Batter up! We go into extra innings with the latest baseball game from 989.
Making a good portable baseball game is rather tricky, as there's a lot you have to consider in order to make it a successful foray. For instance, presentation is utterly key. It's one thing to have solid batting and pitching, but if you don't have enough depth or understanding of the fielding that comes into play, your game will be as appealing as a month old jockstrap. And let's not forget that the game should have all its visual fronts captured, as well as the essence of the sport itself. Thus far, no one's really made that many genuine handheld baseball games on the market, save for a couple of cell phone examples that are more home run derbies than anything.
Now enter 989 Sports, coming off a great year with the release of MLB 2006 for the PlayStation 2, a game that could very well mark off a great turnaround year for them in term of original development ideas. They've come through yet again, this time with a portable take on the sport of baseball, with MLB for the PSP. It's just as smooth and enjoyable a game as its big brother, even if it lacks some of the more complicated features that made it such a contender.
For instance, you'll notice right away that the game's modes have been condensed to the simpler things, just so it would fit on the PSP. Gone is the huge franchise mode, and in its place is a smaller Season mode, along with a typical Exhibition mode and an Online mode that lets you challenge a friend online. But fret not, as the Season mode still contains enough greatness to take you through a whole season, working your way up to the championship and tracking your stats every step of the way. There's the ability to get some awards and take part in an All-Star Weekend as well, although the Create-a-Player option is sorely missing. Oh, well, what remains will still keep you swinging for the fences.
As far as visual presentation, MLB has its share of hits and misses. The hits come in the form of superb player animation, camera angles, and the kind of field imagery that gives you a grand idea of depth, so that if a ball is missed during a catch, it's your fault and not the sun's. The misses come in the form of some lack of graphic detail, like in the player faces and the removal of crucial player walk-ups and replays. It's not horribly missed, and what remains is still a great portable engine at play, but about a month more worth of work would have been appreciated. Maybe next year.
As far as audio, the game swings and hits a grand slam. The same play-by-play announcing from the PS2 is back, line by line, and continues to nail the on-field action like a champion. Stadium ambience and crown noises are still the order of the day, including the occasional smart-ass looking to get into a fight ala Scheffield. No complaints here at all.
Then you've got the gameplay, which is both incredibly solid and yet a little frustrating. Blame the computer AI for the frustration, it's tightened up more than the console edition, making for a challenging face-off even if you're a champion-caliber team like the Red Sox or the Yankees. Aside from that, the game contains some superb gameplay, with a pitching engine that won't quit and a batting indication system that helps you to get more hits. It looks a little denser on the PSP screen, of course, but it still works. Fielding's no problem either, I had no problems with diving catches or the over-the-fence grabs.
And who can resist taking on a friend in Wi-Fi? MLB lets you match up against another player in a game of high-stakes baseball, allowing you to see who the master of the home run is. It's not the most comprehensive online gameplay around, but for portable, it's a welcome feature.
Bottom line, MLB is a nice debut for the line on the Sony PSP. It has its needs for improvements but what you get here is still a focused and thrilling game of portable baseball done right. And you can't really ask for more than that. Play ball!
What's Hot: Playing against a friend through Wi-Fi is a blast.
What's Not: The AI may be a bit too difficult for some rookie players.