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Thursday, July 18, 2013

DEREK JETER'S ALL-STAR BASEBALL FOR N64: A LOVE LETTER


It’s all Derek Jeter’s fault. He was on the box of Acclaim’s All Star Baseball 2000 game for Nintendo 64. The system didn’t have as many games as the original Playstation, but when it came to baseball, there were tons of options. But Jeter was on the Acclaim version, so I bought it and, happily, it turned out to be the best one.

In fact, I liked ASB so much that I bought all the other franchises for more awesome baseball gaming. EA Sports is usually a go-to choice for sports games and their Triple Play simulation wasn’t bad. Ken Griffey Jr had a decent game too, more arcade-y than the others. Mike Piazza had a game, Strike Zone, that was straight up awful. If you have never played it, count yourself lucky. If you have, I am so sorry.

"Acclaim’s All Star Baseball for the Nintendo 64 has turned out to be the leader of all baseball titles." 
- IGN.com


None of them could hold a candle to ASB. It was the first to have all the bells and whistles. In depth full seasons. Minutely accurate statistics tracking. And best of all, Create-a-Player! You could make yourself in the game and get inserted into the lineup! Yeah, yeah, I can hear the young’uns now, “Big deal, ALL the ball games do that!"

Not back THEN they didn’t. I had never seen those options before. Ever. So imagine my excitement at finally, FINALLY, seeing myself in Pinstripes, and batting clean-up in Yankee Stadium! And then playing through an entire season, ringing up impressive stats! It was a dream come true.



That’s the fundamental pleasure derived from video games, living vicariously through them. You might be an ordinary everyday person, but with a controller in your hand you can win the MVP, the Triple Crown, Silver Sluggers, Gold Gloves, Pennants and Championships. And then save the universe after you have done all that.

Many long hours were spent getting the Yankees to multiple Championships. I could hear the menu music in my head when I wasn’t even playing. And the announcers? John Sterling and Michael Kay. Perfect.


The controls were intuitive. For pitching, you aimed where you wanted at the velocity you desired. You selected from a heater, curve, change, and others with the four little yellow “C" buttons. They were arranged on the controller as bases were, so you didn’t have to think hard about defense.

Batting was comprehensive as well. There was a contact plate, which you could rotate and aim in all directions for hits. For power you could go with a smaller yellow square. It was easier to miss the ball, but if you did hit it, look out!

This is also how I found out how to hit homers nearly every time. If you got the yellow power square underneath where the ball was pitched you would be treated to a beautiful animation of the ball coming towards you from an aerial shot of the park over the bleachers. Again, a first for me. It’s standard now in today’s games.


The one cheat that was amusing was tiny players. They would all be less than Hobbit sized, about a foot or two high. Tiny players were able to swipe bases from a loooooong way away. Stealing bases was always tough for me in real life, so it was probably why I found it tough in the games. Not with tiny players.

Tiny players could start a slide no matter where they were on the base paths. The opposing Second Baseman would catch the ball while you started the slide halfway to the base. You would then slide for a bit and stop. Not at the base, but far from it, still in the middle of the path. The ump yelled “Safe" and your player simply stood up and walked to the base. While it’s amusing to get walked and steal your way home on the next three pitches the first few times, the novelty quickly wears off.


The next year, Acclaim released All Star Baseball 2001. Instead of the usual grey game cartridge, it was a spiffy red one. I had mine on pre-order and was waiting anxiously. This turned out to be a very good thing as it saw limited release. It didn’t take long for the game to command high prices on eBay.

"Go figure. On the system everyone counted out when it came to sports, Acclaim released the best console baseball title ever - All Star Baseball." 
- Frank Provo, Gamespot


Anyway, the game was the perfect mix of keeping the good things and adding a few more features. This is something many sports series have trouble with. They are either too much like the previous year’s release, or too different from what drew you in the first place.

Menu music changed to a much less ear-wormy theme. They tweaked the presentation and polished the graphics but kept the same thematics. They ironed out what few kinks in game play there were, like clumsy outfielders.


They added a cool new baseball eye’s view when you swatted a homer. This was a very gratifying treat, watching your player do his signature celebration as he got smaller and smaller. Ken Griffey Jr had the best one, casually letting his bat drop and trotting away like it was no big deal.

Best of all, they added a Hall of Fame Team! Reggie Jackson! The Babe! Wow! They played in a Field of Dreams inspired cornfield! Far too cool! Instead of the usual roar of a stadium crowd, you heard just a few people clapping and whistling. Very nice touch!


“All-Star Baseball 2001 is oozing with detail. Each ballpark has its own unique banners, turf and seating structure. If you follow baseball in any way, you will recognize the park of your 
favorite team. " 
- Bryan Melville, allgame.com

The days rolled by, as days do, and I continued to play baseball games, among others, on successive systems. PS2, X-Box, Game Cube, what have you. Interestingly enough, those systems don’t work so well anymore. They seemed to all quit once the next system was available. Funny, that. Eventually, I put them aside and lost interest in keeping up with them.

But the Nintendo 64 still works. The games still boot up. Even after almost fifteen years. All Star Baseball is still my favorite baseball simulation. It always will be. It set the standard for every game that followed it. I will go play it after submitting this article.

It’s all Derek Jeter’s fault.


 
Chad R. MacDonald
BYB Writer
Facebook: New York Yankees the Home of Champions
My Blog: ChadRants




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