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Little League World Series Baseball 2008

Hey, you got anime in my entry-level baseball game!
What's It All About:
The big thing to remember here is the fact that this is a Little League World Series game, which means many things, most important of which is you don't know any of the players, there are no recognizable teams (outside of the geographic regions they represent), games are just six-innings long, and your "season" can only last six games at most. Not sold yet? What if I told you the in-game control barely allows you to be a part of the game?

I know, you want to go pick this game up right now, but please keep reading, because there may be some downside here.

I'm being a bit harsh, mainly because the game deserves it if you approach it as an entertaining baseball, but perhaps it's a great first baseball game for younger players, combining a basic version of video-game baseball with popular aspects of anime like "Dragonball Z" (specifically the character designs and actions.) After playing through a few times, it's hard to imagine more mature players sticking around for long.

There are a two main playing options: exhibition play and the World Series tournament, both of which offer a quartet of difficulty levels and follow official little league rules (though exhibition players have flexibility in adjusting the innings and overtime procedure) as you guide one of 10 "real" teams (or a slightly customized version of one, with options for your star player, uniforms and logo.) This means the fields are smaller and the mercy rule is in effect. Unfortunately, some rules have nothing to do with realism, as you also can't sub anyone in outside of the nine players on the field. Thus, when your catcher Jenny can't hit the ball past the mound, there's nothing you can do except find her a safer place in the line-up.

In addition to rules messing with your fun, the game is incredibly short, since other than the exhibition games, the tournament allows you to play just six games at most. It's probably the shortest sports game in recent history, unless you count the replay incentives, as you can unlock trophies, pins and other prizes by breaking in-game records or achieving certain milestones, like pitching a no-hitter. If you care about the rather generic awards, it might convince you to play a second series, but the game is so repetitive and simple that it just isn't fun to go through again. Worse still, one of key motivators in sports games, being able to compare stats, doesn't exist, as you can only only see your own team's stats.

When you tire of the regular game action, you can check out the six mini-games, which challenge your pitching and hitting skills, with 1-4 players participating. The actual competitions, including "Pitching Bowling" (exactly what the name says) and "Hitting Frenzy" (like Othello on a baseball diamond) aren't bad for time wasters, calling for control of the main skills in the game, including a bit more precision than the Wii-mote is probably capapble of. Winning these games and setting records in them will unlock special digital trading cards in the clubhouse. This is all fine and good, but when you're playing by yourself against three computer-controlled opponents, the fact that five of the six games require you to wait until the automated pitcher or catcher is in position before being able to skip their turn makes playing a chore.

The game uses just the Wii-mote for gameplay purposes, giving you control of hitting and pitching, and limited control of running and fielding (though you can cede control to the computer on defense and on the basepaths.) All the skills are taught via a lengthy training mode that includes a bit too much explanation, and not enough reason to really play around with it. Though this works relatively well at the plate, as you can control your batter's angle, power and direction by swinging the Wii-mote as a bat (or with a flick of the wrist), pitching is another matter.

With an assortment of pitches triggered by a throwing motion and a combo of buttons and gestures, pulling off some of the throws could result with an ice pack after a session, as you need to pull back on the remote, hold a button, throw forward and twist your wrist to pull off some curveballs. After six innings, the motions really can start to wear on you.

Though just a glance will tell you this game isn't shooting for realism, the addition of power-ups that pump up your hits and pitches takes the game to an entirely cartoonish plane. Three levels of enhancements can be achieved through good pitching, defense and offense, but it's the third one that will appeal to younger gamers, as your team's one star player can take on an anime stance, complete with speed lines, and either bash a home run or pitch a wicked strike-out. The near-automatic nature of these power-ups kills any fair play, but when you're down by one late in a game, good luck trying to avoid the temptation.

There are similar power-ups for fielding and running (with exciting accompanying animations) but honestly, they are hardly needed. After all, you don't really move your fielders (all you can do is shake your remote to speed them up) and your runners are similarly guided (with some minor control as far as tagging up and advancing goes.) You do get to decide where to throw when on defense, but annoyingly, the camera angle changes depending on how hard a ball is hit, which makes using the control pad to aim confusing, as it often doesn't match the base layout you see on-screen. The automation of these tools must be invaluable to younger players though.

The anime-inspired anamorphic widescreen video looks tremendous during the opening cinematics (though I don't quite understand why everyone is cross-eyed), but the in-game graphics are a bit of a step-down. The players are done in a cel-shaded style that looks nice against the more realistic settings, but there are lots of issues with anything in the distance (like fans or bleacher seats.) The in-game power-ups look great (as they are cinematics, like the opening), but they also point out how less interesting the game around it looks. Even worse is the very uninspired clubhouse, which really could have been much better, considering it could basically be a cinematic, since there's no real action.

The audio, presented in a Dolby Pro-Logic II mix, is good for what it is, with a decently clear, though a bit buried English announcer and a variety of in-game sounds and bad over-the-top music throughout the games. Oddly, it's one of the loudest mixes I've ever heard on the Wii, and it required me to pot down my receiver almost 20db below my standard settings. Whatever you may think about what's coming though your speakers though, the reason this game does well in sound is the nice use of the speaker in the Wii-mote. Swnig the controller like a bat in game, and you'll enjoy either the ping of an aluminum bat when you connect, or a whoosh of air if you whiff. It's a nice aural detail that makes a difference.

And in the End...
Here's a case where being faithful to the license hasn't helped the game in anyway. Sticking way too literally to the idea of the Little League World Series means there's hardly enough "game" here to interest any adult looking for baseball action, while the complexity of the pitching controls might be enough to turn off kids who like the anime looks of the game. There are much better options for those who want deeper, more engaging gameplay, but the limited controls and computer assistance, plus the speed of the game, training mode and addition of superpowers make this possibly more accessible for younger gamers.