"The Cages: Pro Style Batting Practice"
From: Alpha Unit/Konami
ESRB Rating: Everyone
By Billy O'Keefe
At no point does this review know whether "The Cages: Pro Style Batting Practice" is a smart option for would-be baseball stars who, for all baseball science can tell us, might screw up their swing technique by swinging a Wii remote at a television instead of a real baseball bat at a real baseball. Considering the discrepancies in bat weight, among other obvious factors, it's entirely likely this is more harmful than helpful for serious baseball players.
But taken simply as a video game simulation of a trip to the batting cages — and taking into account the limitations of the Wii even with the MotionPlus attachment in tow — "Cages" does a surprisingly good job at recreating this particular aspect of baseball practice.
With that said, first things first: Though "Cages" is playable without the MotionPlus attachment, the loss of precision that little attachment provides makes this a useless practice tool at best and completely unplayable at worst. If you're at all serious about enjoying "Cages," owning or purchasing a MotionPlus attachment should be viewed as mandatory in order for anything that follows to apply to your experience.
"Cages'" primary interface is as spartan as you might imagine: There's a baseball field, a pitching machine, your bat (which, in the recommended first-person view, you barely even see) and very little else. The machine throws pitches, and players swing the Wii remote like a bat to try and hit the ball.
What makes it work, in addition to a refreshingly unforgiving demand on swing precision, are the options and interface touches the game lays atop the threadbare gameplay. Every pitch is followed by a skippable but very useful swing analyzer that shows players how early, late, high, low, inside or outside their swings are in relation to the ball's trajectory. Players also can customize and save presets for the pitching machine, selecting what pitches it can throw and the range of speeds at which it can throw them. A stat-tracking feature logs your batting average and other numbers, and a calorie counter provides a morale boost for those days when your swing completely fails you.
"Cages" pads its value with a couple competitive multiplayer modes (one for two players, another for four), but nothing in the game's feature set will satisfy players looking for anything resembling a game of organized baseball. The game, along its budget price tag, make no bones about its acute focus, and buyers who expect more from it will do so at their own peril.
What it does though — and taking into account the disclaimers from paragraphs one and three above — it does rather satisfactorily. By no stretch of any imagination is "Cages" a better experience than hitting real baseballs with a real bat, and its value as a training tool is pretty dubious. But for those who go to the cages purely for enjoyment's sake but wouldn't mind an alternative in a pinch when the time or means isn't there, this isn't a bad investment to make.
(c) 2010, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.