MLB '09: The Show Review (PSP)
What happens when you condense "the most realistic baseball game" onto the PSP? It is like putting a Hemi engine in a Mini Cooper: While all the bells and whistles are great on the PS3, some of them do not translate to the small screen. Still, MLB 09: The Show on the PSP is worth checking out under the right circumstances.
On the Diamond
Prepare to hear this a lot throughout this review: This game is strikingly similar to last year’s version, or even the '07 version. Not much has changed on the gameplay front. If you played at least a few nine inning games from the 2006-2008 games in this series, you will be an expert in 2009. SCE San Diego has added a Legend difficulty mode to counteract the familiarity, but that is not quite enough.
Thankfully, at least the rosters and stadiums have been updated to reflect the 2009 season. Though with this strange offseason where many free agents did not sign until Spring Training began, players like Andy Pettitte, Oliver Perez and Manny Ramirez will not be with a team until you download the new rosters or do it yourself. You will also see the new New York stadiums in all their glory. Shea Stadium and the old Yankee Stadium are still there if you want to relive their 2008 collapses.
The baseball aspect of the game is still worth playing. It is the best nine innings you will find on the PSP. The game runs at a good clip, and the presentation is very lifelike. The animations are lifted right from the console versions and look solid. The only thing holding it back is the fact that the graphics have not changed.
Honestly, the only real difference between this game and the version for PS3 is the graphics. Most, if not all, of the same features are there. While this is a technical achievement, it does not always make for the best handheld game. There are no additional modes to reflect the game’s handheld status, which seems odd because it is a game for the PSP.
Loading is definitely still an issue. For a game that is supposed to be played on planes, trains and automobiles, you will have plenty of time to look around at the people and places surrounding you. That is especially a problem during the Road to the Show mode where you are constantly dipping in and out of games.
A big thing I am disappointed in, though, is how there is absolutely no connectivity between this game and its PS3 and PS2 counterparts. It would be great if you could start a Road to the Show or season mode on the PS3 and play it on the PSP when you are on the go and vice versa. I doubt there are many people inclined to start the grueling career process or a 162-game season simultaneously on two separate platforms.
It may not look as pretty as its PS3 big brother, but the PSP version still plays good.
For a portable game, commentary is well done. Matt Vasgersian, Rex Hudler and Dave Campbell are not as chatty as their console brethren, but it is still worth listening to. But, if you have played the game over the years, you have probably heard most of what the trio has to say.
The rock soundtrack is solid and is exactly the same as the one on the PS3. It is not amazing -- and while it is just background music -- that is exactly what it becomes.
The highlight in the audio department is being able to record your chants and yells and hear them during the game. It is impressive that this feature is here. While the graphics cannot get much better, at least other aspects of the game should continue to get better.
Online play in The Show is as robust as ever. Downloading rosters, uploading sliders and joining full 30-team leagues is simple. You can also follow any real game in progress with the MLB Sportscast mode, which is similar to following a game using the ESPN GameCast or Yahoo! GameChannel.
Of course there is also the game itself where you can play in either ad-hoc or infrastructure mode, which is dependent upon how close your opponent is. Lag seems to be entirely based on how good the connection is between the participants. The lag can become a pain, especially in a game like baseball where most of the activity is done in short bursts. In other words, mistiming a swing or taking the wrong route on a ball because of lag can be extremely frustrating.
SCE San Diego has taken steps to make the online game go by at a quicker rate and also keep you in competitive games. If the lag is too bad, the developers have added friendly quits so your record will look as if the game was never played. If you are feasting on your opponent or getting destroyed, they have added concedes to get you out of there as fast as possible.
The online features are quite enormous.
Road to the Show 3.0
The Road to the Show mode is the story of one player, and it is the main mode of play besides basic exhibition and season games. You start out as a rookie with no team or identity. You create your player and choose everything from his facial hair to his at-bat music.
One thing the developers have added is the ability to get drafted instead of simply starting a career on your favorite team. While it probably is not a better baseball situation in Pittsburgh or Kansas City, your self-esteem will get the boost it needs when you know somebody wants you.
From there you are invited to Spring Training, where you can try your best against the best the Majors have to offer. Once that is over, you are most likely off to Double-A. Playing in Alabama or New Mexico is not necessarily a dream job, but it does not last very long. The developers have seemingly found a perfect balance of paying your dues in the minors before getting your shot in The Show.
It is not easy to get to the big leagues but there is always a goal in front of you that keeps you striving for more success. You are given goals to reach every few weeks during the season and reaching them will put you on the fast track to success. They seem to be much more important than your in-game statistics, so make sure you hit your goals and keep your attributes in good shape in order to get your promotion.
But, there are also some low-lights. Running the bases is still screwy. You get odd camera angles, and the controls are not as fluid as they should be. You will get picked off or caught in between the bases more times than you would like.
Fielding is also still difficult. Even though you know the ball is coming to you, playing a ground ball in the infield is frustrating. The ball is so small and it comes in so quickly, any hesitation or wrong turn will give up a hit. While both instances of baseball are a part of the game, they are no fun in Road to the Show. And, while they will not be removed, they definitely need to be improved.
The biggest knock on Road to the Show 3.0 is the fact that it is basically the same as last year. While it would not have been wise to mess up a good thing, you are not going to find many differences in this year's version. Either way, it is still the best handheld sports career mode.
If you want a position to play in RttS, starting pitcher is probably the way to go. You have the most responsibility throughout your entire career, and you end up playing more. Instead of jumping into at-bats that may or not be important to the game, the entire game is essentially on your back. If your hitters do not do much or the bullpen blows it, you can feel like Johan Santana felt for most of 2008, which is always something to look forward to. It is also better because you are not constantly looking at a loading screen, and you do not have to deal with tough fielding plays or running the bases.
Hitting is fine for a career path but playing every day makes the season feel like it is going to last forever. Playing as a closer or relief pitcher is not worth the effort based solely on the fact that you will spend more time looking at the loading screens before and after the game.
Yeah, here comes the heat.
It is not the best baseball experience available today, but it is certainly better than any alternatives on the handhelds. If you have a copy of MLB: The Show from any of the past three seasons, I would be hard pressed to tell you to run out and get this game. The graphics are remarkably similar to last year’s game, and the main gameplay modes have not changed.
While the game has soared on the PS3 and should continue to get better, it seems that SCE Studios San Diego has tapped out on the PSP. If you love baseball and do not have another game in the series, then by all means go and get MLB 09: The Show. It is a great game and it is the best baseball you can find on the PSP -- but it is not much of an improvement over last year.
On The Diamond: Overall, it is a fun game of baseball and the only real option on the PSP.
Graphics: Saying they are similar to last year’s would be an understatement. Still, they are pretty for a PSP game.
Sound: Recording your chants is fun and using your own entrance music can make any at-bat interesting.
Entertainment Value: You might spend too much time looking at a loading screen, but once you get it going your time will be well spent.
Learning Curve: Hitting and pitching can be touchy if you are not used to the analog nub. Otherwise, the gameplay is simple enough.
Score: 7.5 (Good)