Developer: SCE Studios San Diego
Release Date: March 3, 2009
With baseball season in full swing around us, it's definitely the proper time to be taking a look at the slew of baseball titles that hit in the last month or two, and I'll be taking a look at the PSP port of MLB '09: The Show. If you're up on your sports titles, you'll know that The Show on the PS3 provided one of the best console baseball experiences in recent memory. It's a shame that we couldn't have seen better results from MLB 2K9 from 2K Sports, but at least Sony owners had a great alternative with The Show.
The PSP version does a great job of bringing that experience to a portable system, and while it's obviously not going to be on par with the PS3 version, I couldn't help but feel that the core gameplay is well-represented here, with plenty of modes to keep players entertained during the season. If you're expecting big changes from the last couple of years, though, you'll be a bit disappointed. The batting and pitching systems, which were put in place last year, haven't seen many changes or improvements, but then again, they were particularly well-executed last year. The fielding feels a little bit different and is more focused on individual stats to determine reaction time, but aside from that, the gameplay felt pretty identical to what I remember from last year.
The Show features a pretty solid roundup of familiar modes, with Exhibition, Franchise, Home Run Derby, Legend and the ever-popular Road to the Show. If you're new to the series, Road to the Show will put you in control of a user-created character as you choose to start from either the draft or the minor leagues and work your way up. You'll be given a certain number of points to devote to different categories, and as you accomplish goals and training during your career, you'll be able to evolve your player and enhance his stats, all in an effort to make him a superstar. I find it to be the best mode in the game, and if you're an RPG fan, I think you'll find a lot to like with Road to the Show.
Unlike Franchise mode, you don't take direct control of the entire team, so you're not controlling every batter, baseman, catcher or pitcher on your team. You're absolutely stuck with your player, and depending on the fielding position you chose, you'll only have one role on the team. As you play, it'll fast-forward events to your turn, so if you enjoy having control over the outcome of a game, this might not be the mode for you. Even if you manage to hit all the goals for your character in a game, it might not mean that you'll come out on top, so you're very dependent on the AI outcome to see if you make it to the playoffs. It's a bit to get used to, but the game is meant to be played over a longer period of time, so even if you miss out your first year, you'll continue to improve, along with your team, for each subsequent year that arrives.
As far as gameplay goes, batting and pitching both feel pretty satisfying on the PSP, and like the previous game, you can still try to guess the pitch or take advantage of an opponent's tendency to pitch in a certain direction. It doesn't seem to make as much of a negative impact as it did before, so if you guess correctly, there's a drop in accuracy and power, but it's not nearly as noticeable as it used to be. There's also a system in place for pitchers to let you know whether a batter has a tendency to swing, how often, and whether or not he can actually hit the ball. Even on offense, The Show feels very defensive, so there's a bit of planning involved in even the simple plays.
Unfortunately, fielding is my least favorite aspect of the game. When I began with the Road to the Show mode, I designated my player as a first baseman, just to get a feel for how the infield/outfield dynamic would work. I didn't have a lot of issues initially, but eventually I noticed that the AI would make quite a few fielding errors — sometimes back-to-back — and once I started to pay attention to the stats, I realized how heavily fielding was based on individual player stats. I'll agree that it's a good idea on paper, but if you're stuck with a low-stat player at shortstop, you'll really get aggravated by how often he misses a line drive or even a grounder. It's even worse when the defense fails to react to an overthrown ball, and they'll just stand around until you take the initiative and run out of your way to pick it up. Really, fielding almost feels glitchy, even though I'm pretty sure that it's working as intended. Basically, it's not that fun on defense when you're not pitching, so be prepared for a less-than-exciting experience there.
Franchise mode is always fun, and if you're looking for a more direct control approach to your season, then this is the way to go for you. They allow you to break down the season into smaller sections, so you don't have to play a full season like you did in the previous iterations of The Show. There's an online mode that can be played through either Ad Hoc or Infrastructure, and I only encountered a minimal amount of lag while playing against non-local players. There's even an option introduced this year to allow a player to concede, assuming the opponent OKs it, which is great if you end up going against a player who's far out of your league (which I did, more often than not!).
Home Run Derby makes a return and works as you might expect from just about every baseball title ever, and then there's the Legends mode, which is probably the most challenging aspect of the game. Legends mode really enhances the AI of each player, and since you're facing off against today's big names in baseball, be prepared to take a whooping. These guys will take advantage of every error you throw their way, so it's best to jump into this mode after you've managed to get a hang of the system and the controls. It's pretty unrelenting, and it's only going to appeal to the more hardcore players.
Despite some flaws, I really enjoyed MLB '09: The Show on the PSP. The pickings are slim for baseball fans with a PSP, and I think that some healthy competition would give the developers a slight push to change a couple of nagging aspects that show up year after year, but it's definitely not a bad baseball title. Go in with your expectations curbed a bit, and realize that this isn't identical to the The Show on PS3, and I don't think you'll be disappointed. If you're new to baseball games, this title is surprisingly accessible to new players, so don't be afraid to give it a try.
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