MLB 06: The Show
"The best sports game for the PSP," according to our review. Argue about such sweeping statements inside.
There are lots of sports titles available for the PSP, and unfortunately for you and me, most of them are average or just plain suck, but the same cannot be said of Sony's phenomenal MLB series. The first game that launched with the system set a standard that EA couldn't match, and having played the latest edition, MLB 06: The Show, I'm not sure whether anyone except Sony can top it. In fact, it is the best damn sports game that I have ever played on a hand held system, a title that begs to be purchased and loved into the wee hours of the morning.
For the most part, this version of The Show is identical to its PS2 counterpart except for some noticeable omissions, the most important being Franchise and Rivalry mode. It's also missing those short FMVs that play before each game, scenes of each stadium that, while not necessary, were fun to watch for a little while.
Past that, just about everything else has been retained and the game plays just as marvelously as it does on the PS2. Offensively, The Show is an absolute joy because it's easy to hit the ball and achieve great results. Plus, there's actually some depth to it that goes beyond simple swinging. You can guess the types of pitches, and if you guess correctly your player's power rating will receive a nice boost, thus shifting the home run odds in your favor. But you also have the option of a Power Swing by pressing Square. It's risky because strikes are more likely, but if your back is against the wall and you desperately need runs it comes in handy.
Unlike in some sports games, playing defense in MLB 06 doesn't feel like some boring chore. On the mound, the game feels just as solid as its PS2 cousin. There are several different types of pitches to choose from depending on the player, and I can put the ball just about anywhere; right across the plate or into the head of an unfortunate victim. And, if someone does manage to hit the ball, fielding and throwing it to the appropriate base is extremely easy and intuitive, so much so that if something doesn't work out and runs score, it's definitely my fault and not the game's.
Off the field, this game has plenty of modes that interest me. In addition to Exhibition, Career (an RPG of sorts where you create a player, distribute points, and take him through the MLB), Season, and Home Run Derby there's also King of the Diamond, which is in some ways very similar to Monkey Baseball, as seen in Super Monkey Ball 2. The only two people on the field are the pitcher and the batter, and there are all sorts of icons representing the other players. So the goal is to basically run up your score within a time limit while avoiding stupid plays. For example, if you hit a ground ball towards the icon representing the second baseman, you're out, but if it drops into center field all alone it's a single or a double depending on location, and there's a whole lot of power-ups and icons to aim for. Also, on the defensive side the pitcher is required to throw the ball within 3 seconds, so that guarantees that the game will be fast paced, and, if both players are skilled, full of scoring. But the best thing about King of the Diamond is the fact that it can be played off and online, yet that's another welcome addition to this game, which is online play.
Unlike most of Sony's online enabled games, MLB 06 feels like it was carved from the Xbox Live mold. Not only is it easy to locate friends and jump into games, but the game keeps track of numerous stats. And to make things even sweeter, Sony will provide roster updates each week and they're much, much more than simple player shuffles. It'll actually take into account trades as well as player slumps and hit streaks, so Derek Jeter may be really hot one week and his in game persona will reflect that, but if he's sucking it up the following week, expect him to do the same exact thing in the game. Plus, you'll be able to talk to people playing the PS2 and PSP versions of the game, though you won't be able to play anyone using a different system. And if that wasn't cool enough, you'll also receive scores from actual MLB games.
In addition to the fun gameplay, I'm also impressed with the quality presentation. MLB 06 features a fantastic soundtrack, menus that can be easily navigated, and most importantly, it has outstanding commentary. The three man team of Rex Hudler, Dave Campbell, and Matt Vasgersian deliver what is without question the best performance in a sports game. They're quick to react, have lots of knowledge about the game, and feature so many phrases that you'll rarely hear the same thing twice in one game. It's just absolutely phenomenal, the benchmark by which all future sports games shall be judged.
The game's crisp visuals are also worth noting. Player faces, which are good for the most part, could have benefited from some extra detail, but by and large this is an absolutely beautiful videogame. The stadiums have been expertly modeled, the characters are built to scale, and the animations, damn! Instead of watching some bozo running towards the crowd and making a catch while not even looking at the ball (I'm looking at you, 2K Sports), players will make gravity defying leaps and somersaults and it all looks fantastic. However, I am a bit disappointed that there aren't as many cut scenes as there are in the PS2 version. In that game, player's charge the mound and knock things over in the dug out, but I've seen less of that here which is disappointing.
As for the audio, I've already professed my love for the commentary but the rest of the game's sounds are enjoyable to listen to. The sound of a bat cracking against a ball, the music that plays at the title screen and various stadium noises are superb. Even the crowd is impressive, though the developers still have a ways to go before it's on the same page as the commentary. The fans will at times cheer when the away team makes a big play. It just sucks watching my ball sail into an opponent's glove and hearing my crowd...the Yankee faithful, explode with enthusiasm. At least they boo whenever the other team scores a homerun, though it's not cool how they wait until the ball's in the stands to celebrate. Furthermore, it's weird how they cheer a little bit and then fall silent. Come on people! You paid good money for these seats! Make some noise!
MLB 06 is a fantastic baseball game that's worth purchasing. Sony's done a wonderful job making the sport accessible for hardcore fanatics as well as people like me who only follow the playoffs. 2K Sports' Major League Baseball 2K6 will no doubt give Sony some serious competition, but for now, this is the true king of the diamond. Buy it.
What's Hot: An abundance of options and special features to toy around with including King of the Diamond.
What's Not: No Rivalry or Franchise mode!