Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Sports
Release Date: May 17, 2005
Heading out to the ballpark on a hot summer day is one of my favorite things to do. I enjoy baseball – the game, the experience, the players, and the rivalries. I must confess that I'm a Yankees fan (I grew up in New Jersey) and I love to play as them in video games so when MVP Baseball showed up on the PSP, I was ready to enjoy a great baseball experience on the go. I came away a bit disappointed with the whole experience.
Starting out, there are options on top of options. You can play a quick game, have a home run derby, start a season, and customize and design a player. Naturally, the most detailed option is the season mode, which is where a majority of serious players will be spending their time. Choose season mode, and you'll get to work scouting, trading, managing and playing as your favorite team. The menus are intuitive and easy to navigate but suffer from loading pauses between nearly every menu.
This has been a hallmark of EA's first-generation of PSP games: lengthy load times, followed by short bursts of gameplay. Once you start a game, you'll immediately notice that there are numerous replays, which break up the action. There are replays of strikeouts, throws to first, home runs, singles, doubles, fly-outs, passed balls, and just about every other hit or play combination that you can think of. Each one requires a brief load and takes you out of the game. While this is definitely a much-needed feature in a baseball video game, it detracts from the overall experience by lengthening the game and requires spinning the UMD a bit too much in the drive. Sometimes the drive noise is so loud I felt a bit frightened that my PSP was being harmed.
The overall game experience feels fine, except for some noticeable problems. The pitching uses a meter system, where you direct the pitch with the analog nub, press and hold the button of the desired pitch, release at the desired speed, and press the button again when it gets into the green area. If you don't press it on time, you'll throw a wild pitch (which happens more often than you'd like, even when your pitcher is fresh.) The pitch will then scream to the batter. Fielding works much in the same way. When the ball is hit, you negotiate your player to the ball, and throw by holding the button corresponding to the base until you reach the desired strength of the throw, and release. The ball is then thrown to the base, hopefully getting the runner out. Hitting is just as simple: you press the button to swing and use the analog nub to direct the location.
The problems in batting crop up almost immediately. The pitches seem to reach the plate really quickly, giving you little time to swing and connect with the ball. It's definitely difficult to connect, which leads to a realistic baseball experience, but it's frustrating when your opponent seems to have little problem knocking a ball out of the park if you let a pitch linger in the strike zone. Pitches can be a little bit hard to control if you're throwing the heat consistently. Press the button too late, and your pitch will sail away from the catcher and the runners will advance.
Fielding doesn't get much better. The viewing angle seems to be a bit confusing at first, and the ball seems a lot larger than it should be, which distorts the actual distance the ball goes and increases the difficulty in lining up your fielders for a successful catch. You could turn on the auto-fielding option, but the players seem to make all sorts of errors and miss balls they should otherwise have no problems with, so you're better off handling it yourself, even if you're an incompetent fielder. There are sliders you can adjust to make things better, but most of the problems still remain.
I've encountered a few glitches so far as well. One time, I threw in a ball to first base which had been hit to the outfield. The batter had run out his hit and was returning to first base; he hadn't turned towards second, just overrun the bag like every player does. The ball reached first before the player had returned to the bag, and he got called out. The other glitch involves the screen going black for a while until it transitions to another screen or to a replay. This interrupts things and also prevents you from seeing the on-field action as it unfolds.
Did you know that Sammy Sosa still plays for the Cubs? He does in MVP, anyway, and this is another area where the game suffers. Rosters are completely outdated, and this is an inexcusable mistake. The game was delayed several times, and only just released in mid-May, so why are we putting up with these ancient rosters? You'd think with all the extra time EA took to deliver this game to the masses, they could've made at least one last revision to the rosters and made them as accurate as possible. If you're looking to take control of Sammy in Camden Yards as an Oriole, you'll have to get him in a trade. Unbelievable.
The graphics in MVP Baseball can be described as mediocre at best. There are a few things the game does well, such as facial models for the players, which accurately represent how the player really looks. Everything else is pretty average, or just plain bad. The framerate hovers between all right and just plain laggy. Sometimes I wouldn't even get to see the full swing animation of my batter. I'd press the button and he would start to swing, and the next thing I knew, the ball was flying foul or into the outfield. Player models are blocky, and all edges in the game are jaggy. The stadiums themselves are dull and blurry, barely representing their real life counterparts. Scoreboards don't change with each inning and each hit and run scored. The crowd is comprised of static and unmoving cardboard cutouts, giving the impression that the teams are playing in front of empty seats. The best looking parts of the game are the instant replays, but you'll be skipping through those soon enough as they grow tiresome rather quickly.
The sound and commentary are well done for the most part, but the commentary also suffers from lag. Sometimes the play will be well over, and you'll still be listening to the announcers go on about it. The crowd sounds are well done but are recycled way too much and are very repetitive. The crack of the bat and the crowd getting worked up are well represented though, and you'll start to feel the excitement as you get players on base or if you're throwing a lot of strikes. The crowd gets amped up and cheers you on, which is definitely a thrilling experience.
There is some longevity to be found in the game, as you can unlock legendary players and throwback jerseys by winning points through your play. The game also makes use of ad-hoc multiplayer so you can play your friends through the local wireless capabilities of the PSP. Unfortunately, there is no online option, so you can't get online and face your cousin who lives out in Arkansas. As it is, you'll probably only play this title until next year's baseball games come out anyway, or maybe only until October, when the season ends.
MVP Baseball on the PSP is an unfortunately mixed bag of some good aspects and some bad aspects. More often than not, however, you'll reach into that bag and pick out something bad. The game could've probably benefited from some more time in the can, but it couldn't have been delayed any longer and expect to still make it in time for most of this year's baseball season. It's too bad we won't see an MVP 2006, because of the exclusivity deal that Take 2 has worked out with Major League Baseball. EA has some great ideas that are just poorly implemented, and it would've been nice to see them rework it for next year. This year, however, you'd be best advised to skip this trip to the ballpark.