Review by Tarrun
"Over a decade old and still one of the best baseball games I've ever played."
As a kid, my favorite baseball player was Ken Griffey Jr. I didn't live in Seattle, I didn't even live on the West Coast, and I really didn't follow the Mariners, but for some reason I had jumped on the Griffey-bandwagon. So, in the summer of 1996, I'm looking for a good sports game to play and I spot Ken Griffey Jr.'s Winning Run sitting on the shelf. How could I resist? Lucky for me, my impulse-buying paid off, because Winning Run is one of those genuinely fun games that you always end up returning to.
In terms of graphics, the game definitely stands up against most Super Nintendo games, being one of the last games released before the Nintendo 64. True, the crowds are just dots and the batters come in five varieties (small white guy, small black guy, tall white guy, tall black guy, and Ken Griffey Jr.), but that's expectable. However, each stadium you play in is unique and well designed; perhaps not exactly how it looks in reality, but I'll take it over a single stadium layout any day. What really makes Winning Run interesting, though, are the little details; umpires actually make the correct gestures when calling a player safe or out, and if a scoreboard is viewable from the batter's box, it displays the correct number of balls and strikes.
But while the graphics are competent with a few outstanding features, the audio is more of a mixed bag. The game's soundtrack is limited to about three songs, predominantly a techno beat that plays in a few different places, including the title, before and after each game, and the menus. The last few seconds of the Star Spangled Banner will play at the opening of each game, or O Canada, should you be playing against the Blue Jays or Expos at home. There's also a separate beat that plays as your character rounds the bases after hitting a home run, and a different one if they hit a grand slam. Besides the music, there are also the various cheers from the crowd and vendors, as well as the umpires calling the game and the sounds of the ball being hit and caught, all of which are fairly realistic.
However, it's the gameplay that really makes Winning Run stand out from other baseball games of its time. Besides a regular exhibition game or a full season, you can play an All-Star game, World Series, or home run derby. Naturally, these are more fun with two players, but end up being an interesting addition for a single player.
The full season mode, though, is definitely where the game shines. After choosing the length of your season (26 games, 52 games, or the full 162), you decide which team to play before being let loose. From here, you can play through your season as is or mix and match by trading players. Besides Griffey, who can't be traded from the Mariners, all of the players in Winning Run are fictitious, though some are clearly based on players at the time one of the most obvious being the player Big Magoo of the White Sox, a spitting image of Frank Thomas. Each player is given a number to determine his worth, and you can trade players up to a five point difference. Of course, you can always build up your current players' stats and trade them away for better players later on; just bear in mind that there are a few hidden gems with low prices, so it's a good idea to look at the players' stats before using up one of your fifteen trades (to prevent you from creating a dream team). Hitting power is usually favored when determining a player's worth, but speed, fielding, and throwing are also major factors to keep in mind. With this, you can create a team of all stars that hits dozens of home runs each game or a team based around speed and defense. I can tell you that the playing experience is dramatically different, but remains fun and exciting at the same time.
The actual mechanics and controls of the game are also extremely well done, although there are a few areas that could have been reworked. On defense, you naturally control the pitcher at first, who has a total of five pitches, including one unique pitch: a slider, super fastball, super curve, change-up, screw ball, or knuckle ball. You can control where the pitch is placed and how much movement it has, but the batter will usually only swing at balls over the plate. The one exception to this is the knuckle ball, which moves around so erratically that batters will often shoot themselves in the foot by swinging at balls. There's also a neat trick that can be used with a left-handed change-up pitcher that strikes a batter out without them even swinging; the AI doesn't swing at a change-up that just barely catches the plate for some reason.
However, those two pitches aside, you'll find that more often than not the batter will make contact and put the ball into play. Of course, where you pitch the ball will determine whether or not it's a weak ground out or a home run, so it's not a good idea to give up and simply throw fastballs down the middle of the plate all of the time. Once the ball is hit, you take control of the player with the best chance of catching the ball; if it's in the infield, you immediately have to run up and get it, whereas the auto-fielding will initially take over in the outfield. You'll find that a majority of hits can be caught, even if it takes a well-timed dive to get to it. However, the AI will still get lucky and hit a ground ball through the hole or split the outfielders every once in a while. My one complaint with the fielding is that it can be frustrating to guess which player you'll be assigned to in the infield, as a hit can often be caught by multiple players. If the ball is hit in between the third baseman and the shortstop, for example, and you assume the shortstop is the one who's going to catch it, you'll naturally run down to get it. But if the game puts you in the place of the third baseman, you'll run in the wrong direction and give up a hit. It doesn't happen often enough to ruin the game, but it's a problem that deserves mentioning.
But if you're like me, what you're interested in is offense. If that's true, then you're in luck, because Winning Run is heavily unbalanced in favor of hitting. You can often guess roughly where a pitch is going to be and what pitch it will be, and there are no 3D elements like newer games, so you don't have to worry about lining up the bat with the ball, which means that making contact is a breeze. You can change how your player hits to accommodate his skills, so if you have a power hitter at the plate you can have a more elevated swing to increase the chances of a fly ball or home run. On the other hand, you can allow weaker hitters or pitchers to hit balls on the ground to increase their chances of a base hit. Bunting also comes into play quite a bit; and because of the ease of making contact, hit-and-run plays are a sure way of advancing a runner.
Speaking of which, base running is fairly well done. It's easy to maintain control of several runners at the same time, so you can exploit the AI's inability to throw the ball during a run down by distracting the computer with one runner while another advances. My one complaint regarding base running is the fact that a runner can't advance before the man in front of him reaches the next base. For example, if you have a slow runner (like the pitcher) on third base and a speedy runner on second, you have wait for the slow runner to score before the other runner can leave third and run home. It's not a serious problem, but it's noticeably annoying when it occurs.
The game tries to make it challenging to get hits, but in reality it doesn't work. Sure, the fielders will make some fantastic (and often improbable) catches to get you out, but you can still expect dozens of hits each game. With a team composed of power hitters, don't be surprised to get six or seven home runs per game. To give you an idea how unbalanced Winning Run can be, while playing a full season with only seven innings per game, I had Ken Griffey Jr. hit over 170 home runs, with another three or four players breaking the eighty home run mark as well.
You can make your season a little more challenging by trading for hitters that don't have the power to hit home runs, but even then you'll have players getting four or five hits per game. Even with a team composed of bench players, I had every single one of my hitters with a .400 average or better. I even had a pair of players hitting over .600. In other words, don't be surprised to obliterate every sort of batting title you can imagine. Going undefeated in a 162 game season isn't too much of a chore either.
Overall, Ken Griffey Jr.'s Winning Run is one of the few games that I always end up replaying every once in a while. A full season, even if you play three games a day, will still take you about two months to complete, which makes it very satisfying to actually complete. And with so many ways to set up your team, the game never really gets boring, albeit repetitive at times. Baseball fans will definitely have a good time with Winning Run, and even someone who isn't interested in the sport as much will get a kick out of it. Without a doubt, you will not regret buying this game.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 06/20/06
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