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World Series Baseball II - Sega

by Matso Limtiaco (matsoman@aol.com)

Lowdown:

    World Series Baseball II is the sequel to last year's very popular baseball game for the Saturn. The new version includes all 28 ballparks, the two new expansion teams (Arizona & Tampa Bay, each of which can be user-edited), improved gameplay, a new announcer, and additional camera angles. But how much better is it than the original WSB?


Plenty. All of us have been waiting for and disappointed by the number of titles that have come out (Bases Loaded, Big Hurt Baseball) or have been postponed until next year (MVP Baseball, Grand Slam). Up to this point, WSB was the only way to go, and it had some areas where it definitely needed improvement. Sega has upgraded this title considerably and the results are terrific.

Sure, the Saturn doesn't churn out the cleanest-looking polygons, but most of the games play so well you don't even notice. WSB II is no exception. Some of the details in the ballparks look blurry when you're up close, but it really doesn't hurt the gameplay at all. The ballplayer sprites look about the same as in WSB, and all the menu screens are crisp and easy to read.

A few of the players have their characteristic batting stances. The ones I saw included Tettleton, Buhner, Julio Franco, and Tony Phillips. Nomo still has his very odd motion during the windup. These are touches that weren't in the original and add quite a bit to the realism.

Speaking of the parks, about the only detail I noticed that was missing was Tiger Stadium's short right-field porch. Even the four parks in the original have been upgraded somewhat for WSB II - for example, now you can see the city skylines behind Wrigley Field and Fenway Park. But all the parks look great.

The "Chase" camera angle is gone from WSB II, but a new one, "Active," is available. It puts the camera out in the field, looking in, immediately after the ball is hit. I've tried to play a few innings using this angle, but it gets confusing and it's much harder to see what's going on. Also, I'm not sure that the CPU keeps the same camera angle you've selected throughout a game. I like to use the "High" view and I'm sure I've set the angle properly, but often it seems to switch to the "Random" view instead. Maybe a minor bug?

WSB's sound effects were passably okay but not great, and WSB II doesn't really improve on the original much in this department. The music is different, and there seem to be many more different tunes, but none really grabs your ears. They're all fine for what they do. Crowd noise sounds like modulated white noise, much like the original. Bats hitting balls, runners sliding, balls being caught - all these types of sound effects are fine.

The best addition to WSB II is "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" during the 7th inning stretch, played by a realistic-sounding organ. The crowd noise rises and falls to make it sound like they're actually singing along, and the lyrics appear onscreen as the song is played. A very nice touch! Also, the opening game screen is accompanied by a short part of "The Star-Spangled Banner" or "O, Canada," depending on where you're playing.

One of the complaints about WSB's announcer was that he mispronounced a few of the names (Mike Macfarland came out as Mike MacFairlane, for example), and was too repetitive. The new version gives him a lot more to say, but I think he still sounds rather shrill. There are a few new home run sayings ("He hit that ball a country mile!"), and a few comments about the action ("He put that pitch in a tough spot!"). So far, all the names sound correct to me.

Again, it's different but not necessarily improved.

A new wrinkle is the stadium announcer, who calls out each batter's name as he steps into the box. Realistic reverb is added, so it sounds good...but every once in awhile, he'll add the player's nickname into the announcement, which you don't really hear much in real life ("Now batting...Mickey "Fruit Loops" Tettleton!") A problem is that it's the same voice as the "TV" announcer, so sometimes the voices jumble into each other.

Gameplay, here is where most of the improvements are, and welcome ones at that.

Balls hit to the wall, except for line drives, usually now result in doubles. The outfielders' arms are much more realistic - you can really tell the difference between Jay Buhner and Rich Amaral in the field. If you have a runner on second in motion with two outs and your batter gets a base hit, the runner will score easily (unless they're Sorrento or Fielder and without any speed) - unlike the original.

Another complaint about the original WSB was that the pitcher was useless as a fielder and never made any plays except for popups. Sega has fixed this problem. Now a hit lined directly at the pitcher will usually be caught for either a groundout or lineout. It's still possible to get hits up the middle, though.

Hitting the ball in WSB and WSB II is exactly the same - just time your swing. There is no "batting cursor" as in Genesis WSB, but it is possible to pull the ball by swinging earlier, or to hit the other way, etc. Bunting is also possible.

Each pitcher has four pitches - fastball, breaking ball in or out, and forkball. Speed and location are variable depending on how and when you push the D-pad, and are also dependent on the pitcher's ability. It's also possible to give a pitch a little extra break on its way to the plate - not much, but enough to keep an opponent guessing.

There are now four levels of play: Rookie, Veteran, All-Star, and Legend. I played four games, one at each level, with the Mariners vs. the Tigers in Detroit. Near as I could tell, the higher the level, the more difficult it is to get base hits consistently. The CPU pitcher makes better, smarter pitches at the higher levels (no more hanging curveballs for easy homers), and the CPU batters hit the opposite way and tend to drive the ball harder. On defense, the CPU fielders do a much better job of cutting off balls hit into the gaps or into the holes.

On the minus side, it's still far too easy to steal second with any runner, no matter how slow, once you learn the timing of the pitcher's delivery. The CPU still won't pinch hit for a pitcher or weak-hitting player late in a close game, and you can't control your fielders at all in the Auto Defense mode (like when you might make a catch by diving, but the CPU-controlled fielder doesn't try). The end of each game now includes a few new screens showing how each batter did, but it's still not quite a box score. There is no trade feature, so Baerga is still with the Tribe, for example.

A new feature is the Edit Mode, where you can edit the two rosters of the Arizona and Tampa Bay expansion teams. You can change the players' names, attributes, and abilities however you like, and save this data for future games. Neither team has its own park, though.

Other gameplay features remain the same. There's a Home Run Derby, Season Play mode, Playoffs mode, and some bare-bones stat tracking. You can play any two teams in any park you wish.

The improvements in gameplay far outweigh the few remaining problems. This is easily the best-playing Saturn baseball game available. I give WSB II 9.5 out of 10 possible for gameplay - it's an excellent compromise between arcade action and a true baseball sim. The addition of a trade feature, and maybe a batting cursor, would make it 10 out of 10.

Because of all the variables (play level, 28 teams, season and playoff modes, etc.) that the user can adjust, I would say that WSB II has plenty of replay value. I have yet to try playing against another human opponent, but I can see a lot of rivalries developing between people who play this game together! 10 out of 10 for replay value.

If you like baseball, you can't go wrong with World Series Baseball II. It'll be hard, but certainly possible, for one of the next-gen baseball games like MVP Baseball or 3D Baseball to top WSB II. After suffering through a long summer without any good baseball titles, WSB II makes the long wait worth it.

Graphics: 8.5

Sound: 6

Game play: 9.5

Lasting power: 10

Overall: 8.5

-Matso





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