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Review of The Cages: Pro Style Batting Practice for Wii

The Cages: Pro Style Batting Practice for Wii

Reviewed by Nutwiisystem on November 6, 2010.
Summary: An excellent batting practice game–as long as you go in with the right expectations.

I love baseball. As most baseball fans, I’ve dreamed of walking up to the plate with 2 outs in the bottom of the ninth and crushing the game-winning home run. I’ll never know this feeling in real life, of course, but that’s what video games are for.

Since my first Mattel Electronics Game when I was a kid, I’ve been living vicariously through video games. In my formative teen years, played entire seasons of Hardball on the Apple II, had a V-Tech Talking Baseball game, played many epic seasons of World Championship Baseball on the Turbografix-16, and got a Playstation 3 with MLB: The Show every year.

Most of these games were exercises in timing. Press a button at just the right time, and it’ll result in a hit or an out. But what was missing was the real experience.

Another of my lifelong dreams has been to own my own batting cage. But living in an apartment, if I were to install a batting cage, I’d have to knock down a couple walls, and 60 feet, 6 inches would take up my entire living room, dining room, and half the neighbor’s apartment. And last time I looked for a batting cage in my town, I found that almost every one close to me has closed down, and the ones that are still open are an hour away. And they cost a ton of money. The batting cages near my park cost $3 for 25 balls. Given the way I hit, the math comes out to about $0.75 for each time I make contact, which adds up quickly.

And so when I heard that Konami was working on The Cages: Pro Style Batting Practice for Wii, I was beside myself with excitement. With the Wii, and especially the Wii MotionPlus, could it be that finally we had a true “virtual reality” baseball game?

The opening menu of The Cages is very simple. You can select from the following options:

  • Training, which will teach you the basics of batting through 30 lessons. To get to the next lesson, you need to pass a challenges of increasing difficulty. Like the real game, you really need to practice and practice to make it through some of the more advanced levels (and like the real game, when you finally pass the challenge you get an incredible rush). This mode reminded me a little of Konami’s Dance Dance Revolution, where the higher level “challenges” get maddeningly difficult–but once you clear them you feel incredible elation. In this video, it took me many, many sessions to finally finish this challenge of hitting a ball a certain distance.
  • Free Batting, which will let you just bat away. You configure your own “pitching machine” to practice any style and speed of pitch, as well as throwing styles. You start with a basic fastball, and as you master each level you unlock more pitch types. Here’s a video of me trying to hit a 95-mile per hour fastball. Note how I adjusted the swing each time higher and lower, slower and faster until I finally smack a dinger at the end!
  • Panel-Type Baseball allows you to compete against another player in a simulated game. You choose a certain number of innings and try to rack up as many runs as possible before getting three outs. A single lets you advance your runner a base, while a strikeout will use up one of your outs. Instead of real fielders, there are “panels” all over the field which you need to try to hit (doubles, triples) or avoid (out, double play) with your batted ball.
  • Multiplayer allows up to 4 people to compete against each other in a home run competition, distance competition, or “panel type” competition.
  • Calorie Counter will let you see the numbers of calories you burned in a session. While swinging a bat doesn’t seem like it’d burn a lot of calories, you’d be surprised at how many you burn off when you’re obsessively trying to beat a challenge in #1 or unlock a new pitch in #2.
  • Player Data is a cool feature which shows you statistics over the history of your playing the game, including batting average, hits, home runs, best distance.

The Cages was released in July 2010. It has been out only a few months, and the reviews are not stellar. 37 reviewers on Gamefly gave it an average of 3.3 stars. On Amazon, it’s averaging about two and a half stars as of this writing.

I have to admit. I love this game. But I love it because I approached it with the right expectations.

I’ll start off by saying this game is very, very technical and very, very realistic in its approach. If you’re the type who wants to just close your eyes, swing your bat with all your might, and hit towering home runs, this is not the game for you at all. In fact, you will probably find the game incredibly frustrating. For that, your best bet is still good ol’ Wii Sports.

The Cages is a batting cage simulator. Nothing more, nothing less. You can’t play 9 innings of baseball, you can’t pitch, run, or bunt. You just stand in a cage and let a pitching maching throw to you.

The pitching machine will throw you up to 20 different types of pitches (from fastballs to sliders to curveballs to knuckleballs and changeups). The pitches are very realistic, and appear to come at you very much like they would if a real pitcher was throwing them at you (just like the real thing, it’s maddeningly difficult to hit a fastball after you’ve been served a bunch of breaking balls). The machine will throw at different speeds, and the virtual ball travels the virtual 60 feet, 6 inches in the exact same time it’d take on a real ballfield.

To prepare to hit the ball, you hold your Wii remote straight out at chest level and press and hold “B”. To hit the ball, you swing while holding down the “B” button. Sounds simple enough. But what’s remarkable (and enervating) about this game is that it doesn’t just take the timing of the swing into account like most video games. It takes your bat speed, the angle of your swing, your bat height all into account, just like real life.

After each swing, the game will instantly show you a split-screen video showing your swing in slow motion from the top and the side. Here, you can analyze your swing and make adjustments. For example, once I kept fouling pitches off the plate. I could see clearly from the side view that while my swing was timed correctly, my swing was too high. Same thing happened when I started fouling pitches off to the right. I could see from the top view that my swing was too late. After making the adjustments, I was hitting again. Baseball is a game of millimeters, and this game does an incredible job capturing that. The video shows you every tiny detail of your swing in relation to the pitch. It is actually the single best implemention of Wii MotionPlus I’ve seen in a game yet.

Tips for Success:

Probably like most people who first started up the game, I started out by trying to time my swings and swing for the fences. This resulted in me striking out time after time. For most games, I probably would have stormed to Amazon to write my one-star review. But as a die-hard baseball fanatic, I took it as a challenge and decided to keep trying. Surprisingly, I was my most successful when I followed the fundamentals of hitting.

  • Keep a loose grip on the “bat” (admittedly, a little difficult when you’re trying to keep the “B” button pressed down)
  • Get into a comfortable, loose stance
  • Take your stride. If it helps, find a timing device like Johnny Damon’s waggle or Gary Sheffield’s wave.
  • As you swing,
    • Your weight should shift from your back foot to your front foot
    • Your hips should open up and your elbows should lock
    • Your shoulders and your swing should be level as the bat head goes through the hitting zone. It helped me to imagine a batting tee in front of me.
    • Keep your head still and your eye on the ball through contact
    • Your wrists will naturally roll as you make contact with the ball
    • Follow through on your swing.

Unlike most video games which provide instant gratification, this video game rewards you after you practice and practice the fundamentals, just like the real thing.

Was it realistic? Almost too much so. When I go to a batting cage, I typically strike out or foul off pitch after pitch and get unbearably frustrated. And before I know it, I’ve spent $20. Eventually, with enough time and money, I’ll finally start making solid contact. And boy, does it feel good when I do.

When I first start up this game, I invariably strike out or foul off pitch after pitch after pitch. But the difference is, after I watch the video replays and make the adjustments, eventually I start making contact (the “bling” sound effect doesn’t provide quite the same satisfaction as the crack of a bat, but it’s close).

There were, of course, things I wasn’t too crazy about with this game, as other reviewers have pointed out:

  1. It is aggravating to have to press the “B” button to swing. After a while, you learn to compensate for it, but it really messes with your ability to do the fundamentals.
  2. The graphics and sounds are really very shoddy. I’m willing to overlook this, as whatever development resources they didn’t put into the aethetics of the game, they did put into making a very realistic simulation.

The burning question, of course, is: will this game help you hit a real baseball? The answer is, yes and no. Swinging a plastic game controller doesn’t feel at all like swinging a real baseball bat (although you can improve your arm strength by playing the game in conjunction with Riiflex Weights). And as much as a video image of a 99-MPH fastball coming to your head is accurate in terms of how it looks, it’s not the quite feeling as seeing a real one buzzing by your head. On the other hand, if you study and adhere to the fundamentals of hitting and use the in-game tools to analyze and adjust your swing, it’s a surprisingly realistic experience and helps you understand the real things you should be looking for in your mechanics when you do get in front of a real pitcher. It’s also a blast to be able to go to your own virtual “batting cage” any time of the day or night, no matter what the weather.

I’m guessing that the poor response and reviews of this game may have resulted in less-than-stellar sales for Konami. That’s too bad, because I hope they keeps trying–the concept and execution were great, but they were probably hampered by the limitations of the Wii. Perhaps this idea was just a little before its time. With its improved motion sensor capabilities, 3D capabilities, and high resolution graphics, this may be a game more suited for the Playstation Move. Or, the technology in this game would be amazing if it were incorporated into the “advanced” level of a game like Sony’s MLB: The Show or 2KSports’ Major League Baseball.

Casual gamers will probably want to pass on this game. But those who are baseball fanatics and want to experience the process (and frustrations) of training to hit Major League-type pitches, this is by far the best simulation out there.

4 of 5

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