IGN Review of Major League Baseball 2K8
If you're a baseball nut like we are, you've got a slew of options every year across nearly any and every platform possible. The Sony crowd has The Show, 2K weighs in with the MLB 2K series, and arcade spin-offs like The Bigs and MLB Power Pros keep things interesting for the non-sim crowd. America's favorite pastime may be dropping in television ratings, but it's certainly found its niche in gaming amazingly well.
Right now Wii is in an interesting situation though. Currently we've got four baseball games on the system, each offering something entirely different to users. Wii Sports is the bare minimum baseball experience, MLB Power Pros is the traditionally controlled, immensely deep niche title, The Bigs is the token arcade baseball game, and now MLB 2K8 has arrived as hands-down the most realistic and mature of the experiences.
But is it good? The game does have its fair share of issues, and being a freshman year effort on Wii is never easy, but in the end it's still an enjoyable game of baseball, yes.
MLB 2K8 doesn't attempt to dwarf down the 2K feel at all for Wii, and in that respect we need to give credit where it's due. 2K didn't instantly pawn off Wii as a "kiddy" system and try to dwarf the experience, but rather is going with the same sim feel as the other 2K8 baseball offering son other consoles. You'll need to know how to work the count, be strategic with your bullpen, work your lineup, bring players up from the minors, and read the Inside Edge scouting reports if you want to succeed. It's intelligent, realistic baseball. If that isn't your cup-o-tea, you can find what you're looking for in any of the other Wii baseball titles out there.
Where things turn sour though, is in the lack of depth to the core MLB package on Wii. Gone are the minor league teams (you work with the minors, but don't actually have the ability to play games using them), trading card system, and all online play. 2K commented on the lack of online, mentioning that it was about working with the control this year, and leaving online for later MLB games, and while that is a valid strategy, players are still looking for a "total package" baseball experience on Wii, and that includes online play. It's a shame to miss out on those features, and it could mean substantially lower sales for this version of MLB 2K8 on Wii, as the core baseball fan is the one 2K is marketing to with this one.
Put all that aside though, and you've still got a pretty comprehensive game of baseball, and one of the most reliable sports designs out there thus far. Pitching is handled with the IR, moving your cursor around the strike zone (and beyond for forced balls) to match up with a very well designed catcher AI system that actually places its glove in the batter's colder hit zones. On top of that you've got your specific pitches based on who's on the mound, complete with red and blue highlights to again stress which pitch the catcher is signing you. Blue means "throw a ball with this pitch", while red signals for a strike. The actual motion of pitching comes into play when you select your pitch, hold B, pull back your arm, and then flick forward in time with an on-screen target. Unlike The Bigs, however, you don't need to curve your arm or do specific motions for pitches. It would be interesting to see how the two designs could come together for an even more engaging pitching system, but already this aspect of MLB 2K8 is hands-down the best pitching we've ever experienced in a videogame. Build on it for next year, and it could make Wii's version of MLB 2K9 unstoppable.
Fielding is a pretty simple affair, but the important point to make is that it works. Aside from a two-handed dive motion to leap for fly balls, the experience is nearly identical to any other game of ball out there. As one added bonus to streamline the game, however, players can flick the Wii remote and automatically have the AI throw the ball to where the computer thinks is the best play. You won't want to do this in crunch double-play opportunities or huge judgment call moments, but for a quick snap to first after a lazy grounder to shortstop, it's never let us down.
When it comes to batting, the experience is pretty on par with what The Bigs offered last year. The ball comes in, you swing the Wii-mote, it takes it as a button press, and that's that. One change that absolutely needs to be made for next year's effort, however, is the "check swing" system, which tries to read if you stopped your swing early, interpreting it as a held swing. There have been times when we took huge swings in clutch situations on 95 MPH fastballs down the center of the strike zone, our player instead checks his swing, and we take the field again after a called strike to end the inning. It's a rare issue, but certainly one that can change the tide of any game of ball in an instant. Players are better off to error on the side of safety with swinging, going too big instead of just snapping the Wii-mote quickly and calling it a day.
The only other major gripe we have is that batting is a bit too simplified. You can hold the analog stick to pull the ball in specific directions, but aside from that it's all timing based, and power hitters aren't exactly the most balanced of batters. We had a season opener where Justin Morneau of the Twins hit four home runs in a single game. He followed that home game up with another two in the next two games, and ended up with a total of eight home runs after 11 at-bats. He's good, but he isn't a 72% home run hitter; that's superhuman.
Even despite some of the rougher specifics in gameplay, 2K8 is an extremely fun baseball game, and gives us a lot of faith in the series from here on out on Wii. Franchise mode is a blast, complete with create-a-player (no stat cap), the Inside Edge system where you actually purchase scouting reports pre-game to add to your ability to play opposite of specific players on the opposing team, and some of the best commentary out there – easily the top offering in any sports game on Wii. Jon Miller and Joe Morgan put together an impressive commentary on the game, complete with specific facts and info about every player in the game, history on the game of baseball (which launches after you put the controller down or let the game idle), and satisfying play-by-play calls. There's also an on-field tutorial that can be accessed at any time mid-game, and extremely deep stat tracking for calculated pitching scenarios and strategy. There's certainly room to grow, but the series is off to a good start.
As a quick note on the visual presentation, there's some odd issues with icons and logos in the game, where the general interface looks stretched, but the game is running at the correct 16:9 display. As for the on-field play, MLB 2K8 looks like a PS2 title, and the visual presentation is a must-change for next year. The Bigs (also 2K) on Wii trounces MLB 2K8's visuals, and that shouldn't be. The team has laid the groundwork this year, but hopefully next year's offering brings online, a full list of features, and a vastly improved graphical overhaul.
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