After a woefully lacking baseball debut last season on the DS, publisher 2K Sports went back to the drawing board, realizing that (surprise!) Nintendo’s portable powerhouse was no place for a sports sim. Between the machine’s capabilities, controls, and target market, it was time for a redesign. Creating a new franchise from scratch is hardly a simple task either, but MLB 2K8 Fantasy All-Stars is more than capable on all fronts. A little more spit 'n' polish, and it would’ve wound up circling the bases in triumph.
The word Fantasy is part of the title for a reason – there’s nothing down to earth going on in the cartoon world that 2K8 inhabits. Garish players are either pencil thin or massively chiseled, most of ‘em sporting caveman-style arms as long as their bodies. Games take place not at the real team’s home park, but in outer space, dairy farms, and other, um, non-traditional locations. Unfortunately, none of the different venue locations affects the play; we would’ve loved some zero-gravity homers or erstwhile cows causing shenanigans.
Fantastical or realistic, the controls always define the experience, and for the most part Fantasy All-Stars hits the mark. Making pitches dip and dive is a wonderfully simple art of twirling your stylus. There are a half-dozen different patterns to choose, each of which tosses wildly spinning baseballs towards the batter. It’s also kind of fun to just draw circles over and over while in the windup, making your hurler’s arm windmill like a crazed lunatic before you finally provide relief and throw the pitch. It’s a wonder he doesn’t become a helicopter and fly off into the sky.
Hitting, on the other hand, is a serious challenge and may cause the kids (not to mention the dads) to get pretty darned frustrated. Making contact is one thing – it’s not so tough – but driving the ball into the gaps or even the air is much tougher than it probably should be for a game aimed at the younger set. It can be done with some practice, of course, but not everyone has the patience to get there.
Whether you’re on the mound or at the plate, though, power-ups drive your success. They show up every so often each inning, and it’s a game in and of itself to pick the right moment to use them. From special pitches that bury themselves in the ground or split in two to hitting options that light baseballs on fire or drip them in grease, using them well makes the difference between winning and losing.
As a (re)start, Fantasy All-Stars is a solid effort, sporting a fun and whimsical take on the national pastime. While there’s plenty we’d like to see fleshed out (especially the skimpy single-player modes and badly out-of-date rosters), it’s a more-than-welcome effort that does right by the DS platform. The kids’ll like it and the dads will understand it – that’s what we call win-win.
Apr 7, 2008