For two games in the same category, I can’t think of a bigger difference in approach in terms of taking baseball video gaming and deviating from the “normal” path to try and appeal to an underserved market of gamers. Both of these games came out in the mid-2000s, when the baseball video game industry was packed with simulation-style games that sought to make the game as true to life as possible, and so while the whole market zigged, these two games found completely different ways to zag. Wii Sports was included with the Wii at purchase, and was an extension of the Wii’s strategy of reaching the casual gamers and families with their family-friendly titles and cute motion controls. MLB Slugfest was definitely not aiming to be family friendly, and essentially existed as an answer to the question, “what if baseball was more like Wrestlemania?” Both games have their place, they are just vastly different places.
Gameplay: Wii Sports simplified the game down to its core mechanics, and used that to entice people to play baseball as it was the most accessible as it could be. MLB Slugfest, on the other hand, didn’t simplify the game—it added to it, including things like punching and kicking, intentionally beaning the batter to potentially decrease his ratings, catching on fire literally and clown dwarfs (not gameplay related but I always feel obligated to mention the clown dwarfs). I think both games achieve that balance between easy to pick up, but there’s enough of a skill gap that it rewards good gamers.
The ability to change both the pitch you throw and the speed at which you throw it gives Wii Sports the strategy necessary to make a game as simple as it is still fun; there’s nothing better in this game than throwing some nasty 90+ mph heat, then following it up with that 60 mph change-up that gets your opponent swinging minutes before the ball arrives at the plate. The downside to the simplicity here lies in the fielding and running, as you have no control over the game once the ball is in play. This can be infuriating at times for both sides, as sometimes you hit the ball to the wall and it’s a triple, but then you hit the exact same ball in play and it’s a double. Or you induce an easy groundball for a double play, and the fielders mishandle it and don’t record a single out. You did your part as the hitter or pitcher, but the game just decided that you were going to get screwed, and that doesn’t feel good.
Slugfest’s mechanics are more like the simulation-style games’, but the wild aforementioned features (punching and kicking, etc) give the game its unique flair. There was nothing more anxiety inducing than when your batter got beaned. He had an equal chance of losing a bunch of his ratings and becoming effectively useless, or exploding in anger, beating the pitcher to a pulp, and having his ratings soar to normally unreachable heights. I’ve also yet to find a more effective method (in any baseball video game) of sliding into a base safely than just kicking the fielder as you get to the bag to make him drop the ball. These unique mechanics add a good amount of fun to the game, but only if you are into this kind of gameplay. Wii Sports is certainly more accessible to a wider audience, but Slugfest makes sure to hone in on its core audience.
Replayability: Wii Sports does have its single player mode where you play against progressively more difficult opponents, but it’s not a true season mode; it doesn’t keep track of stats, allow any type of roster management (not that it matters anyway, as the game provides you with your 8 players outside of the Mii you chose), and there’s no clear endgame. There are a few minigames that are fun, namely the home run derby, but as Nate said in his review, the replayability here stems from how quickly these 3-inning games can go and how many games you can play in a short period of time. It is so easy to play “just one more game,” that before you know it you’ve played 10 more games.
Slugfest’s additional features include different types of season modes, including a Challenge mode where you take on each of the 30 MLB teams, but it’s just more of the same game and the bonus features of these modes (roster management, tracking stats) are nothing to write home about. In fact, in the season mode you can just make whatever trades you want, regardless of whether it’s a fair trade or not. The Home Run Derby in Slugfest is pretty fun as you get to watch clown dwarf outfielders catch your misses. Oh, and they don’t just catch it normally, instead they catch it between their legs or catch it while doing a flip, or just all kinds of weird stuff. They are clown dwarfs, what do you expect?
Graphics: Wii Sports is fine graphically, it’s clear and easy to digest, and you kind of tune out the fact that none of the players have arms, just floating hands that not even Rayman would accept. The strength of the graphics in this game stand on your ability to create Miis that you enjoy. Whether they are monstrosities or not is entirely up to your preference. I grew up with a sister three years younger than me who loved creating the wildest Miis possible, and so I often booted up the game to find a deformed Santa Claus, an attempted recreation of whoever her favorite Disney princess was at the time, and our grandma on my team. I should have never shown her how to make Miis, but I will give her points for creativity.
Slugfest offers a different kind of creativity, and they do a great job graphically at the stuff that is unique to their game. Players who catch fire look awesome, whether it’s throwing a smoking fastball or running the bases with shoes on fire, it all adds the intensity that they wanted from the on-fire attribute. Punching and kicking players looks almost natural, like it’s just a normal part of baseball, and it’s pretty funny watching the players crawl around on the field after getting beat up senselessly.
Sound: We all know what the Wii music sounds like, I don’t need to talk too much about that. The zoom of the baseball and the crack of the bat are oddly satisfying, and one feature that doesn’t get talked enough about on the Wii is the speaker that is in the controller itself. When you connect solidly on a hit, you can hear the crack of the bat coming from the controller like you just actually hit the ball with a very tiny bat. Slugfest shines with its commentary duo of Tim Kitzrow and Jimmy Shorts, combining to make not just a great straight man and the fool duo, but Kitzrow shines as the straight man who’s got some zaniness of his own to add to the combo. There’s no telling what kind of weird stuff they’ll start talking about during the game or between innings, and I never found myself tuning out their commentary.
Conclusion: This is a really hard matchup for me to wrap my head around, because both games aimed to do something entirely different and succeeded in their own way. Wii Sports has no right to be as fun as it is, as a game that was included with the Wii as the introduction to motion controls. This game was 100% designed to give every Wii gamer a primer on how motion controls work, and they turned that into a really fun sports game that people have played well beyond its intended use. Slugfest expanded Midway Games’ library of extreme sports gaming, which include the massively successful NBA Jam and NFL Blitz, and brought the extreme, wacky, and downright violent fun into America’s pastime. I think if I were forced to keep one of these games in my video game collection, and throw the other one out, I would keep Wii Sports (only accounting for the baseball portion of it), but it’s not an easy decision in the least.