Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Sports
Release Date: February 22, 2005
The smell of fresh cut grass, hot dogs, beer breath, and bad press signify that baseball season is nearly upon us. Last year, EA Sports' MVP 2004 wowed baseball gamers with unprecedented control over pitches, throws, slides, and fielding maneuvers. Everything that was great about last year's version makes a return, with a few notable additions. The changes from last year's game are more subtle than the revamp that occurred between MVP 2003 and MVP 2004, but all in all, MVP 2005 is worth a buy, especially for fans of last year's entry. It's just too bad that the GameCube version has no online capabilities.
Those familiar with MVP 2004 will be able to pick up and play this year's version with ease, as the control is basically the same. The highly praised pitching meter still allows you to adjust the speed and accuracy of your throws. You hold down the button that corresponds to the pitch you want to throw, let go when the line gets near or in the red zone (this action controls the strength of the pitch), then press the button again when the line is in the small green zone (this action controls the accuracy). While doing this, you'll be holding the analog stick in place to aim where you want the ball to go.
What this system does is make the player almost completely responsible for any successes or failures from the mound, because everything relies on your timing. If you are way late and miss the meter's green zone, your pitch will hang out for the batter's picking. Very late pitches will cause a circle to show up in the batter's strike zone, indicating where exactly where the ball will cross the plate. If this happens, say bye-bye ball.
The main difference you'll see between this year's and last year's pitching meter is the addition of yellow areas on each side of the green area. This allows for a little more leniency for mistimed pitches. However, the harder you throw, the smaller the yellow area becomes. It's a nice touch of realism. Try throwing a baseball as hard as you can, and see how your accuracy falters. Pitcher fatigue also plays a factor in the speed an accuracy of a pitch.
The batting controls, like the pitching system, remain basically the same with a few improvements and tweaks. EA deemed the batting system the "EA Sports Pure Batting System," which is really just a fancy name for a fairly basic batting system. Ball placement depends on when you swing the bat, the direction of the analog stick, and the position of the ball as it crosses the plate. Although simple, the pitching/batter interface allows for a potentially intense guessing game.
At the same time, it would have been nice to see a major leap in the batting system; the same way the pitching was vastly improved between the 2003 and 2004 seasons. Every other aspect of the game enables gamers to take nearly complete control of players, but the batting lacks the same level of control as the pitching, baserunning, and fielding. Some kind of power meter with zones that vary from batter to batter (depending on their real life skill) may have provided the total control that EA is going for. Also, you don't have control over how high or low in the strike zone you swing the bat. The system only commands your batter how to swing (uppercut, grounder, left, or right). As they exist, the simple batting controls feel natural and realistic.
The updates to the batting system are minor, but appreciated. Now, you can move your batter around the batter's box, which in effect shifts your hot and cold spots. The new Hitter's Eye (another fancy name) gives batters a split-second indication of the type of pitch that was thrown. As the ball leaves the pitcher's hand it changes color. Each color is representative of a type of pitch. For example, a fastball glows white, a sinking pitch is purple, and an off-speed pitch is green. Like many of MVP 2005's features, you have the option to turn it off.
There's also a new feature that is only available after the pitch. The pitch/swing analysis allows you to replay the previous pitch and swing in slow motion, and from different angles. It helps initially with timing, but you won't find yourself analyzing your at-bats very often.
Baserunning, again, remains very similar to last year's game, but that's not a bad thing. When approaching the base, you can use the C-stick to perform a variety of slides, such as a headfirst slide, or a hook slide on either side of the bag. You have the ability to railroad the catcher in an attempt to knock the ball from his hands, or break up a double play by sliding into a baseman. So, sliding is fashionable as well as functional. Commanding multiple runners is straightforward, as you can command them all with one input, or select a specific runner.
The fielding is very well executed. You have the option of choosing how much of the fielding is CPU-controlled, but when in "manual" mode, you can make some really spectacular plays. Reaching over a rail to catch a nearly out-of-play ball, running up the wall to rob a homer, or making Superman-like diving catches are all possibilities. Like baserunning, the C-stick controls these plays. Teams that have bad fielding stats will often flub big plays, while talented fielders will make plays. Fielders wind up their throws as you hold down the button (which is respective to the base you're throwing to), and throw the ball when you release the button. Like the pitching meter, there is a red zone in the fielder's throwing meter. If the cursor moves into this red zone, a wild throw is more likely to occur, potentially opening up opportunities for baserunners.
There are plenty of modes to keep you busy. MVP 2005 offers a Play Now mode, which throws gamers into a game quickly using two teams of their own choice without messing with any roster options. The standard Exhibition mode allows you to play a single game, and fiddle with the roster as you please. The Dynasty mode makes a return, and is more extensive than ever, requiring you to manage aspects such as rosters and player contracts all the way down to Single-A minor league teams over a 120 season time span.
A notable addition to MVP 2005's already sizeable arsenal of modes is the Owner mode. The idea is similar to games such as RollerCoaster Tycoon. This is similar to Dynasty mode, in that you deal with a franchise over an extended period of time, but the focus is on being a profitable organization with excellent fan support. You'll not only have to review salaries, but also ticket prices, concession stand prices, stadium expansion, and so on. All the while, you're expected to win games and meet the needs of both players and fans.
Just as in Dynasty mode, you can play the games out, simulate them, or manage them. Managing is a great alternative to simulating a game, because you get through a game in a matter of minutes, but also maintain some form of control over the outcome by making calls from the side. Overall, the Owner mode is a very entertaining addition that appeals to that little accountant in all of us. The only gripe is that there are too few options in the actual creation and expansion of your ballpark.
Yet another addition to the series are some addictive mini-games. The batting mini-game has you hitting into a field equipped with large ramps. You have to hit them in a designated area and fashion (grounder, down the line, fly ball) in order to earn distance and goal points. When you reach a certain amount of points, you move onto the next round. The difficulty of the pitches and the number of points you must acquire increase with each level. This mini-game alone can eat up a lot of your time, because it's just plain fun.
The pitching mini-game is more than just a diversion as well. The strike zone is separated into 25 different blocks made up of a few different colors. Each color represents a type of pitch. If you successfully throw a pitch through its respective colored block, that block, along with any blocks of the same color that are adjacent to it, disappears. Then, in a Tetris-like manner, blocks fall from the top down, filling up the now vacant spaces. You can play this mode either with a clock, or without a clock. Like the batting mini-game, you have to reach a certain number of points to advance. Both games are fun on their own, and can prove to be invaluable in getting your timing and placement down in both the hitting and pitching departments.
There's a bit more frosting to go on top. MVP Points are earned when you reach specific goals throughout the game. These are spent on unlockables, such as classic stadiums, legendary players, retro uniforms, and famous teams. Also, check out the scenario editor, which allows you to create a specific situation and play through it. Place anyone you want to on base, select which inning, the count, which batter, etc. Finally, during a replay, you can press B to initiate an argument about a call. Tapping B will increase the intensity, and may get your manager ejected, which results in the loss of control over substitutions and other roster management actions.
Head-to-head play is standard fare. You can either play a normal game of baseball or challenge a friend in a Homerun derby. The GameCube version of the game is the only one that doesn't support online play. It's a disappointment, but not a surprise considering the console's online track record. Also, this means you can't get updates of the latest rosters, although you can change them manually.
Graphically, the GameCube version looks good, although animation is jumpy and choppy at times, particularly during some fielding sequences. Other than that, animation is excellent, with convincing slides, and off-balance whiffs and throws. The actual player models look a bit better than last year, but their surfaces still lack depth, with unconvincing textures and shadows. The faces are mostly as recognizable as their real life counterparts, but they are largely expressionless. Stadiums look great, although the crowds are made up of 2D individuals. Overall, it's still a good-looking game, but not remarkable.
The sounds of MVP 2005 take you to the ballpark, as long as you turn off the annoying EA Trax. It's hard telling why EA Sports chose some of the songs for the soundtrack. It's not that all of the songs are awful, but many just don't fit the context of a baseball game. EA ran into the same problem with Burnout 3, where the music just didn't fit the feel of the game. At least there's no annoying DJ. The commentary is pretty well done, as they comment on specific plays that occur. Eventually, they do repeat comments, but if it gets on your nerves, you can turn them off. Stadium ambience is excellent, especially when the crowd goes wild during a rally.
As you can see, there's a lot to MVP 2005. It's got major lasting power, a truckload of modes, thoughtful tweaks, and most importantly, solid gameplay. It will take several hours to even scratch the surface of what this game has to offer, and to some people who haven't picked up a baseball game in a while, it may be a bit overwhelming. Outside of nit-picks, there isn't much bad to say about the game, except for the GameCube version's lack of online play. Because of publisher Take-Two's move to block other third-party publishers from using the MLB license, MVP 2005 will be the last licensed baseball game from EA for several years. It's safe to say that EA's licensed MLB series has gone out with a bang.
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