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MVP 07 NCAA Baseball

Platform(s): PlayStation 2
Genre: Action
Publisher: EA
Developer: EA

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PS2 Review - 'MVP 07 NCAA Baseball'

by Andrew Hayward on March 4, 2007 @ 12:31 a.m. PST

EA continues to innovate on its acclaimed gameplay engine by introducing Rock and Fire Pitching, a revolutionary pitching mechanic that will forever change the way you deliver that blistering pitch past the batter. Rock and Fire pitching gives you ultimate control and increased feel to more realistically emulate the real life presence of stepping onto the mound, winding up and delivering the ultimate pitch.

Genre: Sports
Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Canada
Release Date: February 6, 2007

A small logo on the back of MVP 07 NCAA Baseball claims it to be the “#1 selling college baseball franchise,” but last I checked, it was the only college baseball franchise on the market. But baseball is a game of statistics, so even an empty one has a place on this packaging. Sure enough, MVP 06 was the first college baseball game ever made, which begs an obvious question: Why on earth did it take so long?

Apparently, nobody cares about college baseball. Sure, some people care, but it’s meant to be an overly broad statement; there are fewer fans of college baseball than professional hockey in America, and that’s really saying something. Imagine how the college hockey fans feel! Despite all the hype for bowl games and March Madness, the College World Series comes and goes with little fanfare and even less national coverage.

But EA Sports cares. Perhaps they’d like to see college baseball become a national phenomenon, or maybe they just aren’t ready to flush away the MVP series in the wake of 2K Sports snatching up the exclusive third-party MLB license. Whatever the reason, here we are with another college baseball game – so, how is it? Though the engine is showing considerable age, the development team has somehow improved the already fantastic gameplay with the addition of the Rock and Fire analog pitching system. It may not be flashy or particularly exciting, but MVP 07 still plays a great game of ball.

MVP 06 toyed with the established MVP formula a bit by introducing analog batting and fielding. Both worked well enough, but the game lacked some fluidity without the addition of analog pitching controls. It all comes full circle with Rock and Fire pitching, an all-new element that greatly differs from all other pitching systems. Sure, it slows the gameplay down just a tad, but the feeling (coupled with the change in perspective) makes it an exciting enhancement to the already rock-solid MVP experience.

Previous MVP titles defaulted to the “catcher’s view” perspective, but MVP 07 sets you up just behind the pitcher when you’re on the mound. To the right (or left) of your pitcher is a new meter in the shape of an upside-down triangle. After selecting a pitch and choosing an intended destination in (or around) the strike zone with the left analog stick, pull back on the right analog stick to start your wind-up. A small green area near the bottom of the meter indicates the best moment to throw the pitch, so lunge the analog stick forward at that moment to toss a gem.

Pulling back before or beyond the green part of the meter may wreak havoc on the location of your pitch. Fastballs may fly a foot outside the strike zone or hit dead-center, while curveballs may hang in the zone or just crash into the dirt too early. The change in perspective is not only visually appealing, but it gives you a greater view of how pitches react when you don’t release at the right point. Also new is the “Ask Kyle” option, which is activated by clicking L3. Clearly modeled after the “Ask Madden” feature, commentator Kyle Peterson suggests a pitch type and location for those who are not well-versed in pitch selection. It’s an excellent addition, and one that certainly comes in handy in the tight spots.

Analog batting and fielding return from MVP 06 and are more or less the same as they were last year. The batting controls feel great, and replicate the real swing about as well as you can expect a standard controller to. Major League Baseball 2K7 just has you release the stick for contact swings (as opposed to pushing forward in MVP 07), a move that seems to lack force. I’d take the MVP analog batting over it any day. Fielding is not as refined as the other analog systems, what with the wacky square meter and all, but it’s not a major deterrent. Just be sure to aim at the right base and you’ll be fine most of the time.

Dynasty Mode is the centerpiece of MVP 07, as you must coach a team to the College World Series while meeting goals and checking out incoming recruits. The regular season in college baseball is significantly shorter than that of the big leagues (about 50 games, as opposed to 162), which only makes the playoffs seem even lengthier. I played a total of 62 games in my first season, though your total may vary depending on your playoff performance. Division and rivalry games are theoretically more important than the others, but MVP 07 lacks the flair and excitement necessary to make these games anything more than routine.

And that is the biggest problem facing the MVP franchise at this point. Some of it is a visual issue, but a portion of the blame also falls on the license. Like other college sports games, there are no real-life players, but college baseball does not have any notable superstars as it is. As far as the game goes, the presentation is acceptable at best and plain boring at worst. MVP 06 suffered from the same issue, and no significant enhancements appear to have been made with MVP 07. The cardboard cutouts that make up the crowd never react to big plays or appear to be especially animated in any way. If they can’t get excited about college baseball, then how can I?

In place of the long-term contracts and free agents of Major League Baseball are recruits and outgoing seniors. Recruiting is kind of a drag, as you are given points to divide across a number of activities, including sending e-mails to potential recruits and inviting them to campus for a visit. There is no guarantee that a potential recruit will even sign with you at the end of a season, and losing your top starters after the playoffs can be a killer. After winning the College World Series, my entire starting rotation either graduated or bolted for the big leagues, and many of my key relievers left as well. My dynasty was devastated! Any interest I had in pursuing another championship was quickly washed aside by this near-fatal blow.

The last time I tried taking a baseball game online was with World Series Baseball 2K2 for the Dreamcast, and the experience was horrid enough to put me off trying again for many years. Thankfully, MVP 07 offers a better online experience, though some hiccups remain. Pitching takes the greatest hit, as the slight, continuous lag makes it difficult to regularly hit your spots. Too often, I would click the analog stick forward in time to make a perfect pitch, but the game would not recognize the command until it was too late. Batting and fielding are better off, but the overall experience is a bit choppy. It’s playable, but not refined.

MVP 07 marks the fifth iteration of the MVP series, and also likely the fifth time a version of this engine has been used. More so than ever before, the graphics engine is really starting to show its age. While the in-game action is typically fluid, the cut-scenes stutter and display the same glitchy animations over and over again. Many of the visual glitches are so obvious that they should have been addressed long before the game ever went gold. For example, when pitching, I would often see the batter’s shadow on top of my body. I can’t even fathom where the sun would have to be for that to be possible.

Commentary for the game is provided by Mike Patrick and Kyle Peterson, though I have to wonder how much time they actually spent in the studio. The amount of repetition is uncanny, sometimes within the same sentence (“On to first… and on to first for the out”). Their comments also seem to lack detail or excitement, as a high-scoring inning may merely be marked by the mention that I left a man on base. Way to think positive! The expected licensed soundtrack was nixed in favor of a selection of familiar college fight songs. If marching bands get you pumped up, get ready for 65 killer tracks of drumlines and well-oiled horn sections.

MVP 07 NCAA Baseball lacks flashy visuals and the all-important big league license, but the quality of the gameplay is undeniable. Without analog pitching, MVP 07 would be a tough sell; an incremental upgrade to a game that has no licensed rosters. However, the addition of Rock and Fire gives the game a fluidity it lacked last year, creating a gameplay experience that may actually top that of its MLB counterparts. My only hope is that EA Canada will take this series next-gen in 2008 with an all-new engine and a heaping helping of glitz and glamour. Keeping it a last-gen exclusive would likely be career suicide at that point, and would renege on the flashes of brilliance found within this great pick-up-and-play hardball sim.

Score: 8.0/10


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