Enjoying a sports based videogame is usually a hit or miss experience. There are those who live and die by the simulation aspects of a title and there are those who don
Memory Stick Duo (1 MB)
Wi-fi Compatible (Ad Hoc & Infrastructure)
Enjoying a sports based videogame is usually a hit or miss experience. There are those who live and die by the simulation aspects of a title and there are those who don’t care about stats and realism and enjoy a more arcadey type of experience. For me, I do not favour any one of these beliefs as my main goal is to play any sports title and hope to enjoy it. Baseball has never been high on my list of sports games to play but after some time with Sony’s portable version of MLB for the PSP I can happily say that I am somewhat converted and enjoy playing 9 innings more now then I have ever had before.
I have to admit; the power of the PSP does amaze me and if the early batch of games is any indication of what is on the horizon owners of Sony’s portable machine are in for a good ride. With this thought fresh in one’s mind my gameplay with MLB has made me realized that this game also shows what the PSP can do. The character models are very solid and they all animate quite smoothly. I was amazed watch the screen of my PSP as my outfielder leapt up in the air in an effort to snatch a ball that was just going out of the park. The overall framerate of the game was steady as well. There was only the odd occasion when there was some slowdown, but this was not due to the in-game engine but seemed to be a result of the transitions when the UMD was accessing various sections of the game. Each player also has different batting stances and swing animations. Although I am not a diehard baseball fan, I did recognize some of the distinct stances of marquee players. Stadiums in MLB are also very well done. Living on the west coast of Canada I tend to follow two teams, the Seattle Mariners (they are just across the border) and the Toronto Blue Jays (the only Canadian team in the Major Leagues). Both these stadiums are very well represented and are faithfully recreated in this handheld game. As well other stadiums seem to be identical to their real life versions but I only have seen these on T.V. so my opinion is very limited in that sense.
I must say that this is another area of the game that managed to impress me. Everything from the roar of the crowd, which increases as the home team begins to excel, to the sounds of the crack of the ball off a bat or the slap of leather as the ball goes into the glove, sound quite realistic. The various stadiums were definitely alive as everything one would associate with a baseball game is evident in MLB. 989 Sports also made sure to include a very robust commentary as well and this is pretty incredible considering that this is a portable game. The comments are very specific to the situations at hand. I had to chuckle as one of my first games with MLB resulted in me swinging at a garbage pitch. Upon completing my swing I was treated with the commentator saying “What on Earth is he swinging at?” Although I hated to be criticized, he was exactly right. For those looking for any issues in the sound department I did notice that the commentary does lag occasionally, but that seems to be the way in almost every sports game. Regardless of what I see as a very little negative for the sound in MLB, 989 Sports has done a great job bringing the sounds of the game into the tiny PSP.
Baseball on any system, be it a home console or portable machine, can be a tough game to develop because baseball is a game that is deep and has the player doing a lot of tasks during a both a season and a single game. For those who are wondering, MLB seems to be a miniaturized version of MLB 2006 for the PS2. When I played this game I played it with the mindset that this is a title specifically for the PSP. There are those who make the comparisons to the bigger console version but I don’t think that is fair as there are some limitation to the PSP, such as memory and the smaller capacity of the storage medium. With this in mind I think that 989 Sports did a great job with their first baseball on Sony’s little handheld.
Control in this game is pretty slick, given that there are not as many buttons on the PSP as any controller, and that there is only one analog nub on the machine. As well, 989 Sports was very kind enough to provide a slew of assists in this game (e.g. fielding or running). The purists may see this as a bad thing, but adding these assists is actually quite positive as it makes MLB more accessible to the casual gamers who have never played a baseball title more oriented toward being a simulation. Everything from fielding, pitching to batting is very easy to pick up and as one gets proficient as they log more play time the various options can be changed to make it a little harder and a little more in-depth. I could go on for days about the nuances of the control system, but I am only going to sum up the pitching and batting, as they are the mainstay of any baseball game. MLB utilizes a series of cursors and meters for pitching. The pitching meter is fast or slow depending on the type of pitch you wish to use, who the pitcher is (e.g. each pitcher has a speciality) and how fatigued he is. As for batting, well this was really a highlight for me. During the time spent at the plate, the game allows one to guess what type of pitch will be thrown. Should one make a correct guess a little red cursor will pop up on the screen and auto target where the pitch will go. It then becomes a matter of timing the hit right. Even if one is to guess wrong the ball still can be hit. This feature made MLB even better for this reviewer as I was able to garner a feeling of satisfaction every time I guessed the pitch right and smacked a good hit.
I mentioned that there are some limitations to the PSP, one being the storage medium that the games are made on. Don’t get me wrong, the UMD format has a much larger storage capacity then anything on previous handhelds, but even at 1.8 GB developers still can only provide so much. And given the amount of commentary and the level of graphics I assume 1.8 GB fills up quite quickly for this game. For those looking for such things as career or franchise modes one has to look to the home consoles for these options. However, MLB on the PSP does have a pretty decent season mode. There are quite a few things to do in this mode and there are also plenty of options. One can control the length of the season, the options for each game and many other facets of how a match may be played out. For those who don’t like to play every single game in a season specific games can be simulated or one can even watch a-la a spectator type mode. In terms of any form of roster management, free agent players can be picked up during a season and trades can be negotiated should anyone wish to have their favorite player on a team where he does not usually belong. Of interest here is that trades are negotiated using what is called an ‘interest meter’ though the season and this adds a little more strategy to getting what may be the best trades for the season that one is playing. Overall I would say that the Season Mode in MLB does a pretty good job of giving the gamer a management role, especially knowing that this is a handheld game.
Those who play sports games also look at the overall presentation of the game. When playing sports games one wants it to be as close to T.V. as possible. Look at all the 2K games; they had the feel of ESPN down to a tee. Well, MLB for the PSP is pretty good as there are various views that one can play from and there are also the little details such as windows for base runners and running commentary throughout the game. However, for those looking for that real T.V. experience will have to look at the home consoles for that enveloping experience as there are no cut-scenes or instant replays for those real show stopping plays. Again I attribute this to the fact that 989 Sports has put so much stuff on the 1.8 GB disk that they had to cut some corners somewhere.
989 Sports has also made sure there is a multiplayer option for MLB. Play is limited to two players, both ad-hoc (locally) and infrastructure (online). Now I didn’t get as much time with the multiplayer as I had hoped as I was focusing on the single player and how this game played, but what limited time I did get helped me get some understanding of the multiplayer play. First off the number of options available in versus mode is dummied down when playing against a human opponent. Finding a game is quite easy as one simply waits in a lobby for a challenger to come and play. All the great looking graphics are intact and the game moves quite smoothly. When playing online there is the occasional bout of lag that is experienced and from what I understand it is the result of the servers. When lag was experienced it was quite a negative for the overall gameplay. As this is 989 Sports’ first baseball game on the PSP it is assumed that the multiplayer experience can only get better.
989 Sports has shown they have the skills and desire to produce a pretty good product for the PSP. MLB is a game with great graphics, great sound and great gameplay, all wrapped up in a portable package. There are some minor issues, such as the odd bout of slowdown and a lag in the announcing and the online multiplayer can be laggy, but this hardly takes away from the overall feeling of this game. The only thing 989 Sports needs to do is make a more robust multiplayer mode and this game will reach the ranks of stellar for a portable baseball. For the casual gamer, or newbie to a baseball simulation like me, this game can be picked up and played right off the get-go. For those diehard baseball fans who want to take their gaming on the road and lead their favorite team to the World Series, you can’t go wrong with MLB for the PSP. Regardless of gaming style this game covers all the bases (pun intended).