Virgin Mastertronic/£29.95/Sega

Hut, hut, hut... er, sorry, wrong sport. Duck, duck, duck. This ain't no stint with Yogi bear down in Jellystone Park. (Eh? Ed) No siree, this is for real. You - you old, red-blooded bastion of America's national sport - get to play against America's cream. Don your balloon trousers and peaked cap and pick your pew inside the diamond. Yo man, let's hit the dust. Get a life. (Get on with it, man. Ed.)

It's up to you to manage a baseball team and try to take them to the World Series. You can play American Baseball against the computer or, if you want to instil a real air of competition, play against a friend. Four modes of play exist: exhibition game, tournament, watch mode and home run contest.

In exhibition mode you choose one of 26 National League franchises and get to compete in three games to find the best players. In tournament mode you must pick a team either from the American League or National League, and attempt to progress through Division Championships, League Championship and finally the World Series.

Watch mode is simply a demo in which the computer (ahem) plays with itself. You can learn a lot by checking out what the computer does so it's a good idea to watch a few computer versus computer games. Home Run Contest mode gives you the chance to improve your batting skills. Here you select the team and players to use and then control them as they take turns to bat. The objective is to hit as many home runs as possible. Bit like rounders really.

Of course, tournament mode is the major one. Choose one of 26 teams from up and down America and one pitcher from the selected team. As manager, it's important to make a good decision, as it can be the difference between winning and losing, and is instrumental in determining whether you keep your job at the end of the season.

Depending on the side you chose to control, you'll have different ways of starting. When batting, you'll need to move your batter left and right to get him into the correct position and then swing when the pitcher throws. If you're defending, you need to scan the game scene and choose a pitch. When a batter hits the ball he immediately makes a run towards first base - told you it was like rounders. If it's a good hit you can keep pressing the button to send him off to second, third and then home. If you hit a home run into the crowds, the batter will automatically run round the lot.

When the time comes to control the pitcher, left curve, right curve or a speedup ball can all be thrown. As pitching is one of the most important skills of the game, it needs to be mastered straight away.

American Baseball's strong point is the enormous control you have over how your team moves and reacts. Generally though, this means the winner is usually the most nimble with the control pad. Unfortunately, it also means that it's difficult to remember which controls are needed in particular instances, and you'll often need to hit the pause button just to take stock of the game scene and assess your progress.

If you like baseball then there's little doubt that you're going to enjoy this, particularly if you intend putting in the kind of hours needed to take a team all the way to the World Series. It's unfortunate that there's no way of saving progress - it can be very annoying to get as far as the World Series and have to switch off and lose the position. Otherwise, Baseball is excellent. It has some massive sprites which move very fast and are for the most part well animated. Combine these with an engrossing version of baseball and you have one hell of a game.

Zero magazine

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