MLB PSP Review

While the company that eventually became 989 Sports got off to a great start with the launch of the PS One, the early days of the PS2 were none to kind. Their games were glitch fests, poorly programmed and played awful. That doesn't do much for your reputation. While their other sports titles still haven't caught up, their baseball titles have been increasingly competitive.

Enter the simply named "MLB" on the PSP. The home version is a great game of baseball; the portable version is just as much. Corners have been cut, likely due to development time and hardware power, but for the most part, this is the best portable baseball game ever created to date.

The lack of a franchise mode is likely going to be a turn-off for some people, but with 162 games in a season, how many of these are you actually going to play? For the single season it offers (the only thing it offers besides exhibition and online), you get some decent roster management and solid stat tracking. The CPU will offer fair trades intelligently and snap up free agents if you allow it.

Once onto the field, the gameplay makes up for any shortcomings off. The presentation is very basic, so much that after the announcers introduce themselves, you're right on the field, batter in the box. It's not likely a sacrifice for any technical reasons, but one to speed the game up for portability. There are no replays or intermissions. Once the play is over, it's right back to the batter/pitcher duel.

While this is not particularly deep, you have some options to play with. On the defensive side, pitching is controlled by an optional meter, much like a golf video game. This adds the unpredictability factor that's not present playing without it and some realism. You also aim where in or out of the strike zone you want your pitch. However, actual location is still determined by how well you control the meter.

Fielding is also somewhat different, but it doesn't really make much difference to the game. It comes down the player's abilities as the circle appears where the ball is going to drop. The better the player, the bigger the circle. As the ball drops, it becomes small to tell you exactly where you need to be. It's not that different from a hundred other baseball games.

On the offensive side, we have Total Control Batting. This allows you to set up sacrifice flies and such by swinging in conjunction with the d-pad. You can also guess what pitch is about to be thrown for some additional power. All of this is optional by the way. If you prefer a simpler experience, you can have one. That makes the game very accessible, plus there are adjustable sliders to make the game easier or harder. This is an quick way to handicap players who know what they're doing when playing against those who don't.

AI on the field shows some occasionally stupid moves, especially if you let it control base running. It's best to control this yourself, though it's still going to make those mistakes when it plays against you. Opposing batters wait for their pitch and rarely swing at anything far outside the strike zone. At times, the AI pitchers are too good, squeezing balls barely in the strike zone. This is something that practice will cure (or a tweaking of the sliders), so don't let it turn you off early.

All of this is performed with a stunning graphics engine. Player models are flawless, though you never really get a good look at their faces. Their jerseys actually get dirty when they slide and stay that way the rest of the game. Animation is way beyond what we should expect from a portable game. There are so many different fielding motions, you'll never get tired of seeing those quickly turned double plays. Stadiums are accurately rendered with all the small details you'll recognize from your favorite park.

The audio is even better, complete with engaging and realistic play-by-play. There's not much color commentary and usually when he talks, it's useless information. No problem since the lead announcer handles everything without getting far behind. There's a little stadium ambience from a PA announcer (though he's not consistent at all), some brief music between innings, and a disappointingly dull crowd.

Whether or not "MLB" is worth a purchase depends on how EA's upcoming "MVP Baseball" turns out. EA's effort seems to offer more in the options department, but there is no online play. As it stands right now, at least for a month or so possibly, this is a must buy for baseball fanatics who need their fix on the go. This is a full recovery for 989, at least on the baseball front.

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