MLB 2K6 Hands-On

2K Sports is set to invade the handheld set with its PSP debut, MLB 2K6. We go hands-on with our first look at the game.

2K Sports is looking to pull out all the stops with their latest baseball game, Major League Baseball 2K6. The game is set to arrive on the PlayStation 2 and Xbox as usual, but it will also be making debuts on several new platforms, including Sony's PlayStation Portable. Today, we got our first look at the PSP version of MLB 2K6, a game that seems to be sacrificing very little in the switch over to the handheld platform.

Home run derby career mode is exclusive to the PSP version of MLB 2K6.

While some PSP ports of existing console games are defined by what they lack, that doesn't seem to be the case with the PSP version of MLB 2K6 we played. In fact, the biggest component that's missing from the handheld game is umpires, which means that the call-arguing mechanic that is found in the console version of the game isn't part of the PSP game. And that's about it. Everything else--the Inside Edge scouting, the new pitch mechanic, the batter's eye feature, the expanded VIP features--are all found in the handheld game. If you're unfamiliar with some of these features, we'll run down the list to get you up to speed.

First of all, the Inside Edge scouting service lets you purchase scouting information on either individual players or entire teams to give you key advantages during matchups. Inside Edge scouting can be used both in single-player games (where you have a set number of points to spend on scouting per game) or in franchise mode (where your scouting budget comes directly out of your team's coffers). Going up against scouted players will give you an advantage, whether you're pitching or at the plate. On the mound, your catcher will call the pitches he wants to see based on what he knows about the batter's tendencies. Defensive alignments will also shift automatically if you're facing a scouted batter to give you the best chance for making an out. When at bat, you'll get dynamic pitch count numbers that will show you what kind of pitch your opponent tends to throw in any given situation.

MLB 2K6 features a new pitching mechanic that differs substantially from last year's K-Zone pitching meter. Instead of dealing with the dual-axis meter of last season, you'll time your pitches with an expanding and contracting halo around the ball. The longer you hold your pitch button (and the longer the halo expands), the harder your throw will be. The trick to a successful pitch is hitting the pitch button at the precise moment the halo contracts into the ball. Fans of last year's K-Zone meter will be pleased to note that it's still there for you--you can even choose whether you want pinpoint placement (you choose the exact placement of the ball) or break-point placement (you choose the place where the pitch "breaks" over the plate--a more realistic view from the mound). Unlike in earlier versions of the game, the default camera placement while pitching will be behind the mound, similar to a real MLB broadcast.

Batting in MLB 2K6 will work similar to the console game, though the lack of a second analog stick forces some necessary changes. In the PSP game, you swing using the X button but can influence the flight of the ball using the analog stick, similar to how the swing stick works in the console game. To hit the ball left or right, for example, you move the stick to the left or right accordingly. To put some power behind your swing, you can move the stick up and hope you take the ball downtown. The batter's eye feature is here as well; by moving the analog stick, you can move a cursor that indicates where you're expecting the pitch to cross the plate. Guess correctly and you have a better chance of making contact with the ball.

Impressive broadcast-style replays will keep the game looking fresh.

The extensive VIP stat tracking that we ran down in our preview of the console versions of MLB 2K6 will be present in the PSP game as well; everything from pitching and batting frequencies to the number of leadoff steps a player takes when on base is tracked in your VIP. In the end, this profile will give perhaps the most complete look at your style of play that has ever been seen in a handheld baseball game. You'll be able to take that VIP profile online against real opponents, thanks to MLB 2K6's full online support for both ad hoc and infrastructure play.

The game will feature a full franchise mode, similar to the one found in the console versions of the game. You'll be able to take the reins of your favorite team and deal with all the financial and team chemistry problems that come part and parcel with running a MLB team. You can even hold team meetings to give your players a piece of your mind or encourage them to buck up and play hard during a crucial stretch in the season. Unfortunately, the PSP version of MLB 2K6 does not include the ability to communicate with the PS2 game, so you won't be able to transfer your franchise or VIP information between the two versions of the game--which is a real shame. There's always next year, we suppose.

In terms of unique PSP modes, the most notable addition is the home run derby career mode. Here, you'll be working your way up a ladder of home run derby competitions, against increasingly stiffer competition. Each round of the mode, you'll be able to choose from a stable of batters in your roster, some of whom will be better suited to hitting the long ball than others. How you perform in each round will determine how quickly that pool of talent grows.

You start the home run derby career mode by choosing three batters to go up against another team of three in a tag-team match. Each player has a power rating, a stamina rating, and 1,000 hit points. Each time a player swings at a pitch, he'll take a slight hit to his stamina. If you hit a home run, you'll take hit points away from your opponent batter--the longer the home run, the more damage your foe will take. Reduce his hit points down to zero, and he's out of the competition. In a tag-team match, you can switch to a new batter by holding down the left and right triggers at any point in the two-minute round. When a player is on the bench, he'll slowly regain hit points and stamina, adding an extra layer of strategy to the competitions. Win a round, and the players you defeated will be added to your roster--lose, and the player or players you chose to compete for you will not be available to you for the next three rounds. Match types can be tag teams, straight one-on-one deathmatches, or other variations. In all, the mode will feature 136 rounds and some of the biggest hitters in the game (provided you can get that far, of course).

Hold down the left trigger to enable the smart fielding and throwing feature.

MLB 2K6 producers were quick to point out that this is the first PSP game the company has developed and realize that the game still has some tweaking in store before its upcoming release. To wit, some fairly substantial frame rate issues that cropped up both in home run derby mode and in regular play will need to be ironed out. That said, the PSP game holds up remarkably well to its console cousins, with nicely defined player models and impressive stadiums. Even better, all of Jon Miller's and Joe Morgan's commentary from the console games has made its way into the PSP game. Better still, the game's load times are quick, and many load screens include quick baseball trivia questions you can ruminate on while waiting for your next game to load up.

With the vast majority of the features found in the console versions, MLB 2K6 for the PSP is looking to be a good choice for those who want to bring big-league baseball with them everywhere they go. The game is due for release on the PSP before the MLB season gets underway (though we don't have more specific information than that at this point), and you can expect to see a full review of the game as soon as it's released.

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