Review: Pro Yakyū Famista Evolution (Switch) - Japan-based Nintendo Podcasts, Videos & Reviews!


Friday, August 10, 2018

Review: Pro Yakyū Famista Evolution (Switch)

by Danny Bivens

Sound gameplay mechanics with a family friendly coat of paint.

When Bandai Namco announced that they were bringing their legendary Family Stadium baseball series to the Switch, I was excited. The series has been going strong since 1986 and has appeared on every Nintendo platform with the exception of the Wii U. The games typically review well in outlets like Famitsu and the thought of having a a fully featured baseball title on the Switch was something I’ve been yearning for. Now, the wait is over and Famista Evolution is finally here.

Sticking to the traditional roots of past Family Stadium games, the gameplay in Famista Evolution is easy to get the hang of. Offensively, there is a standard swing (A), a limited use power swing (Y) and an option to bunt. For pitching, there’s a regular pitch (A), a special pitch (Y, for curveballs, sliders, etc) and an action to pick off runners (B). Fielding stays true to old school baseball games as all on field players (that aren’t assigned to a base) move in the same direction simultaneously. The target player also has the ability to make diving stops and catches. I’m typically not a fan of goofy power-ups in my sports titles, however, the slight additions here don’t upset the gameplay. Of course, it’s still arcade style baseball, but there’s enough realism for guys like me to scratch that pseudo sim itch.

Overall, the gameplay is fast and responsive. Even when playing the traditional nine innings of baseball, a full game will only take around 20-25 minutes. There are also options to play three or six inning games for those with less time on their hands. While gameplay in Famista Evolution is intuitive and fun to play, there were a few niggles, namely with fielder positioning. When on defense, players have the option to change where their fielders are positioned. Typically, the “Normal” position is fine, however, I found myself in numerous situations where the opposing team just slammed the ball over my defenders making me have to run all the way to the warning track to field the ball. It is possible to opt for deeper positioning, however the sweet spot would be somewhere in between the two. It’s not a deal breaker, but I do find myself positioning my fielders deep more often than not.

All of the Nippon Pro Baseball teams and players are represented in Famista Evolution as well as a handful of other baseball leagues from Japan. University teams, fringe league teams, team mascots and even the women’s Japanese softball team have made the cut. Evolution does have in-game purchases under a “Special” section of the menu for what they call “Team Customize Items.” Gamers can go to the eShop from an in-game portal to purchase a team pack of cosmetic goods including special uniforms and other visual frills, such as team based strike/out icons. This sounds egregious. However, it should be noted that this is not done in an in-your-face manner but rather is tucked away under a number of menus.

Famista Evolution is a packed game with numerous game modes. While the majority of the game can be played with traditional controls, Bandai Namco did add a motion control mode that can be played with 2-4 players. All of the fielding is done automatically, allowing players to focus on pitching and batting. It feels good enough but the computer controlled defense sometimes makes some questionable, bad decisions. Overall, the mode seems to be aimed more at families wanting to play some simple baseball with their kids.

Additionally, another Joy-Con only mode, Board de Famista (a digital baseball board game) is available. This mode can be played on the TV or vertically in Tabletop mode with one or two players. When playing on the TV, the screen is cropped to simulate playing vertically, which makes it a bit hard to see. Players use the joysticks for pitching and hitting. The goal is to try to get the ball to various spots on the board that equate to hits, runs or outs. It’s a nice throwback addition, but if you want a deeper baseball experience, there are plenty of other modes to turn to.

In the “Familiar Famista” section, players can access exhibition games, training mode, and a Pro Baseball Pennant Race. The Pennant Race lets gamers choose a team and go through all 143 games of the season in an effort to reach the “Climax Series.” The numbers of innings, difficulty level, the ability to play extra innings and DH can all be set. As is the norm with sports titles, team and league statistics are kept - wins, losses, batting averages, ERA, hits and a whole lot more. The Pennant Race is a deep mode and is a must play for those that want a no nonsense baseball experience.

The popular Dream Pennant makes a return in Famista Evolution. In this mode, players take control of a team that they can customize and upgrade. Starting with a base team, you’ll have to collect Famista Points (FP) and use them in gacha style machines in an attempt to get better player cards or items. You’re free to use the players in games, camps and various events found throughout the mode. The goal here is to level them up and make them and your team stronger.

While traveling around the game board, you’ll encounter numerous characters. They will offer various challenges that if completed, will net you FP. Even in the middle of a game of baseball, the crowd will also request specific actions (such as get X number of hits, don’t allow any hits, etc) for more coveted FP. There really is a lot to do in Dream Pennant and for those looking for something different in a baseball game, this might come as a breath of fresh air. Personally, I could do without it but I can’t deny there are hours of enjoyment sitting in this mode alone.

An RPG mode called Famista Fantasy makes an appearance in this iteration of Famista. After naming your hero, players go on a quest through a handful of maps filled with powers, in game money and enemies. When players encounter an enemy, they face off in a battle that has the baddie pitching them the ball in a pinball-like mode. The goal is to hit the ball to cause it to ricochet off of bumpers and multipliers. The resulting number represents how much damage you deal to the enemy. Not taking down the enemies in a timely manner will result in death.

There are five maps to complete. Each map requires the player to find a boss character who is guarding a set of stairs that lead to the next level. You are limited in the number of steps you can take on your way to the boss. The goal is to try to grab as many upgrade items as you can before getting to the boss. If you die or complete the mode, you are then presented with a special custom character card that can be used in other modes of the game (namely Dream Pennant). Famista Fantasy is a fun addition to the game and the light baseball mechanics keep things interesting. (If you want to see an in depth play through of this mode, be sure to check out my nearly hour long stream of it here.)

Online play also makes an appearance in Famista Evolution. In these one-on-one matches, games are set to three innings. It takes a few minutes to get started, but once the game starts, it’s lag free baseball. Players can play in ranked matches or against friends, and their statistics - wins, losses, batting average and more - are put into an online leaderboard. Matchmaking is pretty quick, but I did find myself matched up against the top ranked player in Japan in three out of four matches in the same evening. I’ll chalk that up to bad luck or coincidental timing on my part.

Bandai Namco has always gone with a simple approach with the Famista series visually. While the stadiums themselves are quite realistic, the player models and cards retain the chibi, pudgy look that the series has been known for since the 80s. Games take place at different times during the day and have appropriate lighting effects and shadows to match. The game runs smoothly and I never experienced any issues with the frame rate throughout my experience. The presentation is top notch and the playful music fits the family friendly arcade action perfectly.

I’m not going to sugar coat this when it comes to the language barrier - buy at your own risk. There is a lot of Japanese to navigate around so some language proficiency is advisable. From a pure gameplay perspective, you can still have some fun with the Evolution but you’ll be missing out on some of the deeper aspects of the game, like Famista Fantasy or the Dream Pennant mode. If you just want to play some baseball or dive into the Pennant Race, you should be okay.

Pro Yakyū Famista Evolution offers a lot of content and some fantastic gameplay mechanics.
Accessibility and getting the most out of game might be an issue for those that can’t understand Japanese, however there is a still a lot that can be enjoyed without that knowledge. Aside from a few niggles with the fielding, Famista Evolution is easily the most fully featured baseball game on the market and should be on the radar of serious baseball fans.

Final Score: 9.0

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