The problem with baseball games is that they can be nearly as stoic and serious-minded as the real sport itself. Although games like Sony's MLB: The Show and 2K's MLB 2K series do a good (and sometimes great) job of re-creating America's pastime, they can get so mired in staying true to the sport that some of the fun of being a video game gets leached away in the process. Enter another 2K baseball series: MLB Power Pros. Developed out of the engine of the popular Japanese Jikkyo Powerful Pro Yakyu baseball series from Konami, the game came stateside last year with MLB Power Pros. Last week, we got a chance to see the sequel, MLB Power Pros 2008, which is coming to the PlayStation 2, Wii and, later this year, the Nintendo DS.
If you played last year's game, you'll be right at home on the PS2 and Wii versions of Power Pros 2008. The pitching and batting interfaces are similar to last year's versions. When pitching, you'll choose your pitch type by pressing the analog stick in any direction, aim your pitch with the analog stick, and let your pitch loose with the X button. Batting still uses a cursor; you try to place your bat cursor over the ball cursor and then swing with the X button. You can also set your swing to a "power" swing by pressing the R1 button before your swing. Fielding still uses the face buttons as analogs for the bases themselves and running the bases is as easy as ever.
New additions to the controls in Power Pros 2008 include the bullpen, which is where you can warm up pitchers in the middle of a game, as well as the ability to move your defense players to adjust for a variety of different situations. These include bringing in the corners on a bunt or shifting your outfield to the left or right to accommodate for a player who always hits to one side or the other.
Despite the new additions, Power Pros 2008 is still easy to learn, resulting in a pick-up-and-play style that suits the simplistic nature of the game's visuals well. As with last year's game, that primitive look belies a tremendous amount of depth, both in the sheer obsessive nature of statistics the game tracks and the amount of detail found in other aspects of the game. For example, last year's game had Success mode, a role-playing-game-like story mode that had you create a character and take him through high school as he did his best to make it into the minor leagues. MLB Power Pros 2008 has not one but two RPG modes; the continuation of Success mode that has your created character making his way into the Double A minor leagues and a full separate mode known as MLB Life, where you can follow a created player's career through the big leagues.
If you enjoyed the goofy charm of Success mode in last year's game, you'll be right at home with it in Power Pros 2008. The game follows your created character's exploits in minor league ball as he joins the Double A team the Greenapples and looks to make his way toward the major leagues. Your character does this all while dealing with crazy teammates, greedy bosses, and his own skills as a baseball player. You'll have practices to attend (which will earn you points you can put toward your many attributes that define your role as a baseball player), as well as lots of different places to visit around town that will restore your vitality and further the (giddily ludicrous) storyline. For example, at one point, you meet a teammate who is intent on becoming a ninja to better his standings on the team; he asks you if you want to join him in his ninja training and, if you agree, challenges you with minigames. In these challenges, your teammate might make duplicates of himself, shuffle them around, and then task you with choosing the original. Yeah, it doesn't make much sense to us anyway, but it brought a smile to our face. Oh, and of course, you'll be playing games as well; that is, once you've earned a spot on the starting roster.
In MLB Life mode, you can play as a real-life player, use your Success mode player, or start completely from scratch with a brand new character. The level of obsessive detail in Power Pros continues in this mode. Not only do you choose whether or not your character is married, but you also choose how many kids he has (and exactly how many of those children are girls, how many are boys, their names, and appearances). Those choices affect the storylines you'll see in MLB Life mode--if you're married, for example, you won't be able to go out on dates with other women (which doesn't seem to be very realistic to the MLB we know and love, but there you go). As in Success mode, you'll have plenty of choices to make in a day--practice, games, traveling, leisure time--but everything will be governed by your vitality meter. If you run out of vitality, you won't be able to play on game day.
Though the Wii version of MLB Power Pros 2008 will feature its own specific controls scheme, the actual content of the two versions of the game are identical. There will also be a Nintendo DS version of Power Pros 2008 arriving later this year, though sadly, it will be missing the RPG modes that make the console versions so unique. Power Pros 2008's goofy sense of humor, as well as its enormous depth and detail, look to make it a worthy alternative to the staid and serious hardball games on other consoles. MLB Power Pros 2008 is due for the starting rotation in late July.