Publisher: 2K Sports
Release Date: July 29, 2008
If you're yearning for the days of earlier sports titles like Tecmo Bowl and haven't been able to get into current- or last-gen sports titles due to their complexity, you might find something to love in MLB Power Pros on the PS2. It's not as deceptively simple as the cover art seems to suggest, and there are still some hardcore elements to the season setup (i.e., the trades system, overall managerial duties), but the core gameplay is about as simple as you can get. The pitching, batting and fielding mechanics are easy to figure out, which make this a pretty solid introduction to the sport for new players, and players jaded by the sheer amount of options that most sports titles bombard you with nowadays.
MLB Power Pros carries the MLB license, so while all the characters have this "chibi" cute look to them with the exaggerated features and simplified fat boy design, they also carry along stats and names representative of their real-life counterparts. The only thing that really fails in this design is that each player isn't exactly distinct, and you'll notice when you get to character creation that there aren't a lot of facial options, skin tones or other defining features to set one player apart from another. This keeps the game simple, but at the same time, it's hard to feel like you're really playing as your favorites when all you've got it is a name to go by. It has a certain amount of retro flair to it; I remember playing NES titles like Bases Loaded as a kid that left me with the same feeling, so it has that going for it.
Like most baseball titles currently on the market, MLB Power Pros comes with a laundry list of features and modes to check out. There's the Season mode, which is the most straightforward and similar mode to other titles out there, where you take on the role of GM for the team and guide them through a full season of play under a contract of 10 years. You can put a lot of the features here on automatic if you're just looking to control the team during games, or you can opt for a more hands-on approach to training, trading and other aspects. This isn't the mode that's going to entice new players, though; that is left to Success mode, which is the create-a-player, or career mode of MLB Power Pros.
Success mode is a pretty unique way of playing the game, and it's certainly not something that I could easily compare to the create-a-player modes in other sports titles. It takes on an almost RPG style of gameplay, with heavy day or weekly sim qualities and time management to make the most out of your created player. The idea is that the character you've created has entered college and signed up to play with a team by the name of the Tulips. After a little bit of misunderstanding, you realize you've signed up with the worst team in the league, and you're introduced to a eclectic cast of characters consisting of a drama queen assistant manager, a know-it-all second year player, and a rookie with an amazing amount of skill. Anyone who's seen films like "Major League" and "Mighty Ducks" will recognize the stereotypes here, but it works well within the game.
From the starting point, you're shown how to manipulate the time given to you to practice, shop, study or work. You'll want to switch up the different options to make your player into a well-rounded individual, with plenty of independent statistics to keep track of and enhance as the weeks go by. Some things feel a little random and out of the player's control, like the relationships between friends and the few girls you encounter, while other things, like training and boosting stats, are definitely within your ability to change and manipulate.
The only thing that really struck me as odd about this mode is how little you actually play the game of baseball. The mode takes place over the course of three years of college, at which point you can be scouted and taken into the Major Leagues, assuming you haven't run into any game-ending injury. However, the first year is primarily story-based, with a lot of text and interaction between characters, and not a whole lot of actually playing ball. If this mode could have better straddled the line between role-playing and actual playing, I would've enjoyed it far more than I did. As it is, it's certainly interesting and unique, but not exactly what I was hoping for. There are certain points when you'll simply feel like tapping the button to speed past the dialogue simply because they throw in so much, while at other times, you'll appreciate the story and character interaction because it's pretty well written. Still, if you're just looking to play some baseball, I can see this mode turning off people rather early on.
Outside of the Success mode, you have your basic exhibition matches that allow you to select your favorite ball club, a home run derby mini-game, and a virtual store that allows you to use earned points to buy packs of baseball cards. The card feature is something that I always enjoy in games, and thankfully, MLB Power Pros gives you real player photos for the cards that you can obtain, instead of staying with the cutesy character designs. Sure, it's a pretty meaningless feature, but it gives me something to collect in the game and keeps me coming back to play it again and again.
The actual playing of baseball in MLB Power Pros works well, and it's pretty simple. When pitching, you can opt between a few different styles, and you simply hold down the X button to toss the pitch and move the cursor in the batter box for where you want it to land. It's reliable, and you won't accidentally toss out a stray ball, so it's pretty easy to grasp. Likewise, batting is simple, and you use a virtual lineup to position yourself; you're even given a second or two during the pitch to see where the ball is going, which allows you to realign your bat and hopefully swing one out of the park. Fielding is just as simple, with basic dives and throws that don't require much skill other than realizing which button tosses to each base. It's a simple game of baseball, but one that should easily appeal to most casual players.
Altogether, I enjoyed MLB Power Pros for the PS2, but I don't think it's a perfect casual game experience. It still straddles the line between hardcore and casual, and it occasionally dips too far into either side to be enjoyed by everyone. If you're looking for a simple game of baseball without a lot of bells and complicated whistles, you can certainly find it here; just keep in mind that the other features feel very niche and might not be your cup of tea. It's certainly a mixed bag, but MLB Power Pros is at least worth a rental to see whether or not you'd enjoy it.
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