Publisher: 2K Sports
Release Date: July 28, 2008
There are certain Japanese game franchises on which we Americans really miss out. One such example is the Power Pros baseball series, which has eschewed the modern trend of realism and super-detailed player models for exceptional depth and gameplay aspects we would never expect to see in an American baseball game. The result, though, is something truly great that manages to be one of the most comprehensive, stat-driven, obsessive, addictive and fun games out there, all while looking like something you'd see on a Saturday morning cartoon show. Make no mistake, MLB Power Pros 2008 is a gem of a game, one any baseball fan should seriously consider tracking down.
The first thing likely to strike you about Power Pros is its art direction, which can best be described as a cross between Rayman and Miis. This particular animation, known as chibi in Japan, transforms the Major League players you know and love into squat, cute little caricatures that sport almost no detail but still manage to convey both the appearance and personality of the players they represent. In less capable hands, this look would come across as lazy and unfinished, but Konami has been working this franchise for years (it's been around for decades in Japan) and they have honed the craft so well that you can easily pick out Derek Jeter or Ken Griffey Jr. without even realizing it.
Therefore, it is forgivable if you look at the game's case, see these adorable characters and just assume this is a simple, stripped-down baseball game for kids. You would be terribly mistaken though, as Power Pros is easily one of the deepest, most robust games out there for any genre, sports or otherwise. There are so many game modes that it's honestly impossible to talk about them all in one review without going on and on for pages at a time, so instead, we'll just focus on a couple of the game's more unique modes. Those would be Success and MLB Life, each of which balances baseball with lifestyle so well, that you may find yourself hurrying through your at-bats just to get back to handling all of your off-the-field dealings.
First off is Success mode, which this year casts you as an aspiring AA player looking to outdo his rival and win the affections of the girl of your dreams. While there is a heavy focus on training hard and playing well, you have the option of wandering to the nearby town between games and meeting up with teammates or locals in a variety of settings. All of these characters you run into have their own story lines and side-missions, and you quickly find yourself drawn into an experience that is part sports game, part RPG, and part Japanese dating sim. You can't possibly do everything in one trip, though, which is why the game allows you to create and save up to 200 (110 fielders, 90 pitchers) to take through this mode. And remember, this is just one piece of the overall game.
MLB Life puts you through a similar experience, but you can choose to either play through as a created player or an already-existing MLB superstar. Regardless of which path you choose, the end goal is still the same: play for 10 years in the hopes of making it into the Hall of Fame. Obviously, in order to do that, you need to build up your stats, and Power Pros tracks so many facets of performance that you'll likely never fully understand them all. After every game (or practice, for that matter), Power Pros will feed your performance into a formula and spit out updated rankings and abilities. If you bash a couple of home runs in the same game, not only will your power rating go up, but you'll also see the bar start to fill that will eventually grant you the "Intimidator" skill. Conversely, if you go hitless with a couple of strikeouts in a game, many of your stats will decrease, and you might see an unhelpful attribute such as "Timely Whiff" creep closer to defining you as a player. There are dozens and dozens of statistics tracked in every game, and while some of them may not seem significant (who cares about how good I am at a headfirst slide?), they still testify to the incredible attention to detail that pervades all aspects of Power Pros.
That just concerns on-field actions; when you have free time you can choose to engage in a hobby, go out with friends or your agent to raise your friendship status, attempt to woo a special lady, or go buy a new house or a car or one of the myriad of performance items that will help you stay at the top of your game. It's incredibly easy to lose yourself in all the possibilities, and you'll likely find that you've been playing for hours without even realizing it. This mode is so deep that it can, for better or worse, take you up to a week to complete a single season, and since every year will play out differently, the replay value of the title is through the roof.
Taking this obsession with covering every little detail to the max, the game also features control options for every Wii controller known to man, so you can opt for Wiimote alone, remote and Nunchuk, Classic Controller or GameCube controller. It doesn't really matter what you choose, as all of them perform admirably, so it really comes down to a matter of personal preference. One thing to note about the game is that it doesn't feature much motion control to speak of, so if you were planning on actually swinging a bat or throwing the ball, you're likely to be disappointed. What is here, however, is very easy to use and will strongly appeal to those who long for traditional baseball action.
While Power Pros has a lot going for it, there are still a few things that could have used a second look. First off, the graphics haven't received any touch-ups since last year's version, and while the game doesn't look bad, it could certainly look a lot better. Also, the announcer is far too excited about every single call he makes, and you'll likely run into a lot of annoying repetition, especially in the MLB Life mode. Also, while the game is incredibly deep, it kind of just throws you in headlong without any real explanation regarding what's going on or what to do next. Therefore, it may take a lot of trial and error to unlock the secrets of things like Success mode, and while you may be building up your "Intimidator" ability, unless you know where to look, you'll likely never understand what that even means. While the game has been around forever in Japan, a bit more handholding for the fledgling American audience would have been appreciated.
Still, it's easy to overlook all that and see MLB Power Pros 2008 for what it truly is, a sterling example of how sports games can be deep without being overly complicated and how realism doesn't necessarily trump goofiness, as long as what you're making is fun. No doubt about it, Power Pros is easily the best baseball game on the Wii, and a fine representative of the larger genre at that. If you're looking for a sports game that's going to last and last, look no further: This one is well worth your money.
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