MLB 09 - The ShowESRB:
Developer – SCE San Diego Studios
Publisher - SCEA
Memory Stick Duo 1072 KB
Yes, it is that time of year when all my fellow Canadian friends are far too immersed in the NHL season to even give a hoot about Spring Training and the upcoming Major League Baseball season. I on the other hand really love this time of year. There is nothing like purchasing all my fantasy baseball magazines, catching up on all the off season moves, following Spring Training box scores, and counting the days until opening day. And let’s not forget, all the new baseball video games hit store shelves too, including Sony’s annual MLB franchise, MLB 09: The Show, for all their gaming platforms. I will be covering the portable version in this review. The MLB series has become a reliable annual instalment for Sony and has been a PSP staple since 1996. With each release the game adds some new features, but lately it seemingly never makes any significant leaps or strides. Last year, MLB 08: The Show played very similar to MLB 07, and at the end of the day I was hoping for a little more. Does MLB 09: The Show make that significant leap I was hoping for? Let’s find out shall we…
Similar to last year, and the year before, the old age adage “if it ain’t broke then don’t fix it” approach has been applied with Sony’s MLB 09 edition. For those that played last years game you most likely won’t notice many graphical enhancements as the overall presentation is very similar. On one hand I was relieved that I didn’t see a dramatic overhaul in this area as the game has looked good in the past, however on the other hand some of the visual issues from previous versions still plague this series.
The player animations are once again very solid and look great, and yes there are far more player animations this year. Sony tells us there are more than 700 new gameplay animations, more than 400 new presentation animations, and more than 150 personalized pitcher and batter animations. What this all means is that the players look authentic and I found that every detail right down to their trademark batting stances are bang on in MLB 09. The developers truly did a wonderful job with the players and it is hard to imagine the ball players looking any better considering the limitations of the PSP. On the flip side, the facial features have not been improved from last year and some of the player swings do not reflect their big league counterparts. For instance, Raul Ibanez, now with the Phillies, has a one of kind and somewhat awkward looking swing. His stance is accurately portrayed in the game but his swing is a tad generic. Nevertheless, the visuals still result in the best looking baseball players on the PSP to date.
The stadiums are once again spot on and look very close like the big league stadiums in the majors. I have no concerns in this department. One quick glance and you can tell much time and effort was spent designing the portable virtual stadiums as they reflect their real-life versions. Again, they obviously don't look as good as they do on the PS3, however they are some of the best stadiums I have seen on a handheld gaming machine to date. Unfortunately, the crowds still look shabby and they take away some of the awe of the gorgeous stadiums. Similar to last year they look blocky and come across as card-board cut outs. At a distance it’s not an issue, however when you hit a foul ball and the camera pans into the crowd the crowd animations are brutal.
MLB 09 plays very smooth with only a few framerate issues now and then. It also suffers from the occasional clipping, but nothing too serious. On one such occasion my player ran towards first base and ran right through the first baseman. I hope next year's version can correct these types of things. The replays once again look great and added player animations really do show. This year I noticed many more dropped balls and errors, which is a good thing as it adds to that authentic feeling. One final note, I am a little lost as to why we don’t see an umpire behind the plate at times. It’s very strange to say the least especially when you see your Catcher reaching back to get a ball from the Umpire and nobody is there.
As far as the sound is concerned, MLB 09: The Show delivers, but as with the visuals I did not notice many improvements from last year's game. The soundtrack is decent and the commentators do a wonderful job calling the game. All the sounds you would typically hear in an MLB game are in MLB 09: The Show and for that the developers get plenty of kudos.
Matt Vasgersian, Rex Hudler and Dave Campbell are back doing the commentary and once again they are solid. Rarely do they miss any calls and I never got the sense I was listening to repetitive audio clips. The voices are clear and they do a great job. Only after several hours of gameplay did I start to notice any repetitiveness, however, as I have stated in the past, this is unavoidable in all sports games. Similar to 08’, the crowd chatter is nice touch and the cheering is well done. In fact, I even noticed some chanting this year which was cool. Bottomline, you truly get the feeling you are in a big league ball park when playing MLB 09: The Show.
The soundtrack for MLB 09 is not quite as good as last year's version. My guess is gamers are likely spending more time listening to their own tunes on the PSP as The Show allows you to do so. Using the “My MLB Music” feature, gamers can store their favourite music for play on MLB 09. You can edit tracks to assign batter walk-up music or record your own voice and assign it to play for the player and situation of your choice. This feature is also on the PS3 version of the game and is a nice addition to say the least. On some occasions I noticed the feature did not pick up the song on my memory stick, however for the most part it worked quite well.
Overall, if you played MLB 08: The Show you won’t notice many differences with this year's version as it still plays the same as previous versions do. Pitching and hitting are identical to last year with only a few minor tweaks. For those new to the franchise there is a learning curve, but veterans should be able to start striking out batters and hit on regular basis right from the get go. The core of the game is back with your typical exhibition, 'Road to the Show' and season modes. For those of you who are new the franchise I will just briefly recap the variety of modes featured in the game.
Exhibition mode is great for jumping into a game right away. Pick two teams and off you go. This is generally my first stop as I usually want to see how the game plays and feels before I get into a full MLB season. My next stop is usually an abbreviated season mode. Here you pick a team and work your way through a full 162 game season, or a shorter game season if you want. The ‘Road to the Show’ mode is where you create a player in an effort of making the 'Big Show' (major leagues). You guide your player through spring training, spend some time in the minors, and eventually gain a spot on a major league roster. This year, 'Road to the Show' includes interactive training, a new steal/lead-off system, updated presentations, and coach interactions. Interactive training consists of a set of mini-games designed to improve a player’s ability and performance in various areas of baseball.
Overall, all the core modes that are back are just as good, if not a bit better, than last year. Also, the controls are nearly identical to last year's game. Arguably the most important aspect of any baseball game is the hitting and pitching mechanics as well as the offensive and defensive controls. Many will be pleased to know the pitching and hitting mechanics are very similar to last year. In fact, I almost found hitting a little more difficult as the game places much more emphasis on patience and selective hitting than ever before. You cannot just go up to bat and swing at every pitch. You have to be patient and run deep into counts just like you would if you were a pro. I was certainly my own worst enemy when it came to my inability to put up runs at times. Pitching is also takes some patience and good location. Firing fastballs after fastball will only get you so far. You need patience and precision and you also need to scout your opponent's weaknesses. It is this realism to the hitting and pitching which makes The Show such a strong franchise. Those new to the franchise may be frustrated at first, but for those veterans out there I think you will be very pleased.
On a bit of a downside, the base running and defence continues to be hit and miss at times. Players running the bases seem to have one speed and have a slight hitch in their step when rounding the bags. The base running continues to take some time to master and when there is more than one player on the base pads it can get tricky. Perhaps it is likely my inability to master the controls, however there has got to be an easier system than what is already in place. It should not be so difficult to have a runner hold-up at first while you advance a player from second to third, yet repeatedly I had issues. The defence appears to be very similar to last year; however there are many more animations which can create some problems. Players seemingly dive way too often and the defensive AI is making more incredible plays than ever before. It makes for great entertainment but can take the game more into the realm of arcade than simulation.
There are several levels of difficulties found in MLB 09, including a new hardcore "Legend" mode for those who are insanely good at the game. I spent the majority of my season in veteran as the increased difficulties were just a little too hardcore for me. I should also mention that Rookie mode is not as easy as it was a couple of years ago either. I actually played a few games in Rookie mode that were actually quite close. Another feature, which is back from last year, and shows Sony is listening to their fans, is in-game saves. Nothing is more frustrating then when you are playing a tight game in the bottom of the fifth and you have to turn the game off for whatever reason. With MLB 09 you can save in game at any time and pick up where you left off at later date. You no longer have to rely on the PSP’s stand-by feature.
Just like last year, MLB 09 features the Progressive Batting Performance feature. This rewards players for superior performance and penalizes them for getting into slumps. Specific to each individual hitter, players will be rewarded or punished based on how that batter performs beyond his “natural ability” while under user control. The Progressive Batting Performance is only used in the Season and ‘Road to the Show’ modes and it adds more depth and realism to the game. A big part of, and well publicized aspect of Major League Baseball, are players who are either in the midst of hot or cold streaks. With the Progressive Batting Performance it is nice to see who is hot and who is cold when facing opposing batters.
I should also mention the popular “Pitcher/Batter Analysis” feature returns on MLB 09. This feature details the breakdown of how a batter has performed based on pitch type and result. The game offers up 17 different pitch types for players to master and MLB 09: The Show details the different pitch grips and arm angles that hitters must address. These new tools add more depth by showing you pitcher and batter tendencies. By simply hitting select you can view hitter and pitcher stats; which is very helpful when facing the top half of the line-up or the ace of the opponents pitching staff. One great aspect of MLB 09: The Show is the fact they recognize that MLB fans are generally statistic freaks and The Show embraces this and gives all the stats a true fan’s heart desires.
The multiplayer component of the game is once again decent. Admittedly I did not spend a lot of time online; however the time I did play was lag free and enjoyable. It also adds features including customizable Online League Play, and a scrolling MLB Score Ticker. Furthermore, the SCOUT (Sports Connect Online User Tracking) allows gamers to set and store their game preferences on the MLB server, and then enables the system to look for a Quick Match with opponents that fit similar competitive criteria. Overall pretty impressive stuff.
Continue to Page 2