Name: MLB 09: The Show
Genre: Sports, Baseball
Platform: PlayStation 2, PSP, PlayStation 3 (Reviewed on PSP)
The PlayStation Portable may not get the AAA titles that its much bigger brother the PlayStation 3 gets, but that doesn’t mean that Sony’s not trying. Thankfully every year, baseball fans can enjoy one of the more well put together titles on the system, MLB: The Show. Last year’s offering was one of the best versions of the game to ever grace the handheld, and after playing the PS3 edition, I was really looking forward to seeing what Sony San Diego had in store for my PSP this season. After a good deal of playtime, it seems that Sony was more content to rest on their laurels than they were to improve last year’s version.
Truth be told, there’s not a whole lot of difference between The Show 08 and The Show 09, particularly in the presentation department. Player models, animations and stadiums remain virtually unchanged. The PSP has never been a graphical powerhouse, but many textures in the game are especially blurry, and names on the backs of jerseys are downright incomprehensible. There’s also not a whole lot of variation in players this year, despite the inclusion of more signature stances. Almost every batter is identical unless they’re a big name player, and often the only way to tell who’s who is from the TV presentation overlays. The TV presentation is something that should be commended. Vasgersian, Huddler, and Campbell all return to the booth to do solid work, and while it may take an extra second for a comment’s audio to load, for the most part the three announcers are on top of the action. They’re even pretty good about not saying the same things over and over again, despite the game trying very hard to create similar situations nearly every at bat. The game’s fielding animations would be fine if I didn’t see the exact same moves I saw last year over and over again. I know sports games are notorious for being overgrown roster updates, but this year’s version of The Show seems to be setting a new bar for derivation.
The Show may not pack a graphical punch, but there are some solid game modes to test your baseball mettle. Road to the Show returns, though it’s basically unchanged with the exception of new analog stick baserunning mechanics. That’s not to say it’s bad. RTTS is one of the most enjoyable parts of The Show franchise, and the game mode plays particularly well on the portable system. Since you only play through the parts of the game when you’re on the field or at bat, a quick fifteen minutes might mean you get to play through a week or two of your career (depending on what position you choose). Unlike the PS3 version, which saw some nice advances in ball tracking and camera movement, the PSP RTTS is hampered by the fixed camera and inability to track the ball properly every time. Granted, the ball is actually bigger on the PSP, but there will be times you completely lose sight of it until it’s right on top of you. It’s fine if all you want to do is be a pitcher (you’ll hardly ever field any balls), but those of you with dreams of playing the hot corner for the Kansas City Royals may want to rethink your career goals. Franchise mode gets the welcome additions of 40-man rosters, but is otherwise largely unchanged. The Show’s Franchise mode has always been decent anyway, so it’s not that big of a deal. My only issue with the Season and Franchise modes is the inability to have a fantasy draft. It can’t be that hard to include that, can it? Strangely absent from this year’s version was the return of King of the Diamond mode, and since there wasn’t anything different new added in place of it, I have to question where it went. KOTD was kind of fun when you didn’t feel like settling down for a full game, and now the only mini-game left is Home Run Derby, which is my least favorite baseball mini-game of all time.
Controls are the same as they’ve been for… well, forever really. Thankfully, The Show has damn near perfect controls, even on the PSP, so accessibility has never been a problem for the series. It is a little difficult to make out the line you’re supposed to hit on the pitching meter for your accuracy, but other than that, I’ve not a single complaint about the way the game plays. Online, the game handles just fine, and even comes with a friendly quit option (as long as the other person agrees), which is something I’m sure somebody somewhere was excited about. They’ve even allowed you to create chants and taunts, provided you have a big enough memory stick. Sadly, these “innovations” just aren’t enough to make the PSP version of The Show 09 stand out from its predecessors.
What was once the be-all-end-all of baseball video games on the PSP is quickly becoming a shadow of its former self. Like so many storied professionals, age is finally catching up to the series. It’s time to rebuild, Sony. Let go of the past, and focus on the future. If you can do one tenth of what you did with The Show on the PlayStation 3 with the portable version, you could have a juggernaut of a franchise. There are so many comparisons I could draw here like comparing the game to Brady Anderson, Brett Boone, Dontrelle Willis, or countless others who’ve overachieved one year only to come crashing back to reality the next, but instead I’ll just say that for the first time in a long time, MLB: The Show is not a must buy. That’s just a shame.