Little League World Series 2022 the video game from developer IguanaBee and publisher GameMill Entertainment arrives with an opportunity to do much more than just represent youth baseball.
With its arrival comes a chance to occupy an underdeveloped arcade baseball niche in the video game landscape.
The first LLWS game in more than a decade, this year's release offers a smooth mix of modern gameplay trappings and customization with huge pick-up-and-play potential.
LLWS 2022 is a blast whether in Quick Play or the LLWS tournament bracket itself.
The name of the game is basic accessibility for all levels of player, so the button prompts are simple and easy to grasp right away. Pitching is a matter of picking the type of pitch, ball placement and a timing-based prompt on a slow meter.
Same story in the batter's box, where aiming where the swing goes over the plate and properly timing it equals success. This is certainly not a simulation-heavy approach like MLB The Show, and it doesn't aim to be.
Case in point, some of the outrageous slowed-time chances to make big plays. In the outfield, players will sometimes get to enter something akin to bullet-time in other games, where hitting the proper button prompts at the right time will lead to highlight-reel grabs that rob a batter of a big hit.
Given the arcade trappings, there are some tradeoffs made. Things can get repetitive quick when anything beyond a single is rare, and fielders seem to always have perfect accuracy, which removes some of the spontaneity and randomness that makes real sports and simulation games just a little more interesting.
With the way the camera tracks the ball off the bat, as a defender, it isn't always easy to see where the ball is actually going, nor does spamming the right button often lead to an immediate throw to a base. But given the lighthearted nature of the whole package, it's hard to fret over the missteps too much.
Keeping in line with modern games and inspired by arcade offerings of the past, LLWS 2022 also features Super Abilities players can employ.
Slow Time, for example, does exactly what it sounds like, and Bat Tank just soups up the abilities of a character immensely. Dash, when timed right, provides a boost in key situations. For simplicity's sake, only one super ability is tied to each team, so it can be a little disappointing to hope a player's team has Dash at a timely moment only to remember it's a Bat Tank team. As such, players fill the super gauge by performing plays with any of their characters on a team.
LLWS 2022 was never going to be the most responsive, true-to-life simulation on the market, and it doesn't strive for it. The arcade action is exactly what would-be players should expect, and that makes it accessible to all ages and fun for adults in a local multiplayer setting, which is what it should be given the target audience.
Graphics and Presentation
Some arcade games get everything right but the presentation, which can crush the vibe and derail the release.
LLWS 2022 doesn't have that problem.
The iconic Williamsport Howard J. Lamade Stadium gets a fun representation here as do a few other places. Backgrounds aren't stunning or realistic but instead match the cartoonish vibe well. Everywhere is colorful and at least interesting, with notable props like giant floating balloons fitting in well. There are more locales than expected and each boasts a unique feel, plus players can choose whether a game takes place during day or night to change the aesthetic.
Where LLWS really shines though is in some of the sheer hilarity that can unfold on the field. Player walk-up animations vary and entertain—a personal favorite is a kung-fu-styled one where a kid balances on one leg atop a vertical bat, striking a pose. Character faces also emote hilariously during those bullet-time attempts on the ball, reflecting an epic fail or stunning success.
Another fun point is the commentary, which goes from seriously calling the action to funny side notes between innings like the announcers asking in a very monotone voice for somebody to go shut off their car alarm.
It's colorful and lighthearted all the way around and not unlike what one might expect if they walked up to an arcade baseball machine years ago. Modern things like lighting and shadow work actually look pretty good and there are some interesting sweeps of the camera that other baseball games might want to check out, but the presentation is exactly what it should be for the vibe of the package.
Features and More
As one might expect, LLWS 2022 isn't an overly dense experience on the features front.
The game offers local multiplayer up to four players and a mere handful of game modes. With the aim largely centered on local multiplayer, the approach makes a ton of sense.
The Grove is the biggest exception. It's a locker-room-styled section where players can track challenges (and there are many) that unlock stickers, view player stats and customize teams and characters. There is also a spot to view trophies, cards and even a radio to flick through the game's arcade soundtrack.
Customization is rather extensive. Players can tweak appearance, equipment, stances and even intro animations and walk-up songs. Editing teams doesn't provide a ton of different colors, but one can quickly change the whole look of a team's theme.
There is also a tutorial in The Grove. It's not overly interactive and features reading while flipping through pages, but it's informative enough to answer any outlying questions new players might have.
As far as options, the game doesn't offer much beyond the most basic. During multiplayer, the options run through the expected paces of letting players select rules, stadiums and teams, including the ability to turn off things like super abilities and quick-time events.
Performance-wise, load times are impressively snappy, though appear to come at the cost of some serious background pop-in upon loading. That's a give-and-take that's more than acceptable given the charm of the game.
It's not demeaning to say LLWS is exactly what would-be players think it is—a fun arcade game aimed at a younger audience that isn't trying to compete with the bigger baseball games on the market.
And in that vein, it's a resounding success. It's hard to throw criticism at say, the fact every batter seems to result in a hit when it's an arcade game with an offensive slant in order to provide the most entertainment possible, not a strict simulation.
Laced with pick-up-and-play goodies for those curious, LLWS 2022 has an encouragingly solid foundation to expand upon should future iterations release.