Reviewed: September 19, 2008
Released:July 28, 2008
As we near the start of the third year of the Wii, it is amazing that the console still garners as much attention and excitement as it does. Even in my small town, where buying an Xbox 360 or PS3 on their respective launch days was no sweat – the same stores still field constant streams of Wii calls, they still announce Wii shipments, and they still unlock doors to queues of rabid customers on Tuesday mornings.
And after three years, I cannot believe that Nintendo would still be limiting shipments to fabricate a perceived shortage – business practices like those typically only work for a few months before people begin to catch on (see: Beanie Babies).
No, I believe there still is an honest-to-goodness growing interest in Nintendo’s casual gaming console – and every day, more kids, parents, and grandparents are intrigued by the interactive aspects of the Wii’s motion-sensitive controls, by its affordable price-point, and by its freebie pack-in Wii Sports game.
But Wii Sports has been the one downfall of the Wii, but not for the reasons one would think. You see, even though the game was originally intended to be a tech demo and training disc for the Wii Remote’s waggle control – Wii Sports is so well done, and so darn enjoyable, that many Wii owners are completely satisfied with the pack-in title, and never buy another game. Data has proven that while the Wii console has consistently held the console sales records, has the lowest respective percentage of software sales per unit. People are buying the console, but they aren’t buying games.
As a result, while the Wii console excitement is still surging and growing, fewer and fewer top-shelf developers seem to be dedicating time to making unique games for the system. And while it may not initially seem like developers are shying away given growing list of games filling Wii shelves, when gamers realize that a majority of those newer titles are simply ports of existing internet-based mouse-and-keyboard games (many of which can be played for free with a quick internet search), it begins to make sense.
Such is the case for MLB Power Pros 2008 – sporting the joint pedigree of industry stalwarts Konami and 2K, the game is easily the best baseball title for the Wii. With an endless array of gameplay modes, an incredible level of detail and depth, and some of the best AI of any baseball game on the market – MLB Power Pros 2008 is the equivalent of Konami’s amazing Winning Eleven Soccer series.
But MLB Power Pros 2008 is not a Wii game in the least. How can it be that the best baseball game on the Wii is not a Wii game at all? Read on.
The first thing that gamers will notice about MLB Power Pros 2008 is that the game is huge. Bigger, in fact, than any other baseball game I have ever reviewed in my decade-long career. This is immediately realized by the massive menu screen, which gives roughly a dozen different options for gameplay, ranging from the standard training and season modes, to two unique dynasty modes, as well as a host of other options.
This should come as no surprise to hardcore gamers who know that MLB Power Pros 2008 is from the lineage of Konami’s Japan-only Power Pro Baseball series that has been on the top of the Japanese charts for nearly twenty years. Yes, this series – like Konami’s Winning Eleven Soccer – has some serious chops.
The game sports a true Major League Baseball license (hence the MLB in the title), allowing gamer to pick from any of the current American League (AL) and National League (NL) teams for play through the multiple gameplay modes – of which, two modes stand out most; MLB Life and Success.
These two dynasty modes – MLB Life and Success – are very similar in appearance, with only a few minor tweaks to differentiate the two. Regardless of the unique tweaks, each mode takes a purported 40 hours to complete. Yes, 40 hours. But don’t think you will be playing baseball for all of that time, because both modes place the actual baseball play to the side of RPG-like character management.
The MLB Life mode allows gamers to pick either an existing MLB player, or a created character, and work their way through an entire MLB career. As mentioned, actual baseball gameplay takes a back seat to the RPG-style life simulation, in which gamers are tasked with maintaining proper eating, training, and exercise schedules – all while managing the player’s personal and business affairs.
The Success mode expands the MLB Life mode by adding AAA and AA Minor League aspects. Not only do the minor leagues add additional layers of team-based management, but they also include additional tasks centered on university life.
Most of the “action” takes place via a series of long-winded text boxes bookended by multiple choice decision boxes. The fact that the game requires a great deal of decision-making is simply amazing, and its only disappointing when gamers realize that after 20 minutes of text they will only be pitching or batting in an inning or two of a game every now and then.
In the big picture, both modes are virtually identical, and their utter goofiness (Ninja Training?) are going to appeal to only the hardest of the hardcore stat trackers. But the fact that MLB Power Pros 2008 includes two such highly detailed RPG-style gameplay modes is a great gift for gamers.
The actually in-game ball play is on par with the likes of the biggie hardball titles from EA and 2K, which is in surprising contrast to the quirky character models and visuals. Again, this should not come as a surprise with a game that has been seen over two decades of molding and tweaking. But much like Konami’s Winning Eleven, we in the US are always surprised when gems like these wash up on our shores after years of sequester.
The pitching itself uses a new timing-heavy button-based interface that really adds a layer of difficulty. Hardcore baseball fans are sure to enjoy the added skill requirements, but many of the Wii’s core audience are going to find them selves put off by the lack of accessibility.
But as I mentioned earlier, MLB Power Pros 2008 is not a Wii game in the least.
Coming from the lineage of Konami’s Japanese development teams, MLB Power Pros 2008 is a direct port of the PS2 version of the game – and as so, there is only a smidgeon of the Wii’s unique motion control integrated into the gameplay. And when I say smidgeon, I mean that it is buried in the peripheral side games, and not into the core game.
This is incredibly disappointing given the fact that the game touts support for every Wii controller option including Wii Remote, Wii Remote and Nunchuk, GameCube Controller, and the Wii’s Classic Controller. Maybe the wide-ranging controller options should have been a clue that we were not going to be waggling our Wii Remotes to pitch or bat balls – but we were all hoping that would be the case.
Sadly, nearly all controls are performed with combinations of button presses. On a console hosting several interactive baseball titles (Wii Sports, Little League World Series 2008) – the fact that MLB Power Pros 2008 foregoes any motion based batting or pitching controls is a real bummer. The fact that the button-based controls are convoluted and confusing as a result Nintendo’s trend for awkward and asymmetrical button layouts (see: N64, GameCube, and Wii controllers) makes matters worse.
Really, the only truly acceptable controller for MLB Power Pros 2008 is the SNES-inspired Classic Controller, of which few gamers actually own that little gem. Otherwise, expect to fumble a bit with the wonky, unbalanced Wii Remote, and the only way to gain fielder or baserunner control is to click in a Nunchuk attachment, lest the game goes into brainless autopilot mode.
The game does allow waggle control and Mii integration in both the Exhibition and Home Run Derby modes, but the controller response is thin relative to the likes of Little League World Series 2008.
No surprise, MLB Power Pros 2008 sports a very cool Japanese-influenced visual style that is equal parts anime, Nintendo Mii, and Fisher Price. The squatty, limbless, bobble-headed characters glide around the field much like in Wii Sports – yet each somehow retains the likenesses and mannerisms of their real-life counterparts.
But once we look beyond the unique character models, the remaining visuals are not all that impressive. The backgrounds sport a very dated look, and everything looks grainy and muted – which is often the case with cross-platform ports. It is not like we require pristine visuals for our baseball games – but compared to other titles out on the system, and MLB Power Pros 2008 comes up lacking.
On the audio front, MLB Power Pros 2008 is surprisingly remarkable – especially considering the game’s Asian roots, which usually does not equate to North American mainstays like play-by-play and color commentary. MVP might not quite had be audio spit polish of a similarly themed EA title, but the announcer does a darn good job of keeping up with the onscreen action, without rehashing sound bites too frequently.
The background tracks are typically Japanese, but the sound effects are top-shelf fare. Everything from the crack of the bat, to the roar of the crowd is spot-on, and really makes the whole experience that much more fun.
Let’s see what we have here; one of the best baseball games ever developed, two of the deepest and most involved RPG dynasty modes of any baseball sim, a dozen or more gameplay modes and options, unlimited gameplay tweaks, detailed character and team creation, and eighty hours of gameplay – all for an MSRP of $40?
Yeah, MLB Power Pros 2008 is worth every cent for gamers looking for a deep and involved baseball simulation – even if it looks a tad wacky.
The problem is, the game just does not fit in the Wii’s business model; it is NOT motion-controlled, it is NOT user friendly, it is definitely NOT a casual game.
If you made a chart to weigh the Pros and Cons of all of the baseball titles releasing on the Wii this fall, there is no doubt that MLB Power Pros 2008 would come out on top as none of the other titles sport the gameplay, options, depth, or licensing of MLB.
The problem is, MLB Power Pros 2008 will not appeal to a majority of Wii owners who might be expecting motion-based controls when stepping up from Wii Sports. The gameplay is almost entirely button-based, and unless you have a GameCube controller on hand, or have invested in either the Nunchuk or Classic Controller attachments for the Wii, much of the action is on autopilot.
For hardcore baseball simulation fans, I have no problem recommending MLB Power Pros 2008 – but for families looking for an extension of Nintendo’s incredible Wii Sports, I would recommend looking towards titles like Little League World Series 2008 or Mario Super Sluggers that fully embrace the Wii’s model and functionality.