I think one of the reasons I'm not too fond of sports games is that the gameplay for many of them amounts to a lot of running around and chasing after a ball or puck of some kind. Which is one reason why I think that video game versions of baseball have more potential to be fun. A good baseball game plays like a good strategy game. That could partially explain why I have such a fondness for Extra Innings, but there must be more to it.
Extra Innings is just what it looks like: A bunch of portly kids playing baseball. As you may expect, there are no real teams represented here (although there are two teams available for which you can edit the player names and stats.) In an era when the idea of licensing actual teams and players was catching on, Extra Innings was a throwback to the earlier days of video game baseball, and one that clings to it well.
Although your players are diminutive in size, the graphics of Extra Innings are fairly decent, as far as 16-bit baseball games go. The animation of the players pitching and batting is especially well-done. Another thing that's nice is a gradation effect on the field itself. Characters are drawn in an overly exaggerated chibi-anime style. I've seen many previous baseball games in which the ground was one solid green, but Extra Innings looks a bit more realistic in that respect. When fielding in the overhead bird's-eye view, your characters are small and round and waddle to their destinations.
But the scariest part of the graphics (other than that character on the option screen with a Super Famicom for a head) is the audience close-up. Well, okay, there are actually two things wrong here. When you score an out-of-the-park home run, you're shown a cinema of your characters running home with the audience behind them, and a row of dancing cheerleaders. As far as I know, baseball is not supposed to have cheerleaders. The other thing is that most of the people in the stands appear to have no arms.What's worse is that their faces are locked in eternal vociferation.
The music of Extra Innings is fun, fast, catchy, and has a definite "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" sort of feel to it. The sound effects are fairly realistic, particularly the crack of the bat against the ball. The quality of the voices is variable. When the umpire says, "Out", "Safe", "Ball", "Strike", "Home Run", and "Game Called", it sounds decent enough. But when he says, "Extra Innings", "Take Your Base", "It's going long", and "It's outta' here", it sounds like he's really straining to get the words out. In fact, I can't even tell if that one line really is "It's going long", or "It's to the wall". It sounds more like the latter.
The key to playing Extra Innings was learning to think of my controller as a baseball diamond. I hadn't really played much of video baseball games before, so this was a first for me. The d-pad functions as you may expect: Right is 1st base, Up is 2nd, Left is 3rd, and Down is home. By holding one of these directions and pressing a button, you can either throw the ball or make your players run to the corresponding base.
Pitching, hitting, and running the bases are all easy enough to perform, but the fielding control is weak. Characters move way too slowly to be able to move them in position to catch the ball. Consequently, I never play this game without auto-fielding turned on. Extra Innings's auto-fielding feature actually works rather well. While the CPU makes your players run for the ball, you have to decide where to throw it once they've got it. You also have to manually make your players dive or jump for the ball if you want them to. This is much better than the auto-fielding of some baseball games I've played in which the CPU does everything for you.
Although as is to be expected, Extra Innings does not have a story, but it does work hard to be cute. The players are not only chubby chibis, but they exhibit a few different facial expressions and atittudes. They're happy when they get a home run. Their eyes bug out when they make an error. They sometimes break the bats over their knees when they strike out. They pout and storm off the field when they're out. There are even some mildly hilarious cinema scenes that will occur depending on whether you win or lose the pennant race. This is clearly a Japanese ball game with a distinct anime flavor. (Maybe that explains the cheerleaders.)
One weakness of Extra Innings is that once I learned how to play the game fairly well, it became very easy to beat the CPU-controlled teams. I ran a 130-game Pennant Race, and only one of the teams in the roster (the Surfers) was able to consistently beat me. Consequently, I ended up so far ahead in the Pennant Race that after a certain point, I could have lost every game from then on out and still won the race. Most of this is due to the fact that the CPU doesn't always make the best judgments. In one common scenario, you may be running for third base, so the CPU throws to third. However, it would be faster if the CPU had thrown to second, and then had the second baseman throw to third. But the AI can't "think" that way. Also, the CPU players never attempt to leap or dive for the ball, and they aren't as "daring" about running the bases.
I don't necessarily mind that the game is a bit easy, because it assisted in making the game easy for me to learn. However, it would've been really nice if the game had a harder AI setting so that you could have something more challenging to play once you've mastered it. On the plus side, this may make me sound like a wimp, but I think I'd rather have the game be a little too easy than to get really far in the Pennant Race and lose at the last moment, forcing me to do it all over again.
There is something undeniably fun about Extra Innings. This is certainly not the most realistic baseball simulation in the world, but the cutesy characters, excellent control, and stadium music bring home the "ballpark" feel. As a one-player game, Extra Innings is very easy, but it's great in its two-player mode. I've had many fun times playing this game against friends. One of my favorite aspects of the game is the "Error" function, which occasionally causes the players to drop or miss the ball in the field. When this happens their eyes simultaneously double in size as they utter an "Oops!" or "Uh-oh!" The first few times I saw this happen it was enough to make me laugh out loud.
The strategy element is also key to making Extra Innings fun. You can choose your lineup before the game starts. Players have a colored face next to their names which indicates their condition (flashing blue=excellent, red=poor), and it's best to choose players based on their stats and their current condition. You can choose from three different ballparks before each game, each increasingly larger. The major difference here is that you'll get more out-of-the-park home runs in the small Air Dome and more in-the-park home runs in the colossal Huge Stadium.
Although I like Extra Innings a lot, making a recommendation for Extra Innings is tough, so I probably won't. Diehard baseball game fans may not find much to like here, especially if you like your baseball games to be as realistic as possible. Nostalgic gamers looking for a good, fun baseball sim may find it worth checking out.
SCORE (not an average): 7/10
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