The console version of Sonyís surprise hit MLB has made its way to the PSP. Due to the limitations of the PSP, some sacrifices were made along the way. With a full season mode and all the major league teams, stadiums, and players, MLB is turning out to be a hit when it comes to portable baseball gaming.
Presentation/Graphics : 90
MLB is easy on the eyes in many respects. Player models have that PS2 quality. The graphics are detailed enough to provide readable uniforms. Stadiums are faithfully recreated though all advertising is fictitious. It would have been nice to seem the Citgo sign creeping over the Green Monster. Still, my local Minute Maid Park has all the correct design features. The animations in the game are very impressive. Starting with the batters, there are multiple batting animations depending on whether a batter totally whiffs or not. In the field, the camera zooms out yet the detail is still more than sufficient to pick out exactly what is going on. Infielders scoop up balls and may have to twist to throw out the runner at first. First basemen sometimes leap to grab a poorly thrown ball. In the outfield, a running catch is lifelike. All fielders have realistic leaps and dives. If there is a problem with the game, it is the camera. No camera seems ideal at picking up pitch location. Late breaking balls are particularly problematic. Another problem is that due to the small size of the PSP screen, some hits to the outfield are difficult to track down. The camera zooms to an outfield view that sometimes leaves you trying to quickly track down your outfielder.
Presentation/Audio : 75
While the play-by-play and commentary may occasionally skip a beat in terms of being a player behind on the calls, overall the audio is very good and gives the feel of a radio style broadcast. Because the cut scenes were removed, you miss the things like players walking up to the plate with public address announcements or television style replays recapping the action. Still, the running audio does keep you abreast of both the current gameís action as well as if players are on a hitting streak. Away from the airwaves, the sounds of the game are spectacular. The sound of the ball hitting the catcherís glove is perfect, and the crack of the bat is loud and crisp.
Interface/Options : 65
Due to the rather limited size of the UMD compared to a DVD, you would expect there to be an overall decrease in content associated with MLB. Additionally, with PSPs coming with paltry 32 MB memory sticks you simply canít cram all the career mode information we sports gamers thrive on. What you get with MLB is a watered down version of the console edition. The modes are scarce Ė single game and season. The season mode still packs quite a bit of punch in terms of entertainment value, however. Sound and video options are limited but sufficient to enjoy the game. Gameplay adjustments are available, including difficulty, AI tuning, and controls.
Gameplay : 85
Where this game shines is the play. Because the cut scenes have been removed, the game plays very fast. Expect 30 minute games as the norm. The game has three difficulty levels, and as you progress up the scale, the game becomes less of a button press affair and more of one that requires you to guess pitch location and type. While you are at the plate, the opposing pitcher throws a good mix of balls and strikes, and pitch speed is distributed realistically as well. Prior to the pitch, you can check the current at bat pitch history. The batting interface shows a 3 by 3 zone chart with varying degrees of hot and cold portions. Unfortunately, you canít pull up anything else. I would prefer to have current pitcher and batter stats, including seasonal stats, at my disposal. Once the ball is in play, baserunning is fairly standard stuff. Baserunner speed varies and causes you to play strategically. The defensive AI is very good at throwing to the cutoff man on deep flyballs or changing defensive alignment depending on whether itís a double play or run protection situation.
When youíre on defense, you can select from four pitches. After selecting pitch type, the thumbstick positions the pitch and the pitch is thrown with three-press button action. One press to start the sequence, the next press to set the pitch strength, and the final press is an accuracy gauge. Miss your mark and youíll likely throw the ball in the dirt or have a passed ball. With runners on base, the button press sequence accelerates and makes getting the right accuracy and strength tough. As your pitcher tires, his inability to hit the strike zone is tangible. The game features a bullpen which requires relief pitchers to warm up to be effective. One feature missing from the game is defensive positioning for your squad. This is done automatically by the game. While it speeds up the game and takes away some of the thought process, purists will miss this aspect.
Scores are realistic throughout the season. Itís rare for a flurry of scoring to occur. Also, doubles and triples are fairly rare. You can increase the frequency of extra base hits a tad by adjusting things like throw accuracy, but there is no baserunning speed adjustment. The game is less realistic with hits, where double digit hits are common for each team.
Replay Value : 90
One of my complaints with console baseball games is that games can take forever to complete. MLB features quick games though at the sacrifice of cut scenes. With a handheld, itís easy to find a 30 minute block for a quick game. Iím finding Iím actually progressing well into my 162 game seasons rather than giving up a portion of the way through the year. Even if you get disrupted you can simply put the PSP in sleep mode and start the game where you last left off.
Overall : 85
Despite a few shortcomings, this game is a blast to play. It is the best handheld baseball game I have played. This is due in large part to the easy pickup and play nature of the game. Itís not a full simulation yet itís not an arcade slugfest either. Itís one of those games that gets the balance just right.