The problem is that the Cards never suffered worse at the plate than they have under my regime. So it goes.
Gallery: MLB 2K8 Fantasy All-Stars
MLB 2K8 Fantasy All-Stars is not what you'd expect. On the face, it looks like an incredibly silly arcade baseball game, with nary a thought for any sort of realism. And it's true that developer Deep Fried Entertainment took a "fun first" approach rather than worrying about the details (and sometimes, as with the outdated team rosters, that's clear). However, it seems they've sold themselves a little short on what they've created. Sure, Fantasy All-Stars features silly power-ups and off-the-wall stages, but the baseball at the heart of the title is solid. This is a surprisingly deep and well-designed baseball game wrapped up in a colorful and seemingly-casual package.
That isn't to say Fantasy All-Stars doesn't suffer a little from the change from a straightforward baseball sim. A number of modes found in the other MLB 2K8 titles are absent here, and in fact, the single player pickings might be a little slim for some. There isn't a lot to do alone -- enter training or create a team if you want to take your time, or jump into Exhibition mode with an established team if you want to get started right away. Fantasy Pennant has the most depth -- you take either an established or created team through a series of games -- but after that, you're left to try another team or create a different roster. Mastering everything can take a little more time than it seems, though. Trying to get all the medals in training mode might be enough by itself to keep you busy for a while, and you'll have to do that and master Fantasy Pennant if you want to see all of the crazy stadiums.
Additionally, MLB 2K8 Fantasy All-Stars does offer both local wireless and Wi-Fi multiplayer, and that, of course, adds tons of replay value on its own.
But what's an arcade-style baseball game without a dose of the weird and wacky? Fantasy All-Stars offers a number of power-ups to change things around, and these add a lot more than the fun stages. Now, throwing a fireball isn't just an off-the-wall euphemism for a pitch that really burns across the plate -- these fireballs really do burn across the plate. You can rack up a number of different power-ups with a variety of effects, like freezing the outfielder (he's goin' nowhere with your ball), or stopping that sure-homer with the solid power of a brick wall. Unless you've mastered the basics, however, you don't want to just use your starting items all willy-nilly ... you won't earn more unless you're throwing strikes or putting men on base.
All of this is adjustable, too. Don't like the power-ups? Turn them off. Can't handle fielding and running bases? Put it on auto. Alternately, if everything is too easy, do it all manually and crank up the AI difficulty. Choose your own experience!
All in all, Fantasy All-Stars is a surprisingly fun experience. The game offers a good balance of silliness with actual baseball, and while there are problems (did we mention the rosters? can we say it again?), they aren't enough to detract from the fun offered here, despite the slim single player offerings. Don't let the unusual look turn you off: this game is worth a try if you like baseball, and baseball games, even a little.
Controls: Things here are touch and go. The pitching is both excellent and fun, and it's easy to pick up and do well. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the batting, which works well in theory. In practice, the timing is amazingly difficult. Both are entirely stylus-driven; for pitching, you draw swirls and curves for a variety of pitches, and for batting, you "swing" by drawing your bat in an arc, with a meter and guide that is designed to help. Does it help? Frankly, not much. For a game that isn't trying to be a realistic simulation, they're sure pushing the practice, practice, practice idea of mastering real baseball.
Fielding and base-running fall right in the middle. They take a little more practice than effective pitching, and less than the grind of learning to hit anything, ever, but spending time in training is highly recommended. While the mechanisms seem quite simple -- draw lines between the bases to run, tap in the middle to stop runners; use the d-pad to control outfielders, draw up or down to dive or jump -- once you're in the middle of an actual game, managing everything can be difficult.
Visuals: For all that we've poked fun at the unique look of Fantasy All-Stars, it's actually quite attractive! The wacky levels are smooth and well-designed, and the misshapen character models still manage to bear a very slight resemblance to their real-life counterparts.
Sound: The technical achievement of the sound in Fantasy All-Stars isn't going to blow you away, but it's not the sort of game you necessarily turn down, either. While the actual sound is a bare step above mediocrity, there are a lot of great, traditional baseball riffs, and it never gets too repetitive, like so many games. There is a slight error in the pitching training, however: every ball you throw is called as a strike, even if it's a very obvious ball. Good for the ol' ego, at least.
Story: N/A, except for the story of ass-kickery you'll write with your own fantasy team.
Difficulty: Variable. Mastering the batting is harder than it should be, which makes the rest of the game harder, at times, than it should be. The AI is decently balanced, however, and anyone willing to dig in and practice can find a good challenge here. There's also a difficulty setting, so you can design your own challenge, and many of the other options are open for adjusting as well.
Final verdict: 7.0/10 -- A few roster errors are to be expected, but there are too many here to excuse, fantasy or not. The game could use a little more beef, to match the size of some of its players, but the fun factor is too much to be ignored.