Baseball is known as a thinking man’s sport. On the surface, it seems like a pretty straight-forward game, but it really has a lot of complexity to it which casual fans may not notice. Defence is where most of this factors in as pitchers study hitters’ power charts, position players shift based on contact pull charts and managers make substitutions to get their ideal match-ups out there. Foregoing almost all of this, MLB Bobblehead Battle aims to give fans a unique variation of America’s favourite past-time, where absolutely zero defence is required. Yes, you read that right.
Now, I’m sure you’re thinking that baseball without defence makes absolutely no sense. In real-life, it’d be impossible, but that is where the magic of video games comes into play. Instead of having fielders there to catch pop flies, make double plays and wow the fans with great spectacle plays, every inch of the playing surface is turned into different-shaped pads. Each pad contains a different play indicator, such as a base hit, double, home run, double play and regular out. Usually, the ones worth more are in the outfield or on areas of the infield where balls are rarely hit. Regardless of placement, the play occurs based on where the ball stops.
It’s a really interesting change which speeds up the game quite a bit, with the inclusion of walls, speed ramps and points-awarding design items which all factor into the play. Hitting an obstacle may deaden the ball right on its surrounding out pad, so it’s important to try to stay away from those with each swing of the bat. Considering that out pads take up more space than everything else out there, disappointing trips back to the dug out occur pretty often. When great hits are accomplished, there’s a greater sense of exhilaration as a result of this. These changes bring with them a bit more challenge, which is nice.
Quality plays on offence, or as the pitcher, are awarded with certain amounts of points. These factor in as the game’s currency, allowing teams to purchase different cards which can change the outcome of a game. Say you’re in need of a big swing to clear the bases. Buy a big bat card to increase power or an increased contact card to make it easier to hit the ball. The opposing team will occasionally try to counteract these ventures by using cards with opposite effects, which makes things really competitive and interesting. In some ways, it’s a lot like a chess match or a board game. Only one card can be used at once, so it’s important to choose wisely.
Pitching cards give benefits such as increased arm speed, with a special card allowing for 300 mile per hour fastballs for a limited amount of time. As much of a game changer as the offensive cards can be, these defensive choices can be just as pivotal in securing a victory. Men on the mound can also force their opponent’s hand by choosing cardboard rectangles that limit the type of swing available. If you’re needing a final out in a challenging game, then why not change things up so that the slugger at bat can only bunt for a hit. Not only does this limit the chance for a home run against, but it also makes most of the squares by the batter’s box change into outs.
If teams bat around during an inning, the game inherently decides to make things more challenging. It systematically eliminates scoring zones as the inning progresses, eventually leaving the crowd decks as the only viable real estate without out stamped all over it. This adds extra challenge, making it hard to beat up on teams too, too much. However, I still had my way with almost every team I played. It’s a bit too easy at times. Swinging for the fences and running the score up to five or eight nothing in the first inning was never a rarity.
All of this runs on the established mechanics from Konami‘s previous release: MLB Bobblehad Pros. A game which delivered a good mix of arcade gameplay, with tons of strategy included. I quite enjoyed playing Pros as well, though its defensive gameplay options were less than stellar. Eliminating that issue, MLB Bobblehead Battle ends up taking the best aspects its predecessor’s core experience. However, there is the fact that its predecessor’s lengthy season option is not available, limiting length.
Instead, the team at Konami decided to create a Challenge Mode, which contains one match against every Major League Baseball team. Winning means you can move on, though special requirements must be met to unlock new cards and obstacles – one of each being available upon completion of each of the thirty-odd challenges. Examples include having to lead a team by five runs, hitting 9 helpful objects, always using a power swing, never striking out or using a certain amount of cards. It’s an interesting way to mix things up a bit, but doesn’t change the way games are played all that much. Those who don’t care about achievements may also skip this, which limits their involvement in the card-collecting and purchasing aspect which is such a big part of the game.
When you swing and throw your way through Challenge Mode, you’re always the visiting team. The opponent is always home, allowing for a visit to each of the league’s unique ballparks. They’re all modelled well, resembling their real life counterparts in easily noticeable fashion. In the real MLB, each one can be broken down into unique departments such as a hitter’s park, batter’s park, etc. All of this is based on geometry, location, weather and wind patterns. With MLB Bobblehead Battle, every park is different because of its obstacle and pad layouts. Different geometrical shapes found in the outfield at certain parks allowed the developers to even sneak some extra score and out pads in.
One of the selling features of MLB Bobblehead Battle is the fact that it allows players to customize ballparks. This is partially true, as only a couple are available for alteration: a default spring training baseball diamond and the All-Star Game version of Chase Field. Although it’s a bit disappointing that most players can’t customize their favourite team’s yard, it sort of makes sense. If you were able to then it’d be feasibly possible to affect Challenge Mode by doing so. A recommendation I could give would have been to allow for all parks to be altered. Though, only their traditional forms would be able to be used in challenges.
When customizing is mentioned, it doesn’t mean that you can go into great detail to alter geometry, advertisements or the outfield power alleys. Objects on the field can be moved around instead. This means that you can add, eliminate and move obstacles and ramps to your heart’s content. It’s a good option to have, even though it is limited in its scope and potential appeal. Players can also be customized to reflect users’ names and favourite jersey numbers, with a couple other mechanical adjustments available to be made. It’s not possible to create your own, which is something I wish all sports games had.
Online options are also available, allowing for a selected card collection to be taken onto the internet, against any foe wishing for competition. Players can select their inning count and then begin searching for the perfect opponent. Unfortunately, I was unable to find anyone online to play against, which is a shame. MLB Bobblehead Battle is different from the other baseball games we’ve seen on the market, but that’s a good thing, considering it’s well-made and fun. Hopefully more people will realize that and purchase this game to make online competition an interesting part of its overall experience.
If you’ve played or watched MLB Bobblehead Pros before, then you’ll know exactly what to expect from MLB Bobblehead Battle. At least, in the looks department. The only things that are changed are the obstacles and the pads on each infield and outfield. Otherwise, it still retains the polished and interesting designs, which are reminiscent of a mix between arcade and realism. The players themselves suffer from Rayman syndrome, having nothing where their legs should be. Of course, their heads are also on a spring, bobbing around for a bit after a movement has been completed. Each one looks shockingly realistic, down to their unique sunglasses or facial hair.
The entire game is quite polished, without any noticeable visual issues. It runs well, providing an entertaining and smooth baseball experience, with a twist. Score pads add new hints of colour where brown and green would otherwise have prevailed. The extra hints of yellow, orange, red, pink and blue bring out more of the arcade feel. The blue and red speed ramps do the same. It’s an interesting looking baseball title to say the least. Not to mention a good looking game overall with some nice, high-definition shine.
Audio offerings found within tend to be a bit brief. There’s a basic announcer, but he rarely goes over anything interesting, and spends most of his time just announcing the players and roster changes. This is an area where things could have been ramped up to add an air of comedy or, at least something more engaging. His basic tones are outdone by the two or three licensed instrumental tracks which occasionally play between innings, as well as a prevalent tune of swing music which sometimes is played during an entire match. The baseball sound effects themselves are pretty solid, though there could have been more of them.
MLB Bobblehead Battle is a unique and interesting twist on a very formulaic sport a lot of us are in love with. It manages to maintain the look, feel and many general mechanics of baseball, while eliminating the need for player-controlled defence. It’s unfortunate that the online component isn’t busier than it is, because this is a quality game, which fans should certainly check out. This game has a lot going for it and can be quite a bit of fun, though it’s admittedly a bit brief, lacks some length-inducing content and tends to be a bit easy. With the addition of maybe one or two more modes, this could have been a home run into the second deck. Though, I still think it’s a relatively addicting and polished triple at least.
Take this one out to the ball game and you’ll have a good time.
This review is based on a copy of the game which we received for review purposes.