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Baseball season opens for gamers


© St. Petersburg Times, published April 26, 1999

Right on time for the start of baseball season, the two most prominent sluggers, Electronic Arts and 989 Studios, have stepped up to the plate with their latest, greatest titles for the national pastime.

Before I wind up and review, let's get one thing straight: Baseball video games are for real fans -- the kind who not only could sit though 81 home games a year, but also willingly watch the other 81 on DirecTV.

That's not to say everyone else can't enjoy a game or two, especially with friends, but on those lonely nights in summer you may find the encyclopedia to be more invigorating. I would seriously recommend rental for such casual players.

With that disclaimer, it is hard not to praise this year's PlayStation lineup, EASports' Triple Play 2000 and 989's MLB 2000, for their technical achievements. These companies didn't invent baseball, but they are trying to imitate every excruciating detail. As for EASports' Nintendo 64 version of Triple Play, well, that is another story.

* * *

Triple Play 2000 for PlayStation: TP2000 is the best of the baseball bunch this year, boasting sharp graphics and great game play.

Where MLB goes glitter, such as with its menu screens, EASports sticks to substance, letting players either draft their team from a list of players or shuffle rosters as they see fit. Triple Play also has the options that have become mandatory for baseball games: loads of stats, midseason trading, home run derby and real stadiums. Crowds and stadium music add to the atmosphere, as does the sparse but on-target play-by-play and color commentary.

In the play department, EA crushes the ball, stocking its game with intuitive pitching, fielding and batting controls. Now you can add a burst of speed coming home, slide head or feet first or climb the wall in the outfield. Hitting is easier than in MLB and doesn't involve confusing cursors.

All of this makes Triple Play 2000 the choice for play-savvy baseball lovers this season.

Grade: A-

* * *

MLB 2000 for PlayStation: If you never played Triple Play 2000, MLB would suit you fine, especially with the abundance of frills that may have players spending more time tinkering with rosters than playing the field.

Besides having the features similar to Triple Play, MLB has a unique spring training mode to go along with its regular season and playoff choices. Spring training lets players mold new talent. Perform well with your rookie, and he'll make the team. Perform really well during the season, and he will become an All-Star. Perform poorly, and it's back to the farm system.

MLB also wins on graphics, which are smoother, and on realism -- MLB incorporates real player faces to go with their real stances and has superior play-by-play. Play in MLB 2000 is adequate, but hitting can be a major strain. Once you get the hang of it, you may not notice the control flaws.

Still, MLB gets nipped by Triple Play.

Grade: B

* * *

Triple Play 2000 for Nintendo 64: Then there is Triple Play for N64. EA never had the touch with the Super Nintendo, which seems to have carried over to the N64.

You really can't blame EA this time. Sports games have become too big for cartridges. What cartridge, with its tiny storage compared to CDs, could possibly hold all those stats, play-by-play phrases, video clips, photographs, players' faces and batting stances? None.

But without the atmosphere of the big leagues, the bare-bones baseball game EA serves up misses the cut. Not only is it slow paced, but it is hard to control at times.

You'll definitely want to rent this one before you shell out $60. Better still, go to a real game instead.

Grade: C+

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