By Marshall Garvey
Release Date: March 21, 2000
Platform: Nintendo 64
Publisher: Acclaim Entertainment.
Developer: High Voltage Software
Publisher: Acclaim Entertainment
Players: Single player, Multiplayer
Rated: E for Everyone
The year 2000 marked perhaps the biggest development of my lifetime. I was 10 years old, going on 11, and found myself beginning to outgrow my obsession with Pokemon. However, that was mostly because the void was already being filled by an even greater infatuation: baseball. Seemingly out of nowhere, I had taken up a thorough interest in America’s pastime. From its resplendent and intricate history to its famous players, as well as its current developments; I can still remember the buzz of the Subway Series between the Yankees and Mets, witnessing Mike Piazza’s deep, but ultimately catchable flyout to Bernie Williams to make the Yankees champions for the third consecutive year. Above all, in spite of their then-awful play and geographical distance from California, I became a passionate fan of the Minnesota Twins. I even obtained an autograph from their most famous Hall of Famer, Kirby Puckett.
However, my entry into baseball fanaticism wouldn’t have been the same without perhaps the sport’s finest video game, All-Star Baseball 2001. Released on the Nintendo 64 in March of 2000, I received it as a gift from my uncles Tim and Joe, one of many great baseball artifacts I received that year. It deepened my understanding and appreciation of the sport as much as any of my (numerous) history books, and it wasn’t hard to see why. Aside from outstanding gameplay and graphics, the game was packed to the hilt with meticulous detail, including players’ specific batting stances, season and playoff simulation, recreations of every Major League stadium, uniform features, instant replay, and even a dose of history with the Cooperstown Legends team.
This isn’t to say that there weren’t any great or highly detailed baseball games before ASB 2001. Even as far back as 1989, games like Baseball Stars for the NES allowed players to simulate an entire 162-game season and access thorough rosters of contemporary players. But this game was the one that truly pieced all the intricate elements of the sport into a satisfying experience for any fan. Whether you love America’s pastime for its rich history, the unique business of running a team, the tense and intricate way a game unfolds, the drama of the postseason, or whatever reason, All-Star Baseball 2001 completely captured (and still captures) the majesty of baseball in its entirety unlike any title before.
A key to any sports game has to be how well the nuances of the sport are translated into gameplay. All-Star Baseball 2001 is exceptional in this regard even by today’s standards; the controls are smooth and very intuitive, complete with throwing around the bases corresponding to the d-pad. The pitching and batting mechanics are highly intricate, even allowing the player to guess the exact pitch and its location before taking a swing. And if you make just the right kind of contact, the camera will immediately switch to dramatic angles to capture your home run, complete with an emphatic call from Yankees announcer John Sterling.
As baseball is perhaps the most detail-oriented of all major sports, ASB 2001 fortunately goes to the lengths of capturing a mind-boggling amount of minutia. Most significantly, its recreations of each MLB ballpark at the time are excellent and highly atmospheric. The most recent statistics for the players of each team are also available on the main menu, as well as a general manager mode that allows you to trade, sign, and even create players. Every team’s uniform is perfectly detailed, in addition to painstaking renders of each player’s batting stance and/or pitching delivery. Another fun contemporary option allows one to play as the NL and AL All-Star teams from 1999. In addition to savoring lineups filled with familiar stars like Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, and Derek Jeter, hardcore baseball fans today can also enjoy some of the more obscure names on each roster. (The Pirates’ only All-Star that year was Ed Sprague???)
The most unique feature however, and perhaps greatest, is the inclusion of the Cooperstown Legends team. Playing their home games in a cornfield straight from “Field of Dreams,” this squad is comprised entirely of some of the greatest inductees in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. On offense, you can step up the plate with the likes of Willie McCovey, Reggie Jackson, Rod Carew, Yogi Berra, Ernie Banks, and Al Kaline. On pitching, you can toe the rubber with Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan, Bob Feller, Juan Marichal, and Rollie Fingers, to name a few. Aside from allowing baseball geeks to live out the fantasy of so many greats playing together, this feature also serves as a perfect and original way of acknowledging the game’s rich heritage.
Unfortunately, the 2001 edition of All-Star Baseball would prove to be the definitive peak for the series; only four more editions followed suit. The final installment for the series was the 2005 season for both the Xbox and Playstation 2. This was due to Acclaim Entertainment’s bankruptcy in 2004. Since then, fans have turned to franchises like MLB: The Show and Major League Baseball 2K for their annual video game capsules of the national pastime.
However, even as graphical and gameplay capabilities have improved dramatically since 2000, every game owes a debt of gratitude to All-Star Baseball 2001. It not only perfected the formula of meticulously capturing the contemporary baseball world, but also conveyed the magic of the game in a way that still feels fresh and electrifying 13 years later. Playing it again in the midst of another exciting MLB postseason, I still feel like I did at age 11, playing over and over to soak in every detail and increase my knowledge of my new favorite sport. Even if you’re a franchise loyalist for The Show or 2K Baseball, ASB 2001 is still a must for anyone who seeks a fulfilling gaming experience of America’s greatest pastime. If you pass on it, well, you know what they say about the home team not winning in “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”….
Original commercial for the game: