Design by James Cheung
We're already a quarter of the way through the 2005 Major League Baseball season, but the baseball video games keep coming. After breaking down all the console baseball games in our 2005 Console Baseball Roundup, we thought it was time to take a closer look at what's happening on the handheld front, namely through Sony's PSP. The sleek handheld has already seen the release of one Sony hardball game: MLB. EA Sports got sneaky on us recently and dropped its PSP baseball debut during the week of E3, which was not exactly the ideal time to get a game maximum press.
With 162 games in a season (not counting the play-offs, of course), a handheld baseball game has plenty to offer for sports gamers on the go who are willing to commit for the long haul. That said, there's a common thread running between both of these titles: a reduced number of features. For whatever reason--lack of development resources, limitations of the PSP technology (not bloody likely), or just plain tight release schedules--these handheld titles play a lot like, but not exactly like, their console cousins. We're here to dissect the differences and let you know what each game does well and not so well. The good news is both of these games are worth a look, provided you've got the cash to spend. Neither is particularly free from quirks and bugs, but both can provide you with plenty of innings of fun. If you're wondering which game is the right one for you, read on, as the answers are just a few pitches away...
MLB at a Glance
Developer: 989 Sports
Adjustable sliders: 13
Stats tracked: 80
Difficulty levels: 3 (rookie, veteran, all-star)
Load times: 42 seconds (to load main menu from PSP main screen), 45 seconds (to load new game)
Notable extras: Fast-forward feature, online play
Multiplayer: Infrastructure, ad hoc
Buy this one if... you're looking for a fast-moving and challenging baseball experience with online play to boot.
Avoid this one if... you're looking for much more than that.
Sony's MLB is a close relative to the publisher's MLB series, which, among 989 Sports' current lineup, is currently undergoing the greatest renaissance. Year after year, each successive entry in the PlayStation 2 series has been a stronger affair than the previous, which bodes well for the series' future. On the PSP, MLB was a launch title...well, almost. The game missed the March 24 launch window by a few weeks, but it impressed practically everyone who played it with its sharp graphical style and wireless Internet play via the PSP's infrastructure mode (one of five Sony sports games thus playable at or around launch).
MLB has a bare-bones set of modes, which include quickplay, season, and online, and the game tracks more than 80 statistics over the course of a season. The pitching and batting meters will be familiar to anyone who's played the console version before (or, indeed, anyone familiar with the basic controls of a baseball game). The analog stick is extremely sensitive, but you'll likely only encounter any difficulty with it in the pitching game, as you need a pretty deft touch on the stick to accurately aim your pitch. Unique touches found on the PS2 version of the game, such as the "guess pitch type" and "guess location" options make their way into the PSP version to great effect. Unfortunately, so do some interesting glitches. The preponderance of wild pitches seems exaggerated in the game and, of related interest, we ran into one situation where we lost complete control of our catcher when chasing down an errant pitch behind the plate, allowing an inside-the-park home run off of a wild pitch (which isn't very good for the old blood pressure). Unlike MVP Baseball, if you're looking to get your online game on, MLB is the only place to do so.
Look and Feel
The game has made some graphical strides since we first saw it, and it does a pretty good job of replicating the quality of the PS2 version. Some of the best of these aspects are conveyed in MLB's defensive game, such as the relatively smooth transitions between fielding animations, the ability to preload throws in order to pull off quick double plays, and the same attribute-specific fielding zones for handling fly balls as those found in the PS2 version of the game. A lot of the visual chaff from the PS2 game, such as player walk-ups, post-game fireworks, instant replays, and so on, has been exorcised from MLB on the PSP, speeding up the game considerably. And speaking of keeping things moving, the MLB's fast-forward feature lets you skip to any inning in the game, which is perfect for those times when you go up 10 runs in the first inning and don't want to babysit your way through the rest of the game.
The feature that makes the PS2 version of MLB 2006 truly its own is the innovative career mode, which allows you to create your own minor league ballplayer looking to make a major league squad. Among the ubiquitous franchise modes found in console hardball games across all three consoles, MLB's career mode is a breath of fresh air. Unfortunately, you won't find it on the PSP version of the game. In fact, the game's bare-bones feature list means you won't even be able to whip up your own created character, something you can do in other launch PSP sports games such as NFL Street Unleashed and NBA Street Showdown (or MVP Baseball, for that matter). The absence of franchise mode is a bummer too, though it could be argued that in-depth franchise modes may not necessarily be ideal for handheld systems where battery life works into the equation.