Big League Home Run Challenge 2005
THQ Wireless hits another sports game out of the park - literally. See what's been keeping us up nights in our full review.
Cell phone games don't have the luxury that other portable titles do. After all, no one in their right mind is going to want to play a complex RPG on their cell if they're constantly on the move, so the most successful games are the ones where you can hop in, get your fix, and jump right out, and developer Lavastorm Engineering is proving to the world that its employees are masters of this simple concept. Hot on the heels of the exquisite NBA All Star 3-Point Shootout comes Big League Home Run Challenge 2005, a high quality title based on America's favorite past time.
The Home Run Derby is basically Major League Baseball's version of the NBA's 3-Point Shootout except its players are blasting home runs out of the park instead of draining jump shots. Home Run Challenge allows you to step into the cleats of 40 of the league's greatest batters (who come with their actual stats) and compete to see who can not only score the most home runs as well as clock the ball the farthest. The game isn't governed by the complex laws of pitching that you'll see in other games, so every ball is inside the strike zone and very hittable, and because Lavastorm loves to go over the top they've put in place this very sweet physics system so you won't keep seeing the same shots over and over again. Plus, there aren't any strikes per se. You basically have a set amount of outs (balls that aren't home runs) and when you've used them up your turn is over and you won't get another chance until the following inning (you can play 3, 6, or 9).
There are a lot of attractive things about this game, and the best place to start is with its game modes. Just like 3-Point Shootout, you have a satisfying amount of options at your disposal. There's Quick Play (where the computer selects the batters and pitchers -there are ten-for you), Challenge (it's basically like Exhibition in that you control who's batting and pitching), Classic (not only can you pitch, but as a batter you have less outs to work with), Tournament (you can face off against seven human or computer opponents), and finally Create-a-Player.
The CAP is especially cool because of the many features you can mess around with. You can adjust your fantasy player's skin tone, jersey number, jersey color, belt color, hat color, bat color, and pants color, among other options, and then you're able to distribute 30 skill points among Contact, Bat Speed, and Power, so you can either play it safe and craft an evenly balanced player or just turn him into a monster that excels at one thing. It's a surprisingly deep system that's actually worth checking out.
Home Run Challenge is a shining example of why Lavastorm is at the forefront of graphic cell phone game design. Just like 3-Point Shootout, it is one of the best-looking cell phone titles that I have ever seen. The players aren't especially detailed, though their animations are top notch, and nice little touches, such as being able to break your bat, go a long way to giving this game an authentic feel.
Another feather worth mentioning is the stadium, which is by far Home Run's best visual feature. Bursting with color and attention to detail, it truly immerses you in the action despite the fact that you'll be looking at a tiny screen. There's clouds slowly moving from left to right, flags billowing in the wind, and a gigantic digital scoreboard that has at least thirty plus light animations and phrases. You'll see a Godzilla like monster appear, a worm get hit by a ground ball, a blimp, a fly get splattered with a swatter, and a humongous soda can that's immediately destroyed by an equally large foot, followed by the word "CRUSHED". It's a cool special effect and it really adds to the game's charm.
Thankfully, everything else also looks spectacular. The stadium itself is packed full of spectators, the field is green and freshly mowed (I checked), and there are several skyscrapers in the background reaching to the heavens. Lavastorm is clearly driving the next generation cell phone videogame bus, and I for one intend to enjoy the ride.
To compliment the aforementioned physics the game's developers put in place a camera that provides you with some great views of your latest bombs. While it'll stay put behind home plate if you pop it up to the pitcher, as soon as you nail a would be homer it'll switch from an aerial or an on the ground outfield view (or both). Not only do these views look great, but they really help to get the adrenaline flowing. Could it be? Does it have enough room? Will it bounce off the foul pole (I've had it happen)? It's good, a home run shot into deep right field!
That's another positive thing about Home Run. It never shuts up, but that's definitely a good thing. Not only is the opening theme loud and in your face, but so is the crack of the bat and the announcer. "Might be...could be...it is!" "Thrust into right!" "Going! Going! Home run!" The guy's a total ham.
There's really nothing bad to say about Big League Home Run Challenge 2005 except that if you're looking for a regular old game of baseball you'll probably be disappointed. Also, this game isn't particularly deep, so only those who love hitting home runs (but seriously, who doesn't like hitting home runs) will love it the most, but I'm really stretching with this game's flaws. It doesn't really matter whether you're a baseball fan or not because the second you play Home Run Challenge you'll struggle to put it down. Locked into first place with 3-Point Shootout, it's one of the very few must-buy cell phone games of 2005.
What's Hot: Very addictive, and great to look at.
What's Not: Only available to Verizon subscribers.