Home Run King is somewhat of a sequel to the World Series Baseball franchise that had dubious gameplay on the Sega Dreamcast. There's been loads of debate whether this game is an arcade or sim title, and really it is hard to pigeonhole it one way or the other. Home Run King is a serious attempt at a serious baseball game. A unique pitching and batting interface, the standard baseball modes, and quick play are just some of the features courting your gaming dollar.
Presentation/Graphics : 75
Home Run King certainly gets a vote as one of the best looking baseball games on the market regardless of console. The player models are very detailed, down to being able to see the slight bulge around the player's thigh from the athletic underwear. Those little details show how much Sega wanted to provide a realistic presentation. Where the presentation really pays off is in the animation sequences. It seems like there are endless varieties of animations in the game. You find outfielders backpedaling to catch the ball, making shoestring grabs, reaching dives and more. In the infield you'll watch as the infielder scoops the ball up from one angle and then watch the throw from a more cinematic angle. Imagine watching a well-produced instant replay in a real game of baseball. That's what you get real time in Home Run King. The stadiums look great with one exception. The turf just doesn't have a natural look to it, but all other aspects of the stadia are spot on. Enron (er, Astros) Field comes complete with the train.
But beauty is only skin deep, and it's just under the surface that the graphics of Home Run King cause the gameplay to suffer. I liken the outfield play to last year's version of All-Star Baseball. Both games offered poor reaction times to field the ball. In HRK's instance, the ball is too small and difficult at best to see during quick action. Balls hit to the outfield are just barely better. A circle predicts where the ball will land, but the contrast between circle and field color is not stark enough. Further, the camera is a bit slow for both grounds and fly balls. This prevents you from getting a good jump on the ball and artificially increases the number of hits in the game.
Presentation/Audio : 90
I found the color and play by play in HRK to be above average. The action was called well, and the color commentary remained fresh even after several games in any given session. The spoken audio was up to snuff with the other fine Sega sports titles, which says a lot about the audio. The sounds of the game were impressive as well. The crack of the bat is clear and the slight thud of the ball hitting the glove is a nice effect.
Interface/Options : 75
HRK comes with the basic play modes for baseball games - single season exhibition, seasonal and playoff play, and the always popular home run derby. However, the game does lack a franchise mode. There aren't that many options available in the game. You have your choice of 5 difficulty levels and can modify some of the presentation aspects. The gameplay modifications are few. You can toggle injuries and errors on or off as well as a pretty good stamina model (for both fielders and pitchers). To either help or hinder you, you can tinker with various aids - fielding, batting, or hitting. The fielding aid essentially allows you to have manual, semi-automatic, or automatic fielding. The batting aid affects the size of the batting cursor. Unfortunately I've been spoiled by the deep options of High Heat. HRK just can't compare in this regard. Likewise, the stats engine is just average. The post game stats are minimal, so sim lovers will have to look elsewhere to collect some decent stats.
The Gamecube controller is utilized well in the game. The buttons allow for different pitch speeds or swing strengths, and while pitching the analog stick selects the pitch. Baserunning can be tricky in the game due to some controls which are somewhat unresponsive at times. I've had deep singles which should have been stretched to doubles no thanks to the controller.
Gameplay : 50
Home Run King will most likely be a hit or miss title for most. Frankly, it was a miss for me. Having played every console baseball title out this year, I've seen both the good and bad. There are some good things in HRK, but overall I was left with a less than satisfactory taste in my gaming mouth. I can't say that the pitching interface is bad. On the contrary it's quite good, though I'd like to have a bit more control of the pitching. You select a pitch and then use one of three buttons to determine the pitch strength (fast, normal, or slow). As soon as you press the button of choice, a meter fills up. If you time it just right you'll have the best throw for the speed and pitch type. You can give just a tad bit of after touch before the ball is thrown. If you miss the mark on the meter, the after touch you input may send the ball flying out of the strike zone.
At the plate things are much tougher. The game utilizes a batting cursor, which is sized according to difficulty level. That in itself isn't objectionable. For me, the problem arises when trying to hit the freaking ball. Pitches have an immense amount of break to them. Curve balls curve wildly, and off speed pitches seem like optical illusions. The small batting cursor and difficulty picking up the pitch means fewer hits for you. Once on base, the baserunning by your players or the AI team is not to the level of some other baseball titles. On the positive, however, rundowns are well executed though you can outsmart the AI team at times.
I can live with the more difficult batting interface, but one thing I can't stand for is the horrible fielding in the game. There is a fielding aid which varies your team's fielding between automatic and manual, but with any manual control fielding is an absolute bear. The aforementioned camera problems bring this to the surface, but even without the camera issues, fielding is broken. The wrong players are often selected, and while you can change fielders with the B button, the use of it is often too late. Outfielders run like they have sandbags tied to their shoes. Their frustratingly slow gaits allow for an inordinate number of doubles and triples. For me, the only way to remove the frustration of the fielding game was to bump up the fielding aid towards automatic fielding. Unfortunately that took the fun out of the game.
Replay Value : 60
If you don't mind playing a baseball game with automatic fielding, this nice looking title may be for you. I prefer to be right in the middle of the action. I expect smarts when the game needs to choose the correct fielder. HRK just doesn't have it in my opinion. This leads to an incomplete game. The pitching and batting are both good, but the fielding issues really keep this game in the dugout for me.
Overall : 68
Home Run King has the best presentation of all the baseball titles, but baseball requires more than good looks to keep diehard fans of the game interested. It is interesting to note that the favorite game among many console baseball fans is the least attractive of them all - High Heat on the PS2. HRK has HH beat in graphics, but its gameplay lags way behind. It's unfortunate that there's not a single great baseball title in the current crop of Gamecube baseball games.