Sony's San Diego Studio is back this Spring with their fourth entry in their growing MLB series with MLB 09: The Show. This year's Show includes a handful of new additions and features while still providing a solid baseball sim experience.
A Swing And A Hit
With the launch of MLBTV and the recent World Baseball Classic, I'm already on track to watch more baseball this year than I ever have. Earlier this month I also reviewed MLB 2K9 and found it to be pretty good, but shy of great. Now, over the last week, I have spent some time with MLB 09: The Show for the PSP and the PS2.
MLB 09: The Show includes everything you would expect from a deep baseball sim: all the teams, players, and modes, not to mention a wealth of adjustable sliders, options, and tons of stats. For avid baseball fans on the go, this is easily your best choice this year if you're looking for a very competent, deep, fun, and challenging sim. For more casual baseball fans and players, like myself, MLB 09 still offers quite a bit.
To begin with, I hopped straight into a game with Quick Play. Quick Play is your basic single game where one team takes on another; it's great for a fast game and it also works good for practicing, too. During Quick Play you have plenty of options that you can adjust right in the middle of the game. These options include being able to switch teams, fast forward to a different inning, and adjust several sliders that govern things like fielder arm strength and player awareness. The difficulty is also adjustable from Rookie all the way up to the new Legendary difficulty mode. By default, the CPU is set to Veteran, and for a newbie like me this was a respectable enough mode. For truly seasoned and skilled players however, the new Legendary mode makes batting and pitching a science in that tolerances for success are extremely tight and mistakes are exploited by the CPU with little mercy.
Quick Play is nice and all, but the heart of the MLB 09: The Show experience lies elsewhere. I enjoyed the game mode known as Road To the Show, in which gamers get to create a player, assign skill points, and begin a career as a rookie in the big leagues. This mode is unique in that the camera follows your created player closely although that can sometimes cause some camera issues during play. That said, Road To the Show is an engaging mode in that gamers only control their created player. During games, the action skips around or fast forwards to areas where your player is involved. Additionally, you will be challenged by your coaching staff to complete tasks during the course of a game and you can even be traded or sent back to the minors. You're ultimate goal in this mode is to win it all and eventually become a Hall of Famer. The Road To the Show mode is cool and offers players of all skill and interest levels a lot of depth.
In addition to Quick Play and Road To the Show, you can check out Exhibition and Season modes, as well as the Manager and Home Run Derby Modes. The Home Run Derby is a fine distraction in between games. In Home Run Derby, up to 10 batters from any team attempt to out do each other in seeing who can hit the most home runs. With Manager Mode, you don't personally handle each and every pitch or at bat like you normally do; instead you decide how you want your players to play. In other words, you control how you want your pitcher and base runners to behave (aggressive or conservative).
I'd also like to note that you can save a GIP, aka Game In Progress – this isn't a new feature, but it's just so darn handy, especially for a portable title, that I wanted to mention it briefly as I discussed these modes.
MLB 09: The Show includes an online or multiplayer capability too. This works via Ad Hoc or Infrastructure modes and allows you to play against another player locally or across the Net. This year's Show includes a Friendly Quit/Concede option that basically allows one player to quit without any type of penalty or change in their stats. For this to work though, the winning player must allow the early departure.
I've mentioned a couple of the changes for this year's version, but there are others. One such significant change is in your coaching staff. Changes to the coaching staff system now allow you to monitor your various coaches and how their attitudes, skills, and tendencies are affecting your team. You may find that you're not employing the best staff for your club. This definitely caters to the more involved baseball gamer, but it's certainly a neat little addition.
The Draft and Roster aspects of the game have been reworked and retooled too with a focus on being more realistic and true to life; afterall, this year's The Show is being marketed as the most realistic baseball game ever. The Draft aspect now has the new Rule 5 draft and the Amateur draft takes place in June. Roster changes include dealing with the variety of decisions any manager must face with waivers, trades, free agents, and so forth. To help you sort out all of the details, 09 also includes a Transaction Handbook that acts as an in depth reference to MLB rules and regulations regarding roster management.
Gamers might also wish to take advantage of the Sounds of the Show feature. Here you can create custom chants by recording your own voice. Batter walk-ups, home run songs, and pitcher reliever music can also be edited and tweaked. The included soundtrack is ripe with your typical poppy, light rock and punk tunes that every sports game these days has, but you can bring in your own music to enjoy too, which is great.
Controls And Presentation
Controls for The Show are straight-forward and easy to get used to. Most functions are mapped to the four face buttons; for example, different pitches correspond to the different face buttons. Batting is accomplished by just pressing X or Square (for a more powerful swing), and for finer control in trying to hit the ball a certain way you can also adjust the analog nub. One thing I noticed about The Show that I really appreciated was that controls and features were nicely documented in the game as well as in the manual.
The well laid out game menus and manual are part of what make The Show have a solid presentation. Commentators Vasgersian, Hudler and Campbell return again this year and provide a superb call for each game. Their voices are instantly recognizable and complete with plenty of variety to keep things interesting. There aren't a whole heck of a lot of other effects in the game, being just a baseball sim, but what is there isn't bad at all and helps round out the aural presentation. On the visual side of the coin, MLB 09 The Show is a mixed offering. On one hand, player animations and detail are fine for a portable, although I certainly wouldn't call them outstanding. I have to make mention of the crowd animations though, and these are especially bad – flat, 2D, very low polygon count sprites. While certainly the least important aspect of the visual presentation, I thought the crowd could have looked a little better anyway.
MLB 09: The Show has proven to be a fun experience on both the PSP and the PS2. If I had to chose between the two for whatever reason, I personally would go with the PSP just for the simple convenience of it. It may not control quite as good as the PS2, but as a casual baseball fan, the portable style just suits my taste better for very quick, spontaneous moments of play. Regardless of which version I played, I thought the AI and overall programming was reasonably sound, although in saying that keep in mind I'm not an avid baseball video game player so I may be more forgiving than most. Still, if you're looking for a solid MLB title this year, I would recommend giving The Show a serious look.