MLB Featuring Ken Griffey Jr.
Reviewed by Scott McCall
It took three years and countless delays to get here, but MLB
Featuring Ken Griffey Jr. has finally hit the market. So was it
worth the wait? Well, it's not the greatest baseball game ever,
which is disappointing, but it's still an extremely fun and
polished title for non-baseball fans or arcade baseball fans.
Die-hard baseball fans, on the other hand, will probably be
slightly disappointed in the game, even though it's better
than All-Star Baseball '99 in some ways. Be sure to check out
my review of All-Star Baseball '99 for even more comparisons.
As with the Griffey games on the Super NES, MLB Featuring
Ken Griffey Jr. is a hybrid baseball game. It leans more on
the action side, but there is still enough simulation here to
whet my baseball appetite. In fact, there are many more
simulation aspects in the N64 version compared to the
old Super NES versions.
Let's start with the control first. MLB Featuring Ken
Griffey Jr. is much more responsive, intuitive, and comfortable
than the control scheme of All-Star Baseball '99. True, there
aren't as many things to do in MLB Featuring Ken Griffey Jr.,
but most of the extra options in All-Star Baseball '99 are
One of the best things about MLB Featuring Ken Griffey Jr. is
the choice of hitting systems. You can choose between "Classic"
and "Arcade." Classic is the old timing system used on nearly all
the previous baseball games on the 8-bit and 16-bit consoles.
Arcade is a new system in which you have to match the batting
cursor with the pitching cursor. I personally still like the old
classic system. What's great is that both players can choose
their own preferences. Then it's a simple matter of pressing
A to hit or holding B to bunt.
The pitching interface in MLB Featuring Ken Griffey Jr. is also
sweet. It's quick, it's realistic, and it's easy-to-understand.
Pitches are chosen by pressing A, B, Z + A, or Z + B. While
pressing the corresponding button(s) for a pitch, you use the
Control Stick to aim. It's as simple as that. It's easy enough
for non-baseball fans and gives enough control for the die-hard.
You can also turn Pitch Graphics on or off in the options screen.
Basically, if it's on (depending on the batting style), then
a box for the strike zone will appear and a crosshair matching
the pitcher's heart beat will appear.
Fielding and running control are also much easier than in
All-Star Baseball '99. To advance a runner, all you have to
press is a corresponding C button (i.e., Top C for second base).
To go back, just hold down Z while pressing a C button. Leading
off is also accomplished with the C buttons. In the batting/pitcher
screen, you can press a C button up to three times before the runner
will take off. To advance multiple runners on base, just use the
R button instead of multiple C buttons. On the downside, it
seems as if your button pressing doesn't always register.
Sometimes there is just a delay and other times you're forced
to try again. Also, if you press the C button at the wrong time
or too quickly, your guy will take off.
Fielding is very easy, too. The A button dives, the B button jumps,
the C buttons are used to throw to the bases, and if you hold
down Z while pressing a C button, then you'll run to a base. A
few pitching options include holding down Z while pressing
C to look at a base and pressing the R button to bring up your
pitch selection/fatigue meter box.
While MLB Featuring Ken Griffey Jr. could benefit from more
statistics (it has 30+ categories while All-Star Baseball
'99 has 200+ categories), larger and more up-to-date rosters,
and more features and options, there is a decent amount of
simulation here. Unlike the previous Griffey games, there
are statistics shown before each at-bat that are updated
as the game progresses. Of course, you got the standard
Exhibition, World Series, Season, and Home Run Derby modes.
Inside those, you can tweak, change, and edit your pitching
and batting rosters at any time. You can make substitutions,
including defensive substitutions. There are trading and
free agent options, and you can even make your own Fantasy
League. The most major option MLB Featuring Ken Griffey Jr.
is missing is the Create-a-Player feature.
Graphically, MLB Featuring Ken Griffey Jr. can't really match
All-Star Baseball '99, can it? Well, sort of. The low resolution
graphics can be slightly fuzzy and do not seem as detailed. For
instance, the stadiums in All-Star Baseball '99 seem more
realistic because they have more textures. And there certainly
aren't as many special animation situations or batting styles
in here. But MLB Featuring Ken Griffey Jr. does have a few
things going for it. First of all, just the basic animation of running,
throwing, and swinging is more accurate. The most impressive
facet of the graphics, however, is the intelligent camera
system. While All-Star Baseball '99 has multiple camera
angles, they are fixed for the entire game and only change if
the user changes them. In MLB Featuring Ken Griffey Jr.,
there are smooth transitions from one angle to another
with each play. So there's different camera work for when a
player comes up to bat, there are multiple angles for plays
at each base, and the camera will even switch to a first-person
perspective on high fly balls. The dynamic camera is simply
awesome. I'm sure there was a lot of time spent on perfecting
the camera angles.
What probably impressed me the most about MLB Featuring Ken
Griffey Jr. is the sound. It's surprisingly fantastic. The various
menu and the title screen musical selections aren't that good,
but the in-game sound is wonderful. You just have to make sure
you turn on the background music in the options screen. First
of all, there is excellent PA announcing in the game (the announcer
says the player's batting number in the inning, position, and
name), good umpire voices, and an occasional comment from
Griffey himself. Second, there is a pretty decent crowd -- definitely
much better than the one in All-Star Baseball '99. The crowd will
cheer and jeer accurately and even has different decibel levels
for various situations. You can also hear comments from
fans in the crowd and vendors selling items.
My favorite part of the sound, though, is when you turn on the
background music. There is always the uninteresting background
music played at a very low level, but it shouldn't get in the way.
What's cool is that there's a short music clip (in stereo)
played for each batter on the home team. And there are probably
20 or 30 of these three- to five-second clips! The music consists
of organ music, crowd rousing songs, and even some more
rock- or rap-like themes. It's kind of hard to explain, but
they're very cool. I only wish the music would continue into
the at-bat (sometimes it gets cut off if the pitcher is ready
to go). There are also some nifty aural clues as to when someone
is stealing a base or has committed an error.
What's interesting about the gameplay of MLB Featuring Ken
Griffey Jr. is that it's often more realistic than All-Star
Baseball '99. The ball physics, for instance, are much, much
better. The ball flies and rolls at a realistic speed and can
take lots of different bounces. The players also move at more
realistic speeds. Another interesting point is that there are
actually errors in the game! How many baseball games actually
have errors occurring in seemingly normal situations
(i.e., fielding it wrong or dropping a fly ball)? I had two errors
in the same game against the computer! But it's not like errors
are easy to commit. They're usually the result of randomness
for a certain situation rather than it being the user's fault.
As stated, MLB Featuring Ken Griffey Jr. is not the best baseball
game ever, so there have to be some faults. For starters,
sometimes I noticed the wrong type of animation/throw in
certain situations. For example, when a shortstop was close
to second base, he whipped the ball there when it should have
been an underhand toss or a lob. There are also some weird underhand
tosses to first base.
Another problem is when the game won't switch to the proper
guy to field a ball for those weird, slow rolls. For example, if
the ball rolls slowly by the pitcher, the shortstop would probably
be better to get the ball, but the game will make you continue
to control the pitcher until it's too late. This can result in
frustrating infield singles. In line with the switching problem,
if you have one of your outfielders dive for a ball and miss, then
the other outfielders aren't backing him up in this game. In real
life, if the guy in left field missed, then the center fielder
would be there to get the ball. Not in this game. You have to
wait until the guy you had dive gets up to go get it. I've
also had a few too many throwouts from right field to first
base on what should have been a single. That rarely happens
in real baseball.
The other major problem with MLB Featuring Ken Griffey Jr. is
that two-player games can be too high scoring. When playing
against the computer, the game has realistic scores and is
challenging, but two-player games often end in games with
scores that are in double digits for each side. Finally, there
are some minor annoyances/quirks that should be mentioned.
First, although the multiple home run celebrations are pretty
cool, many of the home run distances are unrealistic in this
game as well. Second, the rosters are much more out-of-date
than in All-Star Baseball '99. The rosters seem to be based on
spring training lineups rather than the opening day lineups.
But if these guys are real baseball fans, then they should have
been able to predict many of the changes that weren't included.
Third, I feel kind of chaffed that there's no Control Pad support
even though it does nothing. Some casual players still prefer
it, you know.
Since MLB Featuring Ken Griffey Jr. is my favorite baseball
game and I think it has the potential to be the best in future
editions, I've put together a little list of minor
additions/improvements that could complement the changes
to the negatives from above that should be made. This goes
without saying that more simulation aspects should be added
that don't sacrifice the fun, arcade-like nature of the game.
First, we shouldn't have to wait for a tired pitcher to go
through his "tired" animation. By the same token as that, it
would be nice to have a stamina meter along the lines of
All-Star Baseball '99 instead of a word signifying his energy.
Second, there needs to be more animation and crowd reaction
to strikes and strikeouts. Third, all player names should be on
the back of the jerseys (except when tradition is involved),
even if the player's name is long. Just use a smaller font.
Fourth, although the game can get challenging, it would be
nice to have multiple difficulty levels to choose from in the
season mode. Fifth, the ability to do double switching and pinch
running needs be added. Sixth, it would be nice to see some
field degradation (base lines wearing out, etc.) and to see
uniforms get dirty. Seventh, it would be more realistic if
the pitchers had their actual pitches rather than the three
standard + one specialty scheme the game uses Eight, it
would be nice to look at the CPU's lineup and bullpen -- not
to change them but to just to see who's playing and who's
sitting. Finally, although MLB Featuring Ken Griffey Jr. has a
very cool attendance feature, it needs to be more realistic
(i.e., not as many people as it says for some teams). Trust
me, I can relate to this because the Pittsburgh Pirates don't
exactly get all that many people to the ball park, especially
on certain days of the week.
When it's all said and done, I prefer MLB Featuring Ken Griffey
Jr. over the competition. For some reason, the game is just
extremely fun, especially more so than the slow-paced All-Star
Baseball '99. In fact, I've noticed many reviewers mention
this but not seem to factor it into their final score. Coupling
the fun factor along with the better sound, atmosphere, ball
physics, and control make MLB Featuring Ken Griffey Jr. a more
formidable competitor than one might imagine. And there are
more simulation elements in here than you might have originally
thought, too. But neither baseball game is excellent, and both
could be improved a lot. Just play both and decide for yourself.
Graphics: 4.0 out of 5
Sound: 4.4 out of 5
Control: 4.5 out of 5
Gameplay: 4.2 out of 5
Lastability: 4.4 out of 5
Overall: 4.3 out of 5