|System: DS||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Deep Fried Ent. / 2K Sports||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: 2K Games||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: March 3, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Jonathan Marx
The DS is loaded with great software from both first and third-party developers. Unfortunately, translating sports titles to the handheld is almost always tricky. 2K Sports, developers of MLB 2K9 for home consoles, realized this and didn't even attempt to recreate their Big League title on the little system. Instead, the developers Deep Fried Entertainment opted to go for a more stylized, cartoonish, and kid-friendly approach when designing Major League Baseball 2K9: Fantasy All-Stars.
While I applaud the creative team's foresight, the title's execution still leaves a lot to be desired. The stylus controls are poorly implemented, controlling all elements of the game at once is nearly impossible, the graphics are blocky and basic, character animations and environmental effects are repetitive, and there's really only one game mode to play. This all adds up to an experience that's better left warming up in the bullpen.
As the Fantasy All-Stars moniker implies, this game features wacky, over-the-top baseball, using the names and club teams of baseball's brightest stars. Officially, the game sports four modes of play, including Fantasy Pennant, Exhibition Match, Create Team, and Training. While Fantasy Pennant is a 16-team, bracketed tournament, the other three options are simple, self-explanatory add-ons that bring nothing substantial to the table. Consequently, Fantasy Pennant is the only real mode available to players. Made up of four different tournaments (Ozzie Smith, Johnny Bench, Fred McGriff, and Dennis Eckersley), players can unlock and apply various power-ups for batting, fielding, and pitching, including effects such as Super Bouncy Ball (which makes the ball bounce incredibly high after a base hit, potentially turning it into a ground rule double), Super Dive (which allows your fielders to dive for and field a ball that is much too far away), Super Splitter (which actually splits the ball in two when delivered by your pitcher), as well as many more (some of which actually ditch the "Super" modifier in their title).
Rewards also become available as players progress through the title. Fourteen madcap caps, gloves, balls, bats, and even heads are unlocked for use in the Fantasy Pennant tourneys. I especially liked decking out my team with the striped prisoner cap and pipe bat - too bad these were practically opened from the outset. Also, certain game modifiers such as number of innings and the difficulty setting are unlockable. While I usually enjoy unlockables, as they provide more incentive for advancing through the title, the ones offered in Fantasy All-Stars aren't enough to make up for the scant amount of game modes. As such, opening up these extras felt tacked-on, adding nothing substantial to the overall experience.
Another huge issue with the game has to do with controls. The development team tried to make the game more interesting by including a unique set of tactile-only control mechanics, but in the end they are poorly implemented and detract from the experience. For example, batting can only be initiated by swiping your stylus across the face of the touch screen. The DS then registers where you made contact with the ball, guiding the rebuffed projectile to the appropriate section of the field. While this was a great system when it worked, I constantly felt like I had to coax the bat into action. This utter lack of sensitivity led to very unpredictable results. Likewise, fielding balls while on defense is a chore. After making a catch, players have to slide the stylus right, up, left, or down depending upon which of the bases they intend to throw to. Trying to deliver pinpoint throws via the touch screen is not nearly as fun or efficient as it would have been with the tried-and-true face-button mechanic found in almost every other baseball title out there.
Nowhere is this more prevalent than while baserunning. Trying to get your players to advance or return to a base is very frustrating due to the wholly erratic and fickle tactile controls, resulting in a lot of unnecessary outs. Truly, the only controls I found to be enjoyable were from the mound. Pitching screwballs, curlicues, zigzags, and other oddball pitches were implemented naturally by drawing the flight path and placement of the ball with the stylus. Unfortunately, switching between pitching and fielding or from batting and baserunning is nearly impossible. It's so difficult in fact that the developers went ahead and allowed an option for "Auto Fielding" and "Auto Baserunning." While this does ameliorate the spotty transitions, it also feels like a cheap way to play. As a general rule, if a developer needs to fix a control scheme via an automated process, then the mechanic needs a serious overhaul. Such is the case with the controls in Fantasy All-Stars.