Developer: 989 Sports
Release Date: March 1, 2006
With MLB 2K6 as the only release for most consoles, 989 Sports' MLB 06: The Show is a welcome relief to anyone who is not a fan of the Visual Concepts creation. The PSP version would seem to stand in the shadows of its bigger console brother, but that is simply not the case. Upon further play, The Show is not only one of the best handheld baseball games ever made, but it also ends up being among the best of this year's crop.
It seems most games coming to the PSP, although graphically close to their PS2 brethren, seem to lose a lot of features, but luckily, this is hardly the case with The Show. With the Standard Season and Home Run Derby modes, there is also a new King of the Diamond mode and In-Depth Career mode. In King of the Diamond, you choose your favorite pitcher and batter to go up against another pitcher and batter combination. From there, you hit the ball and try to score as many runs as you can for a win, or pitch against your opponent and try to stop them from scoring. Around the field are bonuses and other items, some of which take away time, while others help you out. The entire thing can also be played through a ladder system, giving you the chance to advance through and prove that you are the king of the diamond.
The Standard Season mode features everything you would expect in a baseball game, including managing your team, trading players and working with the salary cap to create the best team you can for years to come. As the game progresses, individual players' attributes will increase or decrease, adding another level of depth. Each year, the draft is held so you can add even more talent to your team and watch them advance through the majors. On top of all of this, there is just about every different feature you could possibly want in a baseball game franchise mode.
The meat and potatoes (or alfalfa and tofu, if you are a vegetarian) of The Show comes in the Career mode. Starting with an in-depth character creation process, where you have quite a few options for your digital avatar, you are building a player who hopes to make it to "The Show," or the big leagues, the dream of hundreds of minor leaguers throughout the nation. The customization goes as far as to allow you to choose a bat color, something that, although unimportant, is a fun little quirk. In selecting your team, you can choose your favorite big league squad or just one in need of the position of the player you're creating. The game starts in spring training, allowing you to try your hand at making the team, and even making the show right off the bat. My player only made it to double-A ball, which is the lowest level featured in the game for a developing player; you must attain certain season and career goals in order to make your way towards the top. With each successful game, you earn valuable training hours to improve your player and make him one of the best.
This RPG-like element, although time-consuming, is particularly fun. Playing with your digital likeness allows you to get into the game much more than a typical baseball title would allow. The long seasons can take some time to beat, so the portable nature of the PSP is a definite advantage in that sense. The overall goal of the Career mode is to reach the Hall of Fame, but it would take quite the dedicated player to get that far.
Defensively, gameplay in The Show is quite standard. Players throw and run well enough, with the individual skills a part of how well they do on the field. For instance, when a ball is coming in from a pop fly, a baseball appears under the spot where the ball will hit. That ball's size is dependent entirely on how well your player rates defensively, so a great player has an easier time tracking the ball while another might lose it. Players move around pretty quickly in the field, but the biggest problem is in the A.I.'s ability to play the field. For some reason, players are just confused at times and let the ball bounce right past them in the outfield. However, to worsen matters, they just stand there as another player will move all the way across the field to get to the ball. This leads to a lot of inside-the-park homeruns, along with doubles and triples that should never have been. It is not something that happens that often, but it does happen enough to be noticeable, and it takes away from the otherwise-great playing experience.
Offensively, the pitching works well. Each pitcher has several pitches, which gives them a chance to mix it up a bit. You choose where the ball will break using the left thumbstick, and then a power meter decides how accurate and hard the ball will come in. The thumbstick has always been irritating, mainly because of its odd placement, but in The Show, it grows increasingly more frustrating as you play. If you become fatigued from playing an intense game, you will become more irritated with each pitch as you struggle to place it exactly where you want. Aside from that, the interface does work well, and the downfall is more a problem with the system than the game. Hitters are given the chance to guess a pitch, something which is much easier with some pitchers. This adds another level to the hitting, as the guessing can be a fun way of reading tendencies, putting more depth into the overall game.
The graphics are one of the few ambiguous spots. Up close, the players look realistic and move like you would expect, although the facial areas remain a little generic. Some odd graphical problems can be seen, such as the helmets looking washed out with colors that do not fit in. It's only a minor distraction, though, because everything else looks and works so well. Each major league field is digitally represented, along with a host of spring training AA and AAA diamonds. All major league fields look fairly good and are decent representations of their real-life counterparts, although the made-up fields are also fairly fun. One in spring training even features a moving carnival wheel, which is just a great touch. On the field, the players look sort of strange, with the camera pulling out to reveal somewhat-pixelated players. It is not necessarily bad though, as they still move realistically and look great for a handheld system.
Equally great is the sound, featuring the now-standard streaming songs during menu systems, just like any console title. The only problem there is that because of the size of the game disc, I imagine, there seems to be a lot of songs that play repeatedly. The field sounds great, with the commentary being truly dynamic. When a handheld console's voiceover and commentary are more interesting than some home consoles', you know that the developers have accomplished something great. Fans cheer as the commentators spew facts, and all of this combines to bring you even further into the game.
The pine smells great as it cracks across the ball in MLB 06: The Show for the PSP. Crafting one of the best versions of their game in years, 989 Sports also succeeds in crafting one of the best games currently on the market. If you are a baseball fan or just want to try out a sports game on the PSP, The Show is one of the first great sports games for the system.