A pitchers duel, of sorts, is in the works for the PlayStation Portable. Sony vs. EA Sports. MLB against MVP Baseball. Two giants going head-to-head. In one dugout, we have MLB from Sony, which is being developed by 989 Studios and is backed by the folks that designed the new portable unit. In the other dugout, Electronic Arts is putting its reputation, and the company's nearly 20-years of experience, into their baseball game.
So how is EA's game coming along? Here's what we know...
In the interests of time, the development team has been using the PS2 version of MVP Baseball 2005 as a template for the PSP game. The lion's share of modes that are in the PS2 game (Exhibition, Dynasty, Home Run Shootout, Mini-games, and My MVP) will be included in the handheld. A new feature, called EA Pocket Trax, will also be built into the PSP game. It will let players watch music videos and highlight reels featuring the music from the bands that contributed to the soundtrack.
Exhibition mode will let players select any of 30 MLB, 30 AAA, 30 AA, or 30 A-level teams for a nine-inning duel against another CPU or player-controlled team. All 30 official ballparks will be included, and each team will have an assortment of alternate and retro jerseys.
Dynasty mode is the game's de-facto franchise/season mode. Here, you'll be able to pick a team, draft players, set lineups, and toil your way through a full 162-game season (or 30 seasons, if that's more your style). Team chemistry, rivalries, and player moods are variables to watch out for, which can be strengthened or weakened by things like win/loss records, player salaries, playing time, and positions in the batting order or pitching rotation. Rookie drafts and all three levels of minor league farm clubs are present as well.
There are three mini-games slated to be included, not counting the Home Run Shootout (a.k.a. Derby). These are: 1) "Hitting", where you try and launch balls to specific spots in the field and hit moving objects, such as tractors and cars, for bonus points; 2) "Pitching," a Tetris-inspired pitching game, where you try to throw pitches to specific spots in the zone to take-away colored bricks; and 3) "Timed Pitching," which adds a timer to the pitching mini-game.
In keeping with the PSP's promise of "fun without wires," MVP Baseball will support local and Internet WiFi play for 2-players in Exhibition games and up-to-4 players in the Home Run Shootout and Mini-game modes. We only had brief moments to test the WiFi features during our hands-on time with the game--an inning in an exhibition game--but the connection seemed decent, with only a few instances of jittery graphics due to lag. A pass-and-play feature is also being included that will allow a maximum of 4 people to compete in the mini-games by passing around a single PSP unit.
From what we've seen, MVP on PSP won't sacrifice much in transition from the PS2. The pure swing and precision pitching interfaces are in--which means you'll have to concentrate on timing to hit those line drives, and deal with a crescent shaped meter for pitching. Obviously, the system doesn't have a second analog stick like the PS2 does, so the PSP game will have to implement the "Big Play Control" interface (that controls lead-offs, slides, and fielding) some other way.
Visually, the graphics have been scaled down a bit for the PSP game, but not overmuch. Player faces are pixel-perfect and their bodies look right, for the most part. All of the great animations from the PS2 game; things such as come backers, knee-drop catches, and fouls off the shins; have made it into the handheld game. When we last saw the game in motion, however, the framerate was jumpy and the crowd didn't animate whatsoever, but those features should be ironed out by the final release. Fans of the console game's picture-in-picture baserunner windows, however, will be saddened to learn that they're not being implemented into the PSP version. On the upside, the system's widescreen view should give ample sight lines of runners on first and third anyway.
As for the audio, EA is keeping mostly mum, to the point that the build we saw only had basic sound effects implemented, but we've been told by those on the dev team that MVP on PSP will include dynamic crowds, EA Trax music from real bands, and some sort of commentary track. We spoke to one of the game's producers a while back, who explained some of the problems the team was having with regards to disc streaming and battery life. Basically, the PS2 game constantly streams music, stadium atmosphere, and commentary off of the disc; which the PSP can't do as heavily because it rapidly drains the battery. Nonetheless, Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow will be back doing the play-by-play duties on the handheld.
Admittedly, what we currently know about MVP Baseball for PSP has been pieced together from press releases, a couple conversations with members of the development team, a brief video presentation, and five minutes of hands-on time. The last we saw the game, it was approximately 60% complete. The final game is scheduled for release on April 11, nearly three weeks after the system launches in North America. That leaves plenty of time for the team to iron out the kinks and implement features we haven't yet seen.
3/8/2005 Frank Provo