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MLB Power Pros 2008

 

MLB Power Pros 2008

ESRB: Everyone - E
Platform: Nintendo Wii
Category: Sports
 
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Developer: Konami
Publisher: 2K Sports

Features

Wii Remote and Nunchuk
Classic Controller
GameCube Controller

When I think of what a videogame version of baseball is I think of realistic graphics and sound, team management, stat tracking and many other things associated with bringing the "Great American Past Time" to life. So needless to say, when I was offered the opportunity to review MLB Power Pros 2008 for the Nintendo Wii I didn't know what I was getting into given that the outside of the box is filled with cute "Mii" like video game representations of real life baseball players. However, once I opened the game's case, saw the extremely thick manual, and eventually popped the game disc into the Wii, I was extremely surprised with what this game had to offer.

Graphics

The visual style to MLB Power Pros 2008 is very unique, especially given the nature of the gameplay. When you look at the box art you know that this is not your typical looking baseball game. When summing up the style, one word immediately comes to mind: cute. Yes I said it; MLB Power Pros 2008 is cute. Each MLB character is quite stylized and looks like nothing seen in a baseball video game. The best way to really describe the players would be to say they are really “Mii’ed” out. That being said you will definitely recognize the big name players. For example, Manny Ramirez’ character has long braided hair while Chase Utley has his trademark sideburns. Each character is well animated too. Such things as jumping for a skipping ball, sliding into home plate, or diving for a foul line grounder are all very well done. I was somewhat taken back by the amount of animation in such a cute looking game. Heck, I was even surprised by how the batter’s eyes would not only follow a ball across the plate, but how there were very distinct facial animations for specific swings too.

As for the stadiums and crowds, I was somewhat impressed with what I saw. Unlike fellow staffer Trevor H, who reviewed the PS2 version of this game, I liked how each stadium was represented and what I saw on screen. For example, we were in Los Angeles for E3 in mid July and we got some time to attend a Dodgers baseball game. It was my first time at Dodger Stadium so I took in the sights. So when I played a game in Power Pro 2008 with their representation of the same stadium I could recognize everything right down to the placements of the famed two scoreboards in left and right outfield. The best way to define each stadiums depiction in the game is that they are a cartoonized version of the real thing, simple but quite effective. As for the crowds in each stadium, they were just as cute as the characters on the field. That being said they were rendered in a lower resolution then the on-field characters, and there were quite a few of the same types of individual crowd members, but they were colorful and managed to fill the seats quite well. They also moved a bit to give the crowd some life but it was nothing special.

If there is one thing that really disappointed me amongst all the good in the visuals is that the Wii itself is capable of more but MLB Power Pros 2008 does not take advantage of the horsepower. Sure, I have said that the game looks good, and it does, but there is no doubt that the visuals can look better. While at E3 I had a chance to play Mario Sluggers at Nintendo’s room, and with that in mind, and when comparing the two baseball games Power Pros need to step it up a notch to match those cute and cartoony visuals of Mario Slugger. And when you watch the opening trailer of MLB Power Pros 2008 you hope that the game will one day look as good as that. So at the end of the day although the graphics look good they can definitely be improved for next year’s version, even on the Wii.

Sound

The audio in MLB Power Pros 2008 is pretty solid. What really struck me was the level of the commentary in a game that looks like it should be simple and cute. There were up to date comments during the game by Jack Merluzzi, whose name I entered into Google and I discovered he is a videogame voice actor. I really enjoyed that he managed to have useful input. This was evident when I had a batter come up late in a game, and the commentating noted that he was the last batter in the rotation and that he had singled, and struck out a specific number of times leading up to the current ‘up at bat’. But like any other sports game commentary, it can get repetitive after extended playtime.

As for the sound effects, they are somewhat simple, but they match the on-screen action to a tee. From the crack of a bat, to the slap of the ball hitting the leather of a glove, to the ump yelling “strike”, everything is solid and gets the job done. The crowd also reacts to specific plays appropriately. It was nice to hear them raise the volume level for a great play (e.g. double play or strike out against the opposing team) or keep the volume low during a lull in the game.

As for music in the game, not a lot of it was noticeable to me as it really only played during the menus. There was some music in between field changes or between innings, and this music did seem appropriate to what one would hear at a real stadium as it was necessary filler.

Gameplay

This is the second year that the Power Pro series has seen a release in North America. It already has a long running history in Japan with quite a devout following. For me personally, this is the first year that I have had a chance to play any of the games in the series and let me tell you, looks can be deceiving. My first impression was that MLB Power Pros 2008 was going to be a cute and simple affair on the Wii. However my initial impression couldn't have been any more wrong. MLB Power Pro 2008 is a simulation styled sports game that manages to throw in some interesting and original RPG elements to make the overall gameplay deep and somewhat engaging. Trust me, once you skim through the novel of an instruction manual, and spend some time surfing through the in-game menus, you will see that you are in for a much more complex experience then the game's box art would lead you to believe.

There numerous modes to play in MLB Power Pro 2008, and as mentioned above, the RPG elements that are included make for a more interesting affair. In Success mode you develop a minor league player and try to make it into the Big Leagues. You actually get to create the name and look of your player in this mode. Once you create your player you have to develop him into a well rounded minor leaguer who starts his career on a team known as the Green Apples. Your goal is to make it from Double A to Triple A and eventually the Major Leagues. You will get to practice and play games to boost your attributes. However, not only do you have to worry about your baseball skills, but you also have to deal with life events such as finding work (part-time) and maintaining your friends. The first time that I actually went out to a restaurant or local park, and certain events were triggered, it really hit home how different this aspect of the game is. You only have a limited amount of time to get your player from the minors to the majors too, so you have to be wise at the tasks you do.

A mode similar, but yet quite different, to Success mode is the MLB Life mode. This has been touted to be a new addition to the Power Pro series of games. Here you take on the role of a Big League ballplayer and you must be successful in all facets of his life. So not only do you need to be a great ball player on the field, you also need to be successful off the field as well. You will need to do such things as build up relationships with friends and teammates, get a hobby, buy a home, and maintain your public image to name a few. This mode comes to an end when you enter your 20th year in your career, reach the age of 60, or you contact your manager and tell him you are retiring.

Both the Success mode and the MLB Life mode are pretty interesting twists on the baseball genre. You not only have to be concerned with your on-field athletics, but you also have to manage your personal life in both modes as well, but with the focus of each being quite different. The RPG elements are very much alive and kicking here and it makes for quite a bit of identification with your on-screen persona. Personally, although I am not an RPG fan, nor a total baseball fan, the Success mode and MLB Life mode were quite intriguing and I enjoyed being able to go through them as my choices affected what my future would hold for my character(s).

For those looking to just manage a team in a Season mode, MLB Power Pros 2008 has you covered here as well. That being said, be prepared for some RPG elements here too as it wouldn't be a Power Pro game without them. As the mode suggests, you will stick with a team through every game of the regular season. Your goal is to make it to the divisional title series and carry on through to the World Series finals. You will take on the role of a general manager of a team of your choice. Your tasks for managing the team will include such things as hiring and trading players, managing budgets, getting your team to practice, and buying equipment. You will find yourself focusing a lot on your players and team stats as well as scouting for other players. This is definitely a mode for the die-hard simulation fan as the time spent on just figuring out how to improve your squad and what positive business decisions you should make for the good of your team is quite daunting. During a season you can play a full game with your team during the schedule, or you can engage in a fast game where you can watch a very quick version of a full game unfold in front of you. I actually started a full season, but as I played I realized that the depth and commitment was too much for me to do, especially if I was to sample everything that MLB Power Pros 2008 has to offer before writing this review.

Along with the modes I have already detailed, there is some other standard baseball fare offered. The following is MLB Power Pro 2008's other modes:

- Exhibition: Play as your favorite team against a friend or CPU.

- Home Run: Choose your favorite player and try to hit a whole lot of homers.

- League: Battle it out with your friend and the computer in a league with two to six teams.

- Practice: Work on different types of controls such as pitching, batting or fielding. Here you can not only work on individual skills, but also strategies (e.g. offensive/defensive) that you can employ when playing a full game.

- Shop: Spend the Power Major points that you earn to buy such things as baseball cards, batting styles, pitching forms, alternative uniforms and stadiums.

- Baseball Cards: Take a look at the baseball cards you have acquired.

- Arrange: Build your own ball club using any players or teams that you may like.

- Power Pros via Wii Remote: Play Exhibition mode or Home Run mode using the Wii Remote. Here you will be able to use some of the motion sensing abilities of the Wii Remote to play a game. Although this is a great mode, it is far too simple to really enjoy. You use the Wii Remote to hit and pitch, and that is it. The Wii will take care of the rest of the game for you (e.g. running and fielding) which takes most of the fun out of it. The best thing about this mode is that the really young one's may be able to have some fun at this mode given that they only need to focus on the hitting and pitching.

In terms of overall control, the game utilizes a few different control schemes depending on what controller you choose. Amazingly enough MLB Power Pros 2008 allows you to choose to use the Wii Remote and Nunchuk, the Classic Controller or the GameCube Controller. Each method is tailored for each controller. I found I enjoyed using the Classic Controller the most as it just felt right. That being said you may opt for one of the other choices. There is a bit of a learning curve for people who want to master the nuances of the games control, and there will be a few instances of multiple button hitting until you get the controls down pat. Actually, the more I think about it the more I remember having a few bouts of 'hit all buttonitus' given that the ball was not delivered where or when I had hoped. However, with time you should be able master everything.

Hitting and Pitching is quite simple. You have two options when batting: good contact or big swing. The latter makes the cursor much smaller (sweet spot) but should you hit it bang on the money the pay off can be much larger. Regardless of what swing you choose, when you are in the batter's box you only need to follow where the ball is going and make contact with it, but the size of the cursor and your players stats determine how easy this can be and how large the cursor is. I found that I was able to hit the ball with some sort of consistency. I didn't hit a lot of homers, but I was able to hit the ball and stand a chance to get a runner on base. Pitching is just as easy as hitting. You only need to choose your pitch, aim it and release the ball.

If there is any weakness to the controls I would have to say that it is in the fielding. There were many times that a simple play turned out to be a disaster. For example, I can't count how many times that a fly ball was in the air and my second baseman was assigned as the one who was closest to the ball when in actuality the outfielder was closer. This allowed the ball to drop with no one near it and enabled the opposing team to get more bases then should have been allowed. Another issue I had was with how many times the computer AI managed double plays in a game. It was far more then I was able too pull off and it was even noticed by my wife, who's father coached Team Canada in the Little League World Series. So, for an outside observer to notice something like that, then there must be some sort of issue here. Regardless, the fielding didn't totally break this game, it just made for some annoyances now and then.

MLB Power Pro 2008 offers some multiplayer mayhem; however this can only be done locally. The Nintendo Wii is capable of online play, but this was not implemented for this version of the game. This is somewhat surprising given that a game like this would have benefited from online play. That being said, the local multiplayer is fun but I hope for an improvement in this area next year.


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