IGN Review of Major League Baseball 2K9
Last year 2K Sports took its first swing at MLB 2K for the Wii, and it was certainly a passable rookie effort. While last year's foray into the wild, wacky world of Wii was a decent first showing and appeared to build a strong foundation for future iterations of the franchise, it also had several gameplay and presentation issues that should have been addressed over the offseason. So, does MLB 2K9 have what it takes to bring home the MVP, or should it be sent back down to the minors?
I have to give credit where credit is due, and the development team at 2K China did an admirable job of bringing the same kind of deep simulation experience to the Wii that 2K Sports has been bringing to the PlayStation and Xbox consoles for years. MLB 2K9 for Wii isn't a dumbed-down, "kiddy" offering, but rather a fairly close approximation to what you'll find in MLB 2K9 on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, with a control scheme that takes advantage of the unique opportunities afforded by the Wii-mote.
Just as in last year's offering, MLB 2K9 challenges gamers to manage all aspects of the game – from setting a team's everyday lineups to maximize its effectiveness against right- and left-handed pitchers to throwing pitches in sequences that take the thunder out of opposing players' bats – and, encourages gamers to make use of "Inside Edge" information to boost their players' success against individual opposing players and teams.
This year's game also brings the fun of unlockable trading cards to the Wii for the first time, allowing gamers to unlock players, stadiums and uniforms by accomplishing specific in-game feats while playing as or against certain players and teams. Gamers can then use the trading cards they've unlocked to piece together their own teams. With 162 cards available to unlock, gamers can look forward to a nice, long road to acquiring the complete set and having the ability to pick and choose their team from the full complement of available talent.
However, MLB 2K9 still does not offer online play, which is a bit of a disappointment considering that the team at 2K said that the omission of the feature in last year's title was a calculated move to allow the team to spend more time focusing on gameplay mechanics and that it would definitely include online play in future editions of the franchise. Now, if it was the case that the development team had made significant changes to the gameplay mechanics in this, its second offering, then I would be more inclined to give it a pass on online play in 2K9. But, considering that most aspects of this game are identical to 2K8, I don't think that excuse ought to fly this time.
Pitching in 2K9 is handled exactly the same way it was in 2K8. You aim your pitches by pointing with the Wii remote and select your pitch type using the analog stick. Once you've selected your pitch and its intended target, you press and hold the B button and tilt the Wii-mote upward to initiate your hurler's delivery, which brings up a collapsing target with red, yellow and green zones. For maximum pitch effectiveness, you'll want to stop the collapsing target while it's in the green, which is done by snapping the Wii-mote downward, just as a pitcher pulls his arm down in his throwing motion.
While I like the way that this mechanic is handled, I didn't feel like there was a high enough premium placed on keeping my pitches in the green. I found that even when my release point was in the yellow portion of the collapsing target that my pitches still had plenty of zip on them and didn't stray very far from their intended target. I also didn't care much for the prompts from my AI catcher, who offers suggested pitch types and locations before every offering. The catcher regularly called for pitches out of the strike zone in counts in which no real catcher would ever call for an offering out of the zone (such as 0-0 and 1-0 counts), and didn't do a very admirable job of mixing up pitch types and locations (often calling for two or three consecutive changeups or fastballs in the same exact spot to dangerous hitters). Thankfully, I didn't experience any consequence for simply ignoring my catcher's suggestions and hauling off and delivering the pitch I wanted in any given situation.
Corner pitching in MLB 2K9 is extremely easy and it's really no challenge at all to paint the black with pitch after pitch, even when you've pitched late into a game and you're hurler's stamina has worn down considerably. Because of this, I found that I didn't have to pitch to contact very often as I was able to reach double-digit strikeouts with relative ease. However, when the ball was put in play, I found myself cursing-out my digital fielders and yearning to throw my Wii-mote into the bleachers with startling regularity.
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CPU controlled fielders, even guys who are lauded for their flawless glove-work in real-life like Ichiro and Derek Jeter, dropped pop-ups and booted grounders at an alarming rate. And, when my infielders did pick the ball cleanly, I found that they double-clutched their throws more often than not whether I used the "Smart Throw" control and flicked my remote to prompt the fielder to throw to a base of the AI's determination, or I targeted a specific base by using the directional buttons on the remote. The multitude of double-clutched throws resulted in the CPU scratching out far more infield hits than it had any business recording, and eventually had me furious. After all, there's no feeling quite like executing a perfect pitch, watching the batter tap a sure-fire double-play ball towards my second baseman, and then watching him double-clutch his throw before flipping it on to the short stop covering the bag to initiate the double-play as the runner slides safely in before the throw and that sure-fire, inning-ending grounder gets you nothing but an additional base runner to deal with.
Batting in MLB 2K9 is handled very similarly to 2K8, with just a couple minor tweaks. You still use the Wii-mote as your virtual bat, as you're prompted in the game's tutorial to hold the remote vertically before the pitch and then swing it, just like a bat, as the pitch enters the hitting zone. Last year batting was entirely timing based, and was thus much, much easier than it is in this year's iteration, which requires you to target your swing to one of the nine areas of your batter's strike zone. Even if you time your swing perfectly, if the pitch is high and tight and you've targeted the lower outside corner of the zone for your swing, you're going to be a big whiffer. Thankfully, every so often, opposing pitchers will telegraph what's coming and you'll get a peek at where the "Meatball" is going to cross the plate before it's thrown. This is your chance to really lay-into one and hook it up with a one-way, all-expense-paid ticket to Bleacher Town.
Of course, you'll be able to track each and every one of those dingers over the course of a full franchise mode in MLB 2K9, and that franchise mode is pretty much on par with what you'd expect from a modern baseball videogame.
As a hardcore baseball nut, the first thing I do when I get my hands on any baseball videogame is draft my own team in franchise mode so I put together a blend of talent that I'll find it enjoyable to play with over the course of a long MLB season. That being said, let me drop a little knowledge on you as you head into your own fantasy draft in MLB 2K9: Pay close attention to the salaries of the players you're drafting – 2K China certainly didn't. You'd normally expect to find all kinds of bargain-bin players at the bottom end of your draft, but that's not necessarily the case in this game. Apparently the team at 2K China defaulted to 1-year, $40 million contracts for a lot of the prospects in this game, and one not-so-special pitcher got a very, very special deal. Track down Danys Baez and have a look at his deal, and, if you've got Yankee money to throw around, pick him up along with his whopping, 1-year, $400 million contract.
Of course, a few laughable contracts aren't going to break a game's franchise mode, but it does call into question the team's attention to detail.
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