SummaryA double-edged sword of a sequel
The GoodNow that the major sports licenses were acquired, it was time to go back and update the previous two games. Some of the updates work great, and some others...don't.
First and foremost, the menu system got a total overhaul. There is now a navigation bar at the bottom of every screen with a forward and back arrow, and it has text that explains the current button you are hovering over. Most of the menus also have a very streamlined look, with the team creation page looking almost no different from the roster page. It definitely makes the menus easier to navigate, although I personally prefer the cartoony look of the older menus. I also liked it when the playoff schedules were unique from everything else in the game, as opposed to just looking like more of the same. I can't say if it's really an improvement or not, so I'll just leave that up to you to decide.
Season mode has been updated quite a bit, and I think it's for the better. The biggest change is that every team now has a home field. This means you no longer have to play on Parks Department Field No. 2 for every single game in the regular season, which takes a whole lot of the monotony out of it. Every single team now has their own home field, so on one game you may be playing at Steele Stadium while at another you'll be in Tin Can Alley. The opposing teams are also no longer filled with generic kids, as they distribute the remaining kids you didn't pick onto other teams. This not only makes the other teams more interesting, but it also adds more challenge to the game. I still think the seasons run way too long in this game, but these two changes make the game a whole lot less repetitive.
In addition to that, they also added a few minor improvements to the gameplay. Originally, the only way to get a batting powerup was to hit a special pitch, which required striking out. This game fixes that and makes it possible to get a batting powerup by getting a double play. It is also now possible to create a custom player. I had totally forgotten to go over in the last game (Backyard Football), but this feature lets you make a player similar to the generic kids you see in seasons. You can give him or her a name, a nickname (which the announcers will refer to them by), and customize their skill ratings. You only have a limited amount of stats you can use, but it's a really nice feature none the less.
All of the MLB teams are included here, but sadly, you cannot change their adjectives or their colors. Come on guys, that was such a cool feature in Backyard Football, why couldn't you add it here too? Regardless, if you still prefer the original wacky teams, they're still here too, and they also are now two-color instead of one.
The BadWait, isn't the addition of the pros supposed to go into "The Good" section? Yeah, I'm sorry, I know there are many baseball lovers out there who are all over the fact they are in this game, but they're not well executed. Now, let me make one thing perfectly clear: I am not against having professional players in this game. Backyard Football is an example of the pros done right; they are designed with the same cartoon look the Backyard kids have, and each have unique personalities. This game fails to deliver in both of those categories. It feels like the development team went for a quantity-over-quality approach and just crammed as many pros in as humanly possible. To wit, there are thirty -- count them, THIRTY -- professional players in this game. Backyard Football only had ten, a much more reasonable amount. All of them look near identical to each other and wouldn't even be out of place as generic filler kids in seasons. They also have exactly zero personality, and some of that dullness extends to their voice acting.
Oh, and remember what I said about the pro players being overpowered in my Backyard Football review? It's even worse here. The pros have stats that completely trump the Backyard kids by sheer comparison. In a season game, it isn't such a big deal since the pro players are a minority on other teams. In single games though, the computer will relentlessly pick them whether you want them to or not, and because of how overpowered they are, you're pretty much forced to put pros on your team too. It really takes out variety and strategy in picking your teams.
I do have a few other minor complaints -- while there is gamepad support in this game, it's mediocre at best. I find myself wondering what button does what most of the time, and moving the cursor around the screen with it is really slow. There really is no reason to use it over the mouse in this game, especially since there is still no two player mode. I am also not too fond of the use of CGI for the players in the outfield, as they tend to clash against the hand-painted backgrounds.
However, one change really baffles me above all else. When you finish a season game, you don't get any of the rewards you got in the first game. No credit sequence, no world tour, no Mr. Clanky cheat reveal, just a simple place in the hall of fame and nothing else. All I can say is...what gives? It shouldn't be that hard to update the world tour -- it was just your team bench standing in front of a bunch of backgrounds! It isn't like the pizza party in Soccer or Walter Weasel World in Football where they were all doing different things, this as about as basic as it could get. It takes a lot of the thrill of winning a season out, and granted the Mr. Clanky secret still works, but the only way you could know of it is to either look on the Internet or win the original game.
The Bottom LineIt's really hard for me to make a final judgement on this game. On one hand, if it weren't for the removal of the rewards for winning a season I could easily see myself recommending this over the original. I may not like the pros, but I didn't think they were enough to ruin the game. The other improvements made to the game were almost enough to convince me that this was superior in many regards. Unfortunately, the lack of anything rewarding for finishing a season makes me torn apart. As the title states, the whole game is a double-edged sword. To me, if you think the improvements are enough to make you prefer this over the original, go for it.