MLB Slugfest 20-04 MLB Slugfest 20-04
What is it?: Playstation 2 game (sports genre) by Midway
Price: $49.99 retail (
Toys R' Us currently listing $39.99 through Amazon.com)
by Tom Edwards, Editor-In-Chief, Buhner.com

    "This looks stupid." - Tara Edwards, loving wife.

    Every once in a while, Buhner.com has its perks.  When I decided to put up a "reviews" section at Buhner.com, I had dreams of companies sending me free stuff for me to review.  You can imagine that when I received a FedEx containing the latest of Midway's "arcade sports" line, I could see my dream coming true.  Only, the free game had nothing to do with Buhner.com.  It had to do with Maxim.  See, before the baseball season started, I entered a Maxim-sponsored fantasy baseball game Maxim called "Fallacy Baseball", where points would be scored by your players doing badly.  Seemingly knowing more about crappy baseball players than good ones, I entered, played for like a week and promptly forgot.  Weeks later, I get an email from Maxim stating that I had won a prize, and to give them my mailing address so that they can send it to me.  I respond, and here we are with the FedEx.

    Admiteddly, Slugfest isn't a game I would have gone out and purchased.  Baseball games for console machines have repeatly fallen short over the past few years, and while the PC has several decent baseball sims, picking up a baseball title for the PS2 that even resembles realism is difficult.  However, Slugfest never claims to be "realistic".  Working with Midway's "arcade sport" theme first seen in their arcade hit NBA Jam, Slugfest portrays baseball in an "over the top" way that emphasizes home runs, bean balls, and taunting.  Oh, the taunting.  There's nothing like a game where after hitting a home run, the batter crosses home plate and repeatly points to his ass.

    Graphicly, the game is done very nicely.  Stadiums are accurate, players for the most part look like their real-life counterparts, and the images come off very clean.  The range of motions that the players go through is pretty impressive, and makes for some entertaining gestures and movements.  Uniforms are accurate (although with the occasional "batting practice" or third color jerseys, which aren't controlable), and overall, the images take nothing away from the game.

    The sound is where some people may have to make a determination.  Baseball can be pretty boring without commentary, and many a baseball game has been ruined by the commentary, either by it being incredibly stupid or by being incredibly repeatitive.  One of the first things that impressed me about Slugfest was the game's commentary.  The flow of the two person commentary goes along nicely, with comments continuing from the point where they started until they finish.  In many games, a commentator will begin a story or a comment when a play begins, which is immedately cut off by the same commentator's play-by-play.  Slugfest allows the commentators to continue their stories, even as the game is unfolding in the background.  Since the play-by-play isn't too necessary in a baseball video game, the complete sentences of the commentators can be a welcome change.

    The commentators manage to put some humor into the play-by-play, which can be tricky to pull off.  It's like garlic in a recipe; some is good, but too much can take away from everything else.  They do, however, get repeatitive.  It isn't too bad (especially if you change the settings to include 2003 & 2004 commentary), but it can be annoying, even after just a few games.  The repeated comments (at least the ones I came in contact with) are mostly "responce" comments, such as after the main commentator saying that the pitcher has a great arm, the other commentator wonders if that is the pitcher's "real" arm.  Some jokes hit, some miss, and some you'll hear over and over.  What's good is good, but it will eventually get on your nerves.

    As for the gameplay... it's really not that bad.  Controls are easy to manipulate, but not adjustable, and it takes a little while to get used to the "turbo" button.  Running is actually a little easier than most games, with one button being used exclusively for advancing, and one for retreating.  Swinging can be a little tricky at first, but only because of judging pitches.  The pitches thrown by pitchers can be very challenging, with curveballs having a great amount of motion, while fastballs move very quickly.  There were plenty of strikeouts before I learned how to hit the ball.  As for the swing itself, there is one button for a "power" swing and one for a "contact" swing, but after a game or two, you just end up power-swinging with everyone on the team.  Games tend to be high-scoring without a great pitcher, and even then, the strike zone is a tough one to handle (most pitches not directly down the middle of the plate end up being called balls.)  Instead of specific fatigue, pitchers have a rating for every pitch they throw, and as the pitch is used, the rating goes down, making the pitch less effective.  The batters have three ratings that you can see either when making lineup changes or when they reach the plate.  These ratings, "Batting", "Strength", and "Speed", are deceptive in that the "strength" rating has nothing to do with the batter's power.  Instead, the "batting" rating itself is broken down into three separate ratings, which aren't viewable unless the batter is hit by a pitch, and even then only seen for a short period of time.  The "strength" rating is only a mystery, although it is implied by the game that the higher a player's "strength" is, the better they do in brawls and their ability to withstand injury.  The actual statistics given to the players during the game is questionable.  Batters coming up to the plate are shown with a "career avg.", although their career averages may be nowhere near that number.  This number (again, no home runs listed unless you pause the game and look at the lineup) gives you an idea of what kind of hitter the player is, although it comes in less useful when you find yourself swinging for home runs every at-bat.

    The game features are limited.  Slugfest allows you to play in two progressive modes; one of which plays like a "season", with statistics kept, while the other deals with the more arcade-like way of selecting a team and attempting to beat every team in the league, such as has been done with Midway games since NBA Jam.  The game also features a mode which allows for more immedate play, and a home run derby.  Players are not customizable or creatable, so if your favorite player this season isn't in this game, tough luck.  There is no real "season mode" which plays out more like a real baseball season, so no trades or even player fatigue.  The game is meant to be played one game at a time.

    Overall, the game is not for players looking for a baseball simulation in the same light as EA Sports' Madden series for football.  Players looking for a realistic simulation to go along with their gameplay will be hard pressed to find one for a console system.  However, while that area is lacking, those looking for a baseball game to play on the PS2 will find it difficult to find one better than Midway's MLB Slugfest 20-04.  The gameplay is fun, and the controls are easy to pick up.  While not necessarily a game I'd recommend purchasing, it's definitely worth a rental, and with the console baseball video game field as poor as it has been in recent years, it's easy to see why the Slugfest series has grown into the #1 selling baseball title for the PS2.

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