With Atari finally increasing the number of sports titles for their Lynx game system, the only real question was how long it'd take for them to release a baseball title. Now there's BASEBALL HEROES, a portable video version of the American pastime. One or two coaches pick from four fictitious teams, each with 20 players (two in each position and four pitchers) rated in various attributes. Before a game, you select a team, assemble a squad of nine men, and arrange a batting order. They then take to the field, trying to score the most runs possible in nine innings. A single exhibition game is possible, or you can play a multiple-game "Final League" challenge. Between games, practice in batting and fielding is available with the "Home Run Derby" and "Three Flies Out" games.
This is one of the more ambitious Lynx sports games out now; BASEBALL HEROES tries some new ideas and to push the boundaries of portable gaming, and partially succeeds. The ability to select your players and adjust the lineup is welcome, but you must decide carefully, since there's no way to change either once the game starts. A wide variety of views are used, according to the situation: behind the batter, behind the pitcher, three-quarters overhead, directly overhead, and from the outfield fence, giving this game a real "you are there" feeling.
The actual gameplay is respectable: infield players cover each other, and dives and jumps for the ball are fully supported. Batters can swing high and low, inside and out, while pitchers can steer the four stock pitches for variety. Common baseball rules and events are supported, including beaning the batter and wild pitches. The computer opponent is challenging but not completely perfect, leaving some opportunities for crafty players to exploit.
BASEBALL HEROES is not without problems, however. The worst offender is the fielding, which starts with an overhead view, then switches to a "behind the outfielder" angle on the ball's descent. This makes judging the ball's location difficult, and requires lots of practice to master. Also, some of the controls are a little quirky, such as using the same button to throw and jump, and the slow swing times of the batters. There's nothing that makes the game unplayable, but they do detract a bit.
The graphics on BASEBALL HEROES are simply delightful. There's great use of animation, including little details like the umpire hunching down for each pitch. The batter and pitcher views feature gigantic characters that fill the screen, while the fielding scenes use small but manageable players running about. Even the player selection and lineup sequences are entertaining, with "trading cards" used to select and rearrange your team members, and fanciful logos for each team.
The only music in the game comes from the title theme and a few simple tunes. The remaining sounds consist largely of digitized effects of caught balls, the crack of the bat, and the umpire's calls. Though the umpire's "strike!" is unrecognizable, and the crowd falls silent too quickly, the sound effects are fine overall.
BASEBALL HEROES is a very good translation of the sport, though not a perfect game. It has a few rough spots that will try some people, but for the most part this is a quality title and a showcase game for the Lynx.
GAMEPLAY: 8 GRAPHICS: 9 SOUND: 8 OVERALL: 8