Graphically, the game is a treat. The stadiums are packed with detail (animated crowds, updating scoreboards, true-to-life landmarks, etc.) and the player bodies and faces are spot-on. Player animation is extremely smooth, but more impressive than that is just how many different animations there are. Shoestring catches, bare-hand grabs, and tornado-style double plays are in there. Furthermore, most players have the same batting stance or pitching delivery that they have in the real world. The picture-in-picture baserunner windows from the PS2 game made it into the handheld. Oddly enough, however, things like TV style instant replays, batter walk-up routines, and home-run celebrations did not. The game basically sticks to the same batting camera and fielding viewpoints the entire time, which does knock the thrill value down a couple pegs.
All of the required sounds of the ballpark have been included. You can hear the crowd murmuring throughout the game, and they really pump up the volume when a snappy play is made or runs are scored. The various sound effects used to portray things like the crack of the bat, the ball hitting the dirt, and the ball snapping into gloves are perfect. You'll hear umpire call-outs after every play, as well as random PA announcements here and there. The biggest, and by far the most pleasant, surprise is that MLB for the PSP includes a full-fledged voice commentary, provided by Padres announcer Matt Vasgersian and ESPN analyst Dave Campbell. Vasgersian does most of the talking (thankfully). The richness of his vocabulary combined with the warmth in his voice really enhances the whole experience of playing the game.
When it comes to play modes, whether the game's feature set will prove adequate to you will depend on what you're looking for in a handheld baseball game. Certainly, all 30 actual MLB teams and stadiums are included, as are more than 1200 real Major League players. The main menu only offers up three different play modes--quick play, season, and online. That's it. The career and franchise modes that were in MLB 2006 on the PS2 were left on the cutting room floor. So was the roster editor, unfortunately. The rosters are accurate as of opening day, and that's going to have to suffice, because there's no way to edit teams or put new players into the game. The online mode supports both local and Internet play, but only in the form of exhibition games. Thankfully, the season mode is fairly deep. It allows you to set lineups and rotations, make trades with the CPU, and jockey players between the disabled list and the active roster. The game also keeps track of stats in 80 categories, and will dole out post-season awards after the playoffs.
Out on the field, MLB turns in an authentic interpretation of the sport and gives players ample control over aspects such as hitting, pitching, fielding, and base running.
Hitting is primarily timing-based, although you can make use of optional "guess pitch" and "guess location" features to increase the odds that your hitter will put wood on the ball. Practice swings, check swings, and bunts have also been programmed into the game, which is nice.
Pitching is intricate, but relatively straightforward. Each pitcher has four different pitches, which you can select by pressing one of the buttons on the front of the system. After choosing a pitch, you can aim it by positioning a ball-shaped cursor with the PSP's analog nub. The nub is very sensitive, but you'll learn the necessary soft touch after a few innings. The last step in the pitching process is setting the movement and accuracy of the pitch, which is handled by a curved meter that's identical to the ones used in MVP Baseball 2005 and MLB 2006. One area of the meter indicates movement. The other area indicates accuracy. How accurate and sharp the throw will be is based on how close you come to stopping the indicator in the sweet spots.
Fielding is done just like it is in every other game. To catch the ball, you only have to run up to it or stand under it. To throw it to a base, you merely have to press the face button that corresponds to the appropriate base. Diving and shoestring catches can be attempted by pressing the R button.
Months ago, we wondered if the PSP's relative lack of buttons (the PS2 has 8, the PSP has 6) would have any ramifications on the control schemes used in 989's sports games. In MLB's case, the base running interface had to be simplified. You can still command runners to advance or retreat when the ball is in play by pushing the left and right shoulder buttons, and it's still possible to pre-load stolen base attempts by selecting a runner and pushing the L button--but lead-offs have been taken out of the user's hands and put under the CPU's control. Lame. At least the CPU generally does a good job of taking a few steps and rarely gets picked off.
Another feature that was present in MLB 2006 for the PS2 that was removed from MLB for the PSP is the ability to change defensive alignments. The CPU will automatically setup the best defense based on the hitter's tendencies and how many runners are on base. It's actually pretty good at judging when to shift and when to drop to double play depth. Nonetheless, some people want to be able to exert pinpoint control over their infield and outfield, and the PSP version of MLB takes that aspect away.
The managerial interface is decent. You can check things like pitcher stamina, pitch history, and hitter tendencies by pressing the select button. Useful actions, such as substitutions, mound visits, and bullpen warm ups, are available from the pause menu.
When you play against the CPU, you can pick from three different difficulty settings. The labels seem to be fairly accurate. You'll clock-in dozens of base hits and runs on the rookie setting, but will have to work hard to keep scores close on the veteran setting. The CPU is a straight up God on the all-star setting, and you'll have to master the "guess pitch" and "guess location" features of the hitting interface just to get runners on base. Obviously, the level of play you run into against human opponents will depend on the skill level of the other person. Lag can sometimes be a problem with games played in the infrastructure (Internet) online mode, adding a slight delay to pitch deliveries and swings, but it never gets so bad that the game becomes unplayable. Play in the ad-hoc (local) mode is totally lag-free.
Overall, MLB for the PSP is a good choice for baseball fans looking for a fix on the go. 989 Studios may have had to axe some graphical nuances and memory-intensive play modes (namely the mega-deep franchise mode) from the PS2 version of MLB 2006 in order to cram it onto the PSP, but everything else was brought across relatively intact.
4/15/2005 Lance "Stealing Third" Kwok