Home Run King is Sega's latest sports title for the GCN and follows a more traditional console mode than other titles which usually either emphasize arcade play or deep statistical/strategic managerial style play but rarely try to incorporate both. Unfortunately, this approach is bound to annoy those in either camp, since it's not far enough in either direction. This design leads to neither mode being as robust as it could have been. Taken for what it is however, Home Run King is still a decent title that offers some entertaining gameplay. While Home Run King has all the licensed players, teams and stadiums players have come to expect, but lacks some of the frills other games have featured, such as classic players, uniforms and the deep stats that have become nearly standard. There are several modes of play as well including exhibition, season, playoffs and a home run derby. Practice mode allows you to play an exhibition game against any 2 teams and you can also set the number of innings for these games. Players can also jump right into the playoffs and can battle it out for the World Series ring. Finally, there's a Home Run Derby where you can slug it out using power-hitters. These modes are all entertaining diversions, but not where the real meat of the game lies.
Home Run King's Season mode is obviously the deepest mode where you play a full schedule of games with your team. The most interesting aspect of this is that there are some extras. You can change your team roster, trade players and switch lineups as any manager would. Extensive stats are also available here, which allow you to go deeper into the numbers than in the other modes. At the mid-point of each season, you also have the opportunity to play the All-Star game, and can pick and choose which players are on the team. Of course, if you don't want to play through an entire season of games, you can choose to have the computer simulate as many games as you want it too, though it's hard to see why this feature was included in a console title since this audience generally prefers action. In addition to all of the standard modes, you can also create your own players using the custom player mode. This allows you to build your perfect fielder, catcher or pitcher to your exact specifications and parameters. The interface and menu system in this mode is superb and adds some interesting elements to the game. HRK also allows you to create a fully customized team using your own players and managers.
As you might have expected, the controls and gameplay on the field are the best aspects of the title with both offense and defense systems well-designed. The game's pitcher/batter system that's simple and intuitive enough for novices, yet allows for some sophisticated moves. The first task is to select the pitch and then adjust the angle and height as you begin your pitch. An onscreen pitch indicator helps the player to decide which pitch to use and also shows the relative strength of each pitch. Once you're ready to pitch, another bar shows up that allows you to really refine the speed and direction. Batting is a bit simpler, since you basically need good timing and the ability to read the pitcher's mind. There's an indicator which you can use to try and anticipate the pitches, which shows the direction the ball would be traveling if the pitch you select is thrown. It's a bit awkward, but can help increase your on-base percentage. Fielding the ball isn't automated but the game does show where the ball is expected to land, allowing you to run to that area to make the catch. The balance seems to be a bit off when it comes to the interface. Pitching is incredibly difficult to master but batting and fielding controls are much simpler than one would expect. Making play easy in some areas while others seem needlessly complex, gives a poor flow to the action. Unfortunately, the mix of arcade style gameplay and frustrating complexity doesn't work. This choppiness means that neither defense nor offense modes are entirely satisfying and gives Home Run King a poor play mechanic that's hard to learn or become accustomed to.
Visually, the game is excellent, which excellent player models, a good variety of realistic animations that make HRK feel authentic. Players also have detailed facial expressions and react somewhat nice to the actions. While you can select different camera angles, the default viewpoints are good enough that messing around with this isn't necessary. The game's weather effects are also decent with night and day games, plus varying weather conditions making things more interesting. Home Run King features real-world stadiums, so you can play a game in the actual ballparks. A decent frame rate, detailed player models and nice production values makes the experience fairly decent and convincing throughout. On the audio-side, there's a decent in-game commentary that helps keep things moving along nicely, though not nearly as elaborate as that seen in other titles. The production values are top notch and this is a sharp looking and good sounding game that takes good advantage of the Gamecube's power.
Unfortunately, there are some things about the
game that are annoying and could have easily been rectified. First, the control
system is decent, but the pitch indicator doesn't list what types of pitches
you're using. This is annoying and makes selecting the pitch very difficult
unless you've either memorized the positions of different pitches. Fielding is
decent, but it's difficult to judge where the ball is going to land making
catches difficult, and once fielded, the system used to determine which base you
throw the ball to isn't quite as smooth or intuitive as it could have been.
Another gripe is that the All-Star game could have easily been a separate mode,
since it's disappointing that you have to go through an entire long season to
get to it. Unfortunately, the review is a bit of a mixed bag. The controls are
too simplistic in some areas, yet overly complex and confusing in others making
for a poorly flowing game that probably won't satisfy fans of either style of
interactive baseball. The real players and stadiums are nice, but there isn't
the statistical depth to back it up. Adding some more numbers and stats would
have gone a long way, but as it stands there's little here to sink your teeth
into. It's not fair to say that this is dumbed-down baseball, and it's far from
NBA Jam, but it seems to be lacking in some key areas. The inability to decide
leads to a watered-down, unsatisfying game. This hurts this title's longevity
and appeal significantly. While it tries to have it both ways, Home Run King
doesn't work and is a disappointing title. It doesn't live up to Sega's classic
WSB franchise and feels more like an afterthought compared to those games than