Reviewed: April 17, 2005
Released: April 12, 2005
I typically donít get to play many sports titles; I have a sports editor for that, so unless it is something I really want to play on my own time I generally donít play 80% of whatís out there when it comes to sports. I now have the rare opportunity, at least until my sports guy gets his own PSP, to play and review some sports titles and what better way to start than with 989 Sports, MLB.
Baseball is a tricky sport for me. I donít like to watch it, pretty boring if you ask me, but I do enjoy playing it when itís done right and 989 gets it very right with their latest handheld edition of Americaís Favorite Pastime. Essentially a port of the PS2 version of MLB 2006, MLB on the PSP is a picture-perfect translation, both in visuals, sound, and gameplay.
MLB offers the standard single game and season modes as well as multiplayer for both Wi-Fi and over the Internet. You can also manage teams and let the season unfold based on your decisions or micro-manage the teams given a six-second window to command your team before each play in a game.
MLB offers several styles of play that all translate into how easy it is to control the players and their various functions. You can have manual control over everything (hard) or opt for computer-assisted plays or even fully automated plays like base running and fielding. A fully manual game will tax the skills of even the most skilled baseball player.
As with any baseball game it all boils down to pitching and hitting. MLB features a unique pitching mode that puts up an arc meter much like a golf game. You must then time the power and accuracy of your pitch to put the ball across the plate. This makes the game just as much about your skill as the ability of your pitcher, although their attributes will affect the speed of the meter. Itís truly a remarkable system and for the first time ever in a baseball game I actually pitched so bad that runners were able to advance while my catcher was scrambling for the ball.
You still pick your pitch with the face buttons and aim your pitch with the A-pad using the 9-block strike zone grid. It can be a bit touchy to accurately aim your pitch but it worked more often than not. It just takes a light touch on the A-pad.
On the other end of the pitch is the batterís box where you can swing, check your swing, bunt, or if playing in the advanced modes, can actually aim for a specific grid of the strike zone with spectacular results if you connect. You can also try to guess the incoming pitch and if correct will be granted a power bonus if you connect.
Fielding is the third critical area of gameplay. Once hit, the landing zone of the ball will appear as a large circle in the outfield and depending on the skill of the fielder, you will have another circle of varying size that you must center in that circle to catch the ball. Itís an ingenious system that blends your skill with that of the player making the play. Once caught you simply tap the face button that corresponds to the base you want to throw to Ė you can even preload your throw before the catch for a quicker play.
MLB offers a complete package right on par with anything you would find on a full-sized console and the sheer number of options allow you to fine tune the gameplay to any skill level you desire. You can do everything yourself, let the computer play for you, or anywhere in between.
I had my concerns that something as big as a baseball field could fit onto my PSP screen, but 989 managed to do just that and keep everything big enough to recognize while maintaining a perfect level of zoom. Sure, the ball will vanish off the top of the screen on pop flies but the targeting circle is what you need to be watching. I was very impressed that they even kept in the PIP views of the players on base, tiny as they might be.
Player modeling and animation is exquisite, obviously the same mo-capped moves from the PS2 version only looking much sharper on the PSP display. The amount of physical detail is staggering with shadows and even puffs of dust.
The baseball fields themselves are recreated with stunning detail including scoreboards, signage and the obligatory thousands of cardboard fans propped up in the seats. At least the fans have two or three animation routines so they do move a bit even though nobody scatters when I crush one into the bleachers.
The play animations are excellent including a lot of animations you typically wouldnít expect to find like my aforementioned catcher scrambling for a wild pitch, fielders bobbling the ball, and some impressive diving catches by my guys in the infield.
Wow Ė I would have never expected this much accurate or detailed commentary on a major console let alone a handheld version of MLB. This is some of the absolute best play-by-play next to ESPN, and anyone not knowing you are playing a game will think you are watching a baseball game on a portable TV.
The music is your traditional sports style tunes, same stuff youíre likely to hear on network broadcasts. Most of it is confined to the menus and I really canít recall any organ music or 7th inning stretch chants from my time spent with the game. I was too focused on the commentary anyway.
The rest of the audio is basically the crack of the bat and the cheers of the crowds. Itís all great stuff and works to flesh out the baseball experience.
Who can put a value on a baseball game or any sports title for that matter? As long as itís fun to play in the first place there is no reason to ever stop playing until the next bigger and better edition is unveiled. MLB is a fantastic baseball game that will offer countless hours of challenging fun whether you want to play, manage, or both.
The online and wireless play certainly gives this game some additional value above the singe-player experience. I have yet to find out if there will be (or if it is even possible) roster updates via the Internet. Itís easy enough to use the Line-Up feature to tweak the rosters anyway.
Keeping in mind I am generally indifferent to sports games, I can say without hesitation that Sony and 989 have smacked this one out of the park. MLB is a shining example of a sports game not only working on a handheld, but actually holding its own with the big console systems.
If you love baseball and want to take your game on the road then MLB is the obvious (if not only) choice. Even when something eventually does come along to challenge it, 989 has set a very high bar for baseball simulation with MLB.