You take control of a team then bat, pitch and field as you compete against others, either in one off games or a league, offering you the chance to become Virtual League World Champion. Each game lasts for 9 innings though games will end early if a team is winning by over 10 points.
For both batting and pitching the camera view is the same: just behind the batter. All the batters look identical although there are left and right-handers. Despite a lack of detail (and the fact he awkwardly slides as you adjust your position) this batting character doesn’t look too bad and the 3D effect works well giving a good indication of the distance between the batter and bases. The 3D is also effective when the ball is thrown with any strikes feeling like the result of a good pitch or a mistimed swing and not because you couldn’t judge where the ball was. The screen that accompanies a home run looks good with a close-up shot of a 3D player moving across the screen. Although again the fact that there is only one design of player is disappointing and the lack of animation plus the fact he just bobs along reduces the impact.
Visually the rest of the game can only be described as poor. The pixely pitcher slides into position just the same as the batter though he looks very odd due to only the top half of his body being animated when standing. The other players who can be seen on screen have a stickman-like appearance. Once a ball has been hit the camera view changes to a long shot and here things look worse. Again the 3D effect works well as it does give a good impression of the view from a seat on the back row of a stand but the players all become smaller stick-figures whilst what you see of the stadium fails to impress with the stands being full of spheres. Presumably this is meant to be the crowd of spectators but it just looks like empty seats: though this actually fits with the game as there is no crowd noise.
The biggest problem with this second view is that it makes the action difficult to follow. It’s not really an issue for your runners but when you are fielding things become troublesome. With all the players looking the same you can be focussing on what you think is one of your players, trying to position him to catch the ball only to suddenly realise it’s actually a runner. To be fair it’s not a mistake you will make often but then there is another problem.
Trying to catch a ball is very difficult as it’s tough to judge where it’s going to come down. You can line up one of your players to catch what appears to be an easy ball only to see it sail over his head seconds later because the ball wasn’t actually as low as it appeared. Even if you do judge the height correctly your player has to be positioned just right or you’ll miss it – and positioning your player perfectly when you’re viewing the action from row Z isn’t always the easiest. You can dive for the ball if you can see you are a bit off but it doesn’t make it any less tricky.
The controls in the game work well and for the most part feel natural. Batting is a matter of getting your timing right whilst pitching is done with a power meter, with the game allowing you to add direction once thrown. Each base is represented by a direction on the d-pad and so when batting it’s possible to steal a base by tapping the direction you want together with the B button: it works really well but the A button would be a more natural choice. The same system is used when fielding though this time the ball can be thrown to a specific base with the use of the A button (B is used to run to base).
The sounds of the game are a weird selection of bloops and bleeps that rarely fit what’s happening on screen but the music is a lot better. OK it’s very beepy and bit repetitive, but it has a cheerful stylish sound that it’s hard to get too annoyed by: though if it does grate it can be turned of at the mode select screen.
There are 18 teams in the game spread across three leagues: Pan-Am, Asian and European. As you would expect there is a mix of good and bad teams. As a rule the more surprised you are that the country could field a team, the worse they are. Of course when catching is so difficult, any team can provide a challenge. There are also three All-Star Teams: one for each league.
Before each game you select your pitcher and adjust the batting order. All the players are fictional but they have some stats next to their name to help you decide. During the game it is possible to make substitutions which is handy as pitchers tire freakishly quick.
There are just three modes of play in the game and two of them are basically the same. ‘Player 1 vs Computer’ is for a quick one off game whilst ‘All Star Game’ is the same thing but with the special teams. The final mode is ‘Pennant Race’ where you pick a team and play against the others in your league (then champions of others). If you loose you have to play them again, if you win you move on to the next team. Progress is saved with passwords.
People who are interested in alternate versions of games may be interested to know that the Japanese version of the game has some quite noticeable differences. For instance it features league teams as opposed to countries and the players have a more cartoony design. However whilst you may perhaps find it a bit more interesting to look at, it is still the same game and thus has the same problems.
It has some good use of 3D but the game is mostly ugly looking. This could be overlooked if it played well, but the trouble you encounter when fielding removes any good feelings you may have had towards the game. It could maybe use some more modes of play but perhaps its best that the misery of playing is kept as short as possible. In short what could have been a fun (though basic) sim is ruined by one element of the gameplay, making Virtual League Baseball one to avoid.