MLB '06: The Show REVIEW

MLB '06: The Show Review (PSP)

Last year's finest PSP sports title returns for 2006 with more refined game play, an unbelievably good broadcast experience, and new online capabilities. The lack of roster options are glaring, however, and the interminable load times take some of the shine off of the overall package.
That said, MLB '06: The Show is still the best sports game on the PSP, as its numerous good qualities far outweigh its few flaws.

Our own Clay Shaver reviewed the PS2 version of this game recently, and I'll try not to belabor the points he's already made, as the games are extremely similar - which is truly a testament to the PSP version's quality.

MLB '06 is a beautiful game. Although the game has a distinct case of the "PlayStation jaggies", you won't notice or care after mere moments of play. There are no better animations in any sports game today - period. They're varied, silky-smooth and completely draw you into the game. There are so many specific animations that are tied to particular players, that it's nearly staggering. This is a game where you're all but guaranteed to see something new every time you play, and on the PSP, that's a monumental achievement. Stadiums are meticulously detailed, as well as the players. It's obvious that a lot of attention and care went into creating MLB's graphics, and it shows. There are the occasional stutters and hitches, but they don't affect game play, and don't really detract from the lush overall package.

The audio presentation of the game is even better than the graphics. While Dave Campbell and Rex Hudler's commentary can get a bit repetitive at times, it's still much better than any other PSP sports game around. Matt Vasgersian deserves some sort of reward for his performance this year. I can't imagine how many hours he's spent in the studio, but I've heard less diverse commentary on real baseball broadcasts with regularity. The commentary is timed very well to the game, and it's remarkably up-to-date, as well. Vasgersian's voice work is the finest I've ever heard in a sports video game - bar none. The rest of the audio is solid enough, and taken as a whole, MLB's presentation takes you to - if not to the ballpark - to your favorite sports bar, where the game's on the big screen.

While there's no "franchise" mode, the Season mode fits the bill well enough and incorporates much of what franchise players would be looking for. The Exhibition and Home Run Derby modes are perfect for short-term gaming, and the new "King of the Diamond" mode provides gamers with a quick time-killer and excellent practice mode all in one.
Online play is improved over last year, and the new News2Go feature allows the user to save updated MLB news stories to their Memory Stick and read them offline at their convenience. Updated rosters can be downloaded to update your game, but curiously, there's no option to save them directly. If you want to use any downloaded rosters, you'll need to start a Season or Career mode with them loaded and save that.
Speaking of Career mode, it makes the move from PS2 to PSP this year, and it may be the most engaging way to experience MLB '06.

There are a few notable blemishes on MLB's otherwise sterling finish, however. Besides the inability to save downloaded rosters, there are no options to modify rosters whatsoever. No trades, no default lineup changes, no free agents, no editing - nothing. For a game that seems to be made so meticulously with a real enthusiasm for the sport, this omission - for the second year in row - is both baffling and frustrating. MLB also includes a solid set of sliders and game settings to modify the way the game is played. They can't be saved, either - except in Season on Career modes - so a gamer who prefers to play Exhibition games is forced to reset the sliders - and the game's default settings - by hand before every contest. I'm surprised that these things weren't improved from last year, and they absolutely need to be changed to become more user-friendly next year.

The most pressing issue for MLB, however, is the same one that plagued the game last year - load times. Not to put too fine a point on it - but they're terrible. The PSP will literally dim and go into "screen saver" mode before a load screen disappears. This is a problem that has arisen in every PSP title, but it especially hurts MLB because it kills any momentum in the game's excellent Career mode. Playing just your created player's at-bats in Career mode will take roughly one to three minutes, but it will take over a minute to load the game, and then after the game, it'll take another minute to load the Career mode menu again. On a portable system, spending roughly 40 percent of your game time staring at loading screens is an exercise in frustration. Fortunately, the Career mode is worth it; but it probably won't be for everyone due to the load times, and that's too bad.

On the field, MLB '06 shines. From pitching to hitting to fielding, the game strikes a near-perfect balance between playability and simulation. The individual abilities of major-league players and their differences in talent are on full display, and each game feels different. Facing a star pitcher like Johan Santana will be a nightmare, but you'll feast upon that scrub middle reliever. On the mound, you'll toy with the pinch hitter batting .200, but when David Ortiz steps up to the plate, you'll start thinking about the intentional walk command. You can't assume anything in MLB, and that's part of its beauty. Don't celebrate that third strike - it could be dropped. Errors happen realistically, and they don't feel forced by some percentage "dice roll" behind the scenes. Only Winning Eleven 9, the spectacular soccer title, does the job of truly representing it's sport as well as MLB '06: The Show.

It's like holding a perfect little baseball world in the palm of your hand, and there isn't a better on-field experience in any sports game this year. For a console title, this is a significant achievement. For a portable title? It's almost unbelievable.

With a couple of simple additions (namely, roster management and settings saves), and one significant tweak (load times), scoring MLB '07 might be the easiest thing I do next year.
As it stands, MLB '06: The Show is still the best sports title available on the PSP by a wide margin.

If you're a sports fan with a PSP, my advice is simple: Buy MLB '06, bring it home, pop in that UMD, and enjoy real baseball excitement all summer long.

MLB '06: The Show Score
out of 10