Caught between Baseball on Atari (for mechanics) and World Series Baseball from Sega, Baseball Stars brings the simplicity and the goods in one nice baseball package. Released last week for PSN in the NEOGEO Station package, there's a lot to enjoy in this classic.
The basic gameplay construction of Baseball Stars 2 is broken down like this; you hit the ball, you pitch the ball and you catch the ball. Simple, right? There's not much to it, certainly nothing that you will find in an MLB: The Show. Most of the fielding is automated, but there are times where you will control the fielders to catch balls; honestly it's still not too difficult. If you're feeling brave you could set the controls to manual, but you won't want to do that. Now, what isn't simplistic in the game is how you can 'power-up' during a bat. You can say this was the original idea for Sony's 'power' button in their MLB series (of course, you have to guess pitching location when you set that). You simply hit the circle button and the umpire stops the game. You choose 'power-up' and your player comes back onscreen with a nice new bat and a home run attitude (on a side note, there's a limited amount of 'power-up' chances, so use them wisely). Again, all this is very simplisitic.
Other nice things about the game include the presentation. Presented in anime style, the players look oddly over-the-top with muscles, and have 'roid rage expressions that make one think that SNK possibly knew what was going on with the game of baseball (in terms of steroid issues) before baseball knew. The game also features split screen animation during gameplay. For example, if you hit a ground ball the bottom portion of the screen changes to the batter running, while the other two-thirds of the screen is the fielding. It's stylish and cool, and it's what made the game exciting when it was originally released (graphics use to be a HUGE selling point with games). Pretty neat stuff in terms of how the game looks.
Are there any downers for this game? The biggest issue I've found with Baseball Stars 2 is how incredibly frustrating the computer can get when you've got a substantial lead. While it was born during the NBA JAM age it shouldn't be a surprise that the computer will either find a way to win or make it close until the end. In other words, there's no lead that's safe.
Another downer to the title is how laggy the online mode is with Baseball Stars 2. While I love that SNK has gone the extra mile to offer a network mode for gamers (we're talking about $5.59 for the game download, so including online is unbelievably cool), it needed to check how the game performed online before releasing it. The games that I've played had a solid one-second delay on action. The trick of the game was to time hitting or fielding, as the lag created more of a pitcher's duel than hitters duel. It was simply unplayable.