/video package.
Like NFL Quarterback Club '98 before it, All-Star Baseball '99 uses
a second-generation version of Iguana's high-resolution graphics
engine, which Acclaim has started to market under the trademarked
term "Hi-Rez" graphics. The results can be breathtaking at times.
All of the players are smooth skinned with real-life faces. There
are over 600 motion-captured animation sequences and there
are over 100 distinct batting styles. The animation is much, much
better than NFL Quarterback Club '98, but there are still some
rudimentary animation problems.
The sound is probably the worst aspect of All-Star Baseball '99,
especially compared to MLB Featuring Ken Griffey Jr.. It wasn't
quite as bad as I expected, but it needs a major overhaul for
the next edition. On the upside, unlike MLB Featuring Ken Griffey
Jr., there is play-by-play calling and color commentary from
John Sterling and Michael Kay of the New York Yankees. On the
downside, it isn't very good and gets very repetitive. The color
commentary becomes annoying almost immediately, and the
sound quality of the play-by-play isn't very clear and sounds
almost computer-generated. Fortunately, there is some organ
music in the game, but the crowd sounds are terrible.
OK, let's move on to some miscellaneous pluses and minuses of
All-Star Baseball '99. When playing each baseball game, I made
a list of the things I liked and didn't like, so now I'm going to
present them for this game in no particular order.
One of the coolest initial things about All-Star Baseball '99 is
the batting stances. It's great to see your favorite players in their
actual batting stance. There are also several different pitching styles
for the more unique pitchers (i.e., Hideo Nomo). However, the
animation is often too dramatic or just inaccurate. For example,
it is too drawn out when the player walks to home plate. The
problem is that if you skip the sequence, then you miss out on the
statistics. Another problem is that players sway unrealistically.
Some of these guys are moving all over the place, when in real
life they are almost completely still. And for all of this great
animation, how come the home run celebration absolutely sucks?
It's one of the worst I've ever seen. Speaking of home runs, the
home run distances are quite unrealistic. Please, someone, give
us realistic distances, not high 400- or 500-feet bombs every time.
A really nice feature in All-Star Baseball '99 is the auto fielding
option. It's not perfect, but it's better and more accurate than in
any other baseball game, including MLB Featuring Ken Griffey Jr..
As a tie-in to the fielding option, one of the most impressive yet
subtle things in All-Star Baseball '99 is how players back each
other up. For example, you'll see the catcher run over to the first
base side just in case there's an error. Of course, it looks slightly
awkward to see the catcher run faster than you can believe.... Another
really nice simulation aspect to the game is hot and cold zones for
each batter that can affect how the player hits the ball. There are also
specialty pitches for the pitchers and a stamina meter so you know
Now here are some of the small yet important mistakes in the gameplay
that no one seems to have pointed out. First of all, the ball physics
are nowhere near as good as in MLB Featuring Ken Griffey Jr.. The
ball doesn't seem to actually bounce as often as it should or as high
or low as it should. Second, outfielders get to the ball too quickly.
This makes extra-base hits more difficult than they should be.
Third, the ball also just rolls to the outfield wall too fast, which
is basically a tie-in to the second problem. Fourth, hit detection is
quite a bit off when it comes to catching and fielding balls. The
outfielder will often catch the ball even though it seems as if it
should've dropped in front of them.
But wait -- there's more. We haven't discussed the intelligence or
bugs yet. All-Star Baseball '99 was originally rejected because of
a base-running bug, and you can almost see the remnants of that
problem. How so? You can almost throw out guys on singles. I'm not
saying that this happens frequently; I'm just saying there are too many
close calls. Also, when playing against the computer in a game, the
computer actually got caught advancing on an infield pop-up. And, no,
there weren't two outs -- the CPU stupidly decided to run half-way
to the next base on an infield pop-up rather than taking a few steps.
Also, All-Star Baseball '99 has proven to be quite buggy. Fortunately,
I haven't encountered many bugs (probably because I didn't play it as
much as the people who found them), but it's pretty scary when bugs
like this exist in the game. For instance, some people encountered
problems saving seasons incorrectly and others had problems with
stats getting messed up after playing partially through a season. I
know I would be absolutely furious if that happened to me. But since
no one can seem to determine if it's the result of shoddy debugging
or substandard accessories, I can't really take anything off the
overall score. Still, I just wanted to give a word of warning.
Finally, here are a few miscellaneous notes. First of all, games take
a long time to complete. While an average nine-inning game in
MLB Featuring Ken Griffey Jr. might take 20 to 30 minutes to
complete, it takes about 45 minutes to one hour in All-Star Baseball
'99. Second, because of the high-resolution graphics, much of the
text is almost too small to read when sitting six feet away from
the TV. Hopefully Iguana will use bigger fonts for its next sports
games. Third, for all its beautiful graphics, the game has a surprising
lack of an instant replay function. It would be nice to go back and look
at those close plays at the various bases. Fourth, like MLB Featuring
Ken Griffey Jr., All-Star Baseball '99 supports the Rumble Pak, but
makes even better use of it. The swapping can be a pain, though. The
Rumble Pak support, by the way, enables you to "feel" when you're
inching out of the strike zone. Lastly, unlike MLB Featuring Ken
Griffey Jr., All-Star Baseball '99 can be played by four players
simultaneously, which may be a bonus for some sports fans.
Since I consider myself a pretty big baseball fan (I keep track of
it daily, participate in a fantasy league, and go to my local Pirates
baseball games every now and then), it's pretty surprising that I
found that I enjoyed MLB Featuring Ken Griffey Jr. more than All-Star
Baseball '99. I enjoy MLB Featuring Ken Griffey Jr. more because of
the fun factor, control, pace, atmosphere, sound, and ball physics. But
there's a very good chance you won't have the same opinion as me if you're
really a die-hard baseball fan.
All-Star Baseball '99 is the better baseball simulation, with more
stats, more options, and more features -- but it doesn't necessarily
play better. So you'll definitely need to play both games yourself
before deciding. Neither baseball game is excellent, though, and
both could be improved a lot. At any rate, All-Star Baseball '99 is
a step in the right direction for Acclaim's sports division and is
a much better attempt than Acclaim's football atrocity from last year.
Graphics: 4.8 out of 5
Sound: 3.4 out of 5
Control: 3.8 out of 5
Gameplay: 4.0 out of 5
Lastability: 4.1 out of 5
Overall: 4.0 out of 5