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MLB 06MLB ’06: The Show

It should be mentioned right away that we haven’t exactly been following baseball’s progression in the video game world. We played (and loved) Mario Baseball on the old school NES, but we haven’t played a single baseball game since then that could recreate the enjoyment we got with that title.

Most of them were clunky, with cheap graphics and really, really bad control. After several failed attempts at having fun with video game baseball, we pretty much gave up on the series. After all, they could make great hockey, football, basketball, and even golf games. So why not baseball?

Enter the Sony PSP. Upon its release, one of its most well-regarded games was MLB. Having not played it, we can’t really back that up. But now, with MLB ’06: The Show, we can see that baseball has come a long way in video game form.

Starting off, the game doesn’t feature simply a season mode, in which you pick a team and play through a year. It does have that mode, but it also includes a career mode. This allows you to create a player, put him on a team, and follow his progression through the minor and major leagues. This is definitely the most entertaining way to play.

The graphics and details are quite impressive. Every player has his own style of hitting or pitching, his own stance, running style, and base-walking style. You can even tell the difference between players just by looking at their computer-rendered faces. And you can see every detail of the baseball diamond, from the advertisements in the outfield to the thousands of people who showed up to enjoy the game (though admittedly, the crowds look rather bland).

Audio ranges from pretty good to not that great. Sound effects are always distinguishable, and the music selections are much better than for a lot of sports games (NFS Most Wanted, anybody?). The crowd, unfortunately, never really does anything other than cheer or boo, depending on how well you’ve done. And the commentators are pretty boring, not having the same variety of comments as they do on football or golf games. To top it off, the comments often come several seconds too late, so that you’ve already moved on from the play and don’t really care what anybody has to say about it anymore.

Which brings us to control and gameplay: at first it’s very, very confusing to figure out what you’re doing. You slowly grasp the concepts, and then you can slowly grasp the physical requirements of it. You’ll ruin several hits and probably even lose several games before you’ve really gotten the hang of things. Fortunately, the career mode helps you along by giving you some training opportunities. It probably helps, though, if it hasn’t been over a decade since you’ve attempted to play a baseball game (for that matter, it probably helps your enjoyment of the game if you actually like baseball).

MLB ’06: The Show seems a vast improvement over the baseball games of yesterday. While it still has some problems that aren’t going to make a reintroduction to baseball gaming easy, if you’ve been waiting with baited breath for a worthy entry, this just might be what you’re looking for. If sports gaming on the go is your bag, The Show will surely give you endless hours of portable entertainment.

Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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