Although a huge amount of attention is being focused on the current NFL playoffs, it’ll only be a short time before baseball spring training is upon us. In fact, by the time athletes are hitting the field for the first time in 2006, Sony’s latest installment in their baseball franchise should be hitting PSPs all over America. Arguably the strongest sports title for the launch of the system, MLB featured solid controls, great character animations and great play by play commentary. This year’s version appears to be just as sound, with a number of improvements to flesh out the diamond experience. Step up to the plate, because we’re going to try to knock MLB ’06: The Show out of the park.
While the demo version that we received had a number of features left out like online play and hosted extremely long load times, it did indicate a much deeper experience on the field this time around. Although the game still hasn’t included the option for a franchise mode, it does now include a Career mode for players, where you can create your own athlete and let him try to win his own spot on a team. The PSP Career mode is just as deep as that of the console, allowing you to tweak everything from your athlete’s physical characteristics and batting stance to how much power they can put behind their swings and throws. Of course, once you’ve made your player, your work is just beginning, as you have to secure their place in the lineup of a club. Each position is given diverse goals to try to fulfill both within Spring Training and the regular season, and failure to succeed at these tasks can impact whether or not you’ll be traded, receive playing time or other factors. Fortunately, if you feel somewhat slighted, you can demand new contracts or trades and even go to the press and complain, amongst other business decisions for your star.
This Career mode joins a deeper Season mode, a Quick Play feature, Online play via Ad Hoc or Infrastructure from last year. This year also features a new emphasis on a home run derby and a King of the Diamond mini-game. This is an interesting mode where you try to score as many runs as possible in the timed innings as possible, avoiding stand-ups of defensive players while hitting homers and base hits. Shortly after batting, you’ll switch and try to pitch as many strikeouts as possible, keeping the computer from scoring as well. While it was sometimes tricky to determine whether a hit accurately made it past a baseman through the gap or was a simple pop up fly, it does appear to have enough addictive play to test even the best baseball player’s skills. Similarly, while it wasn’t included in the demo, the final game promises to have a Rivalry mode that will let you play multiple game rivalries against different AI or human controlled teams and accurately keep stats during a series.
Most of the gameplay features from MLB are making a return for this year, including the ability to guess where a pitch will be thrown, batter’s hot and cold zones, and pitcher confidence. The Release Point System did seem to be a little touchy here and there, but it did also seem as though the game was anticipating one of the newer features with fielding and some of the other play mechanics. For instance, players are now given two separate icons when a ball is popped up – the general area that the ball might land in and a secondary icon indicating where the ball is effectively traveling. These two overlays aren’t always moving at the same time, and you will need to adjust where your player is to accurately make a play for the ball without it dropping to the ground.
MLB ’06: The Show looks like it will retain the same visual style as the previous title. The character models are large and rather sharp on the PSP’s screen, and the character animation is excellent. This also seems to be backed up with the familiar play by play and color commentary from Matt Vasgersian and Dave Campbell, who are now joined by Rex Hudler for a three man booth. This is an excellent touch when you’re playing a hard fought game against another team and should be fully polished when the game slides into stores this Spring. Check back soon for a full review!
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