PS2 Review: MVP 06 NCAA Baseball

Not one to let any game engine go unused, leave it to EA Sports to give NCAA Baseball a go after losing the third-party Major League Baseball license to 2K Games. Given the relative obscurity of the game when compared to college basketball and football, it's nice to see a niche audience serviced. It's a double bonus that the game is a near classic even though it's been given a new dressing.

MVP 06 surprisingly changes from its previous years on the field. The meter based pitching that should be standard in all baseball titles remains the same. Fielding and batting both offer radically new options, though only hitting actually works.

The latter two methods of play employ the analog sticks. For hitting, it's a natural technique that's learned quickly. The added amount of control (not to mention the feel) means this should have been attempted years ago. Flipping the analog stick back begins the swing motion, and slamming it forward dictates where and how hard the ball flies. It's a far deeper and more intricate way of batting.

Fielding with an analog stick doesn't have the same effect. Actually, it's an utter disaster. Throwing a rocket from center field to second base is fine. Trying to toss home from second is a mess. The subtlety isn't here, and with the sensitivity of the sticks set on "launch sequence," you'll give up the game in the first inning due to wild throws. Thankfully, the traditional methods of play are still here. While it does have too many meters, it's easier to make a throw by holding down a button to determine power.

Outside of those two alternate control schemes, this is a baseball game of customization. It's impossible to find a feature that can't be tweaked, prodded, or taken out. Players of all skill levels are welcome thanks to the sliders, which manage every aspect of play. If your school's not included (and many of them aren't, including the entire MAC), create it. The extensive stadium builder means you're not creating a logo with random players too.

It's a good idea to create your own home parks, mostly because the ones included are insanely ugly. Diving into the NCAA Football-like dynasty mode, you'll bear witness to some of the nastiest looking tress in the history of the console. Small details are present (the functioning expressway behind Oregon State), but everything surrounding the otherwise decent looking players is tough to watch.

Online play adds to the game's wonderful presentation, including superb commentary and real life scores from ESPN as you play. Few people will experience this though, as after multiple attempts, EA servers boot both users for no real reason. Given that they expect players to cough up $2 to use them (or be "sponsored" by ESPN to play for free), there's no excuse for why this features performs like it does.

It obviously didn't take much to transform the Major League game into a college-themed one. The few chances taken to change the series are not a hindrance, and with only a limited chance of seeing multiple incarnations of NCCA Baseball, this would be a wise pickup for someone interested. It's also perfect for someone who loved the MVP style of gameplay, and in that case, it's perfect for every fan of the sport.

(**** out of *****)

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