After releasing NFL Fever and NBA Inside Drive to moderate success, you knew it was only a matter of time before Microsoft released an MLB sister to its basketball and football counterparts. In May, the baseball version finally arrived with MLB Inside Pitch 2003, the ONLY online baseball game this season. Although the game suffers from rookie mistakes that most first year games suffer, the Xbox Live feature and the fast gameplay might make it the cure to the common slow baseball game for some fans.
Like NFL Fever, Inside Pitch features a faster then average game pace that keeps games moving along at a brisk speed. The average 7 inning game takes around 20 minutes, depending on how many hits and runs are being tallied up on the scoreboard. You are able to adjust innings from anywhere between three and nine, which is also adjustable when playing the game on Xbox Live. Those of you who like to play a long franchise mode may want to set your innings at nine, as sadly there is no franchise option in this season’s game. The lack of franchise mode obviously damages the game’s depth, but the Xbox Live online play does add a lot to the replay value, but we’ll get more into that later.
The controls are fairly simple to learn, although suffer some frustrating mistakes. When batting, you may swing with either the “A” button for a normal swing or the “Black” button for a power swing. This might sound strange at first, although surprisingly the ability to switch between A and Black becomes second nature after a game or two, as they both use the same finger to press the button. On the other hand, the much more oft-used B and X buttons are of no use while batting, and probably would’ve been better candidates for the power swing then black. Regardless of the power-swing issue, the main complaint with the controls becomes noticeable once you take the field on defense.
The default configuration to throw to bases is used via the right analog stick. Pushing right throws to first, up second, left third, and down throws it to home plate. The concept is a good idea, yet glitches at some unwanted moments, such as when Ichiro is stealing a base and instead of throwing to second, the catcher stands still or throws to third! Although this doesn’t happen all the time, it is a small glitch that needs some polishing for next season’s version.
The real skills of the game are where they need it most, the pitching and batting interfaces. Pitching is actually fun, with the buttons in the appropriate places, and the skill coming in the form of where you want to locate your pitch, and whether your throw be a ball or a strike. After selecting your pitch, you are offered the choice of a ball, strike, or pitchout, and you must choose wisely! If your batter is trigger happy, throwing a nice selection of corner painting sliders will strike him out every time, whereas if you have a batter with a good eye, making sure you choose the right combination of balls and strikes is very important. The key is getting to know your pitchers, and once you get a feel for your ace of choice, you’ll find yourself striking out more guys on and offline and lowering your ERA.
The same can be said with the batting interface, as choosing bat location and when to swing is important on each and every pitch. A cool feature of pitch is a key in the bottom corner that shows the exact location of where your bat is pointing. No tired batting cursors or the restraining “high, middle, low” batting options, as Inside Pitch allows you to pinpoint your exact location on the ball. As previously mentioned, the use of the Power Swing also fits into the equation. Using the bigger swing may result in increased home runs, but may also cause a few too many pop-ups. Either way, the variety of choices with pitching and batting are both very solid features for this rookie franchise.
As you could expect with an Xbox title, the stadiums and players look incredibly bright and detailed. Each stadium is very distinctive, and the lighting effects are incredible, especially in stadiums like Minnesota’s Metrodome. Although not all players are completely identical to their real life counterparts as far as physique goes, most players’ faces are at least a decent replica to the actual Major Leaguer.
The graphics never interfere with gameplay, although some in-game actions of players are incredibly unrealistic. Players celebrate way too often, with a simple single resulting in serious celebration. Also, players seem to be practicing the “Trunk Twister” baseball stretch at all times. For those who are unfamiliar with trunk twisters, it is similar to a Val Venis ring entrance. The players in NFL Fever also did the constant motion, but it seemed more welcome in their case as football players move around a whole lot more. The good news is that although these movements seem strange, they do not interfere with the game at all and are simply just minor nuisances.
Although there is no instant replay, Inside Pitch offers several different camera angles, and each could be incredibly useful, depending on the type of player. Pitching and batting offer you many different angles, and selecting your own view adds a personal touch to your game. Overall, the graphics are good, with the exception of the Val Venis issue!
Inside Pitch uses the rarely used Custom Soundtrack feature, which allows you to bring your own music into the game. This feature is a great added touch, as players will use your tunes as entrance music! Although you can’t customize tracks to each individual player, each one will get a different song at every at bat (assuming you fill your library up with the 50 plus allotment of songs). Your music library will also be used in the menu screens, and if you ever get tired of it have the ability to turn your tracks off at any time. When playing on Xbox Live, your music also carries over, although your opponent will NOT be able to hear your music, you will.
The commentary is incredibly solid, with legendary announcer Joe Buck providing the play-by-play. The announcers avoid the “annoying” bug, and tend to actually provide relevant information and stay on point. Even the scrubs on your bench get their names announced. No complaints at all with the commentary, which for a first year game is very commendable.
Besides season and online play, Inside Pitch also features “Championship Challenge”, where you can re-create and change impressive feats of the 2002 season as well as an in-depth Create-A-Player mode. More than just creating a player, you also can fill up his stats by going through several training modes, which also help you learn the game better. Although they don’t quite fill the void of the missing franchise mode, they are unique extras that add to the replay value of the game, especially if you don’t have Xbox Live.
If you do have Xbox Live, Inside Pitch’s replay value goes up immensely. Microsoft has already set up tournaments, with the winners advancing to the MLB All Star game in July. Establishing your national ranking and playing against real life people can be a lot of fun, especially for baseball fans dying to finally play a game online. Of course, no online experience would be complete without your general run of the mill bad sports whom cheat and quit to cause severe cases of frustration. According to Inside Pitch developers, cheating issues will be resolved in upcoming game updates, which will be released shortly. Thanks to Xbox Live being broadband only, you will rarely if ever encounter any lag, which is obviously a great thing as any lag in a baseball game could be the difference between a strikeout and a home run. Without a doubt, the Xbox Live feature is the best thing Inside Pitch has going for it this season, and reason alone for you to pick it up if you’re dying to play some baseball online.
Fun Factor: 6.0 without live/ 8.5 with Xbox Live