When you're top dog, it's tough maintaining that top spot. Everybody expects EA to turn out stellar games no matter what because they usually do. When we saw the preview code of MVP Baseball
a few months ago, it was buggy. But that's understandable because it wasn't a finished version of the game. This is one of their first baseball offerings on the PSP and we can understand that they're still getting used all the nooks and crannies of the brand new hardware. Well the game is
finished now, and it's still buggy. MVP Baseball
plays ok, but it's lacking polish. It's also missing a key feature that its competitor managed to get in.
MVP is a lot like the console version of the game with a few tweaks that are better suited for the handheld. There's the standard Quick Play mode that throws you into 9 inning game with your choice of any of the 30 teams that make-up the American and National Leagues. The gameplay options let you customize the kind of game you want to play, like the difficulty, number of innings, and the kind of views you want for batting and fielding.
The controls are simple enough to understand. The pitch controls are modeled after the console version of the game with a timing meter that determines the effectiveness and accuracy of the throw. X executes the swing of the bat, while thumbing the analog nub in different directions will affect how you connect with the ball. The Hitters Eye feature from this year's edition of the console game didn't make it to the PSP. You have the wing-it the best you can on the PSP 16x9 screen. The toughest part about this is that the button isn't as responsive as it should be which makes for a lot of late swings at the ball. I made sure it wasn't the PSP I using by throwing in a copy of MLB, and the hitting worked fine. So it has to be a tuning issue with MVP, which is a little frustrating.
There is no elaborate Franchise mode here, which makes sense because handhelds aren't suited for the big time investment that those kinds of modes require. There is a Season mode that has a few Career features that allow you to track multiple plays through the game and your performance in Home Run Showdown, one of the mini-games from the console version that made to the PSP. Basically you can track your stats based on the games you've played and won, how well you've done in the playoffs, your No Hitter and shutout records, trophies earned, and head-to-head challenges.
You can jump around in your playing schedule and play the match-ups that you want to play. The cpu can simulate the games you don't want to bother with. You can even edit your roster, crafting the team to be the powerful force that you need to win games. There are also options to create your own player and build him up through the season. You can choose details like how he wears his facial hair and what kind of build he has. The menu graphics are high quality, as are the rest of the menus through-out the game. Unfortunately that beauty doesn't leek into the actual gameplay.
Commentary and cutscenes made it into the game. It's a nice effort, seeing as MLB didn't put in cutscenses. It's understandable that the dev team would try to keep hardcore baseball fans satisfied by making the experience look as close to a television broadcast as possible. You get to see replays from different angles, complete with a slick spinning EA logo that helps give everything that TV-feel. The close-ups of the players right before they step-up to bat help show-off how much invested in the actual faces of the players. And everything really steps up once you hit a homerun - the cut aways show celebrating players and various other details on the field that help bring the game to life.
The only caveat to this is that the animations can slow down the pace of the game. When you want to skip through them, you'll see the player models pause mid seen for a few second, then the textures go grainy and everything dissolves to gameplay. It's a gooey transition that can get a little tiring after a while. Also, the player models here look blockier than MLB's. There animations don't look as fluid either. The overall stadiums and fields don't look nearly as detailed as I hoped they would, especially since there is so much invested in the presentation of the game.
Unfortunately, many of the game's bugs popped-up in the cutscenes. At one point, mid-play no less, a foul ball got hit into the bleachers by the opposing team, and the screen went black. All I could see was the little yellow arrow at the bottom of the screen, pointing to where the ball went. On the last play of one game, the opposing team hit a line drive straight to the shortstop. As soon as he picked it up and I pressed square to throw to third base, the screen froze, and switched to a cutscene of my players celebrating the play. What the hell? Then I got to see what actually happened in the replay - I had successfully made the throw. But it sucks that I couldn't actually see it play out because of a sloppy glitch.
Yes the game does play well enough to enjoy a simulated game of baseball on a handheld. It accomplishes allof the fundamental task that it should, and for that, they get props. But they weren't able to get online gameplay in here. There is head to head local PSP multiplayer via ad hoc, but no infrastructure mode. MLB has online play, and even though it stutters a little bit, at least it's there.
Another way you can play mulitplayer is through Party Play. You basically pass the PSP around to your friends when it's their turn to play. This feature support up to four players in turn based action, and it's fun if you have people around that are down to play. Addtionally, EA Pocket Trax makes another appearance, allowing the user to play the isolated soundtrack of the game with an animated background playing on the screen, along to the music. It's a fun little detail that could catch on through-out the PSP kingdom.
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