One part arcade sports game, one part RPG, and one part stat-heavy baseball strategy game, 2K Sports' MLB Power Pros Baseball is nothing if not intriguing, and extremely Japanese. Based on Konami's long-running, incredibly popular baseball game from Japan, Power Pros is now set to debut on American shores next month. As we discovered during some hands-on time with the game today, Power Pros is utterly unlike any baseball game you'll likely have played before.
If you've never heard of Konami's arcade baseball efforts before, let's set some expectations. First, forget the meticulous level of graphical detail that you see in other baseball games. Instead, the player models in Power Pros are cartoonish to the extreme, with circles for hands, big heads and expressive eyes, and a complete absence of legs (though they do have feet, oddly enough). Picture a Mii with a gland problem, and you'll have a pretty good idea of what the players in Power Pros look like. That said, the developer has gone to some lengths to make sure that big MLB stars are at least semirecognizable, such as giving Manny Ramirez a cartoon equivalent of his long dreads.
Secondly, when it comes to control, Power Pros is as straightforward an arcade baseball experience as you'll find. In the Wii version of the game, you'll be able to play either with the Wii Remote by itself or with the Nunchuk attachment. Playing with the remote is incredibly simple--you swing the remote when at the plate and shake the remote vigorously to either run the bases or field the ball. When pitching, you can choose from a variety of different pitches in your hurler's arsenal, and can add right or left break to the pitch by pressing the plus or minus button, respectively. From there, it's a matter of flicking the controller to throw the ball. That simplistic gameplay is almost too hands-off for our tastes.
Luckily, when you plug the Nunchuk in, you have a good deal more control over the outcome of the game. Fielding and baserunning, for example, is handled with the directional pad. When on the mound, you still select from your pitch arsenal (which includes standard curves, fastballs, and changeups, as well as pitches MLB fans might not be used to seeing, such as the shuto, essentially a more powerful screwball), then press the A button to toss it. Once you've selected your pitch, an icon shows up onscreen which will allow you to aim your pitch in (or out of) the strike zone. You won't have control over the break of the pitch, however, so you'll need to compensate with your aim. When at the plate, a virtual bat will appear onscreen and, to make contact, you'll need to line up the bat's sweet spot to where the ball will cross the plate. You have two swing types, normal and power swing, which can be toggled with the B button. The sweet spot on a power swing is smaller, but the potential reward is taking the ball yard.
With just a glance, it's easy to tell that Power Pros was not developed in the States. From the menu system that contains at least two colors not found in nature, to the insanely chipper musical score, this game looks and sounds unlike any other sports game out there. But the game's unique approach doesn't stop at its presentation. If you really want the full Power Pros experience, two modes--season and success--are where it's at. In the latter, season mode finds you as a fresh-out-of-college GM for your favorite baseball team (think Theo Epstein with even less experience and a much, much larger head). You have a full-time secretary who's moons over your dashing good looks and provides you with tips on how to play through season mode.
Good thing, too, because Power Pros' season mode has an absolutely staggering amount of details when it comes to team management. Just as you'd expect from a more serious baseball sim, season mode in Power Pros will let you check and change your daily rosters, keep up with trade and free agent acquisitions, and give you access to detailed team balance sheets. Moreover, there's a practice mode that will give you the chance to keep your players improving in nearly every aspect of their game. Think Derrek Lee needs more work on his running stamina or that Barry Zito needs to work on his control on the mound? Put them to work in practice and watch as their skills improve. You can even convert players to different positions and add pitches to your bullpen's arsenal.
If season mode is the equivalent of a typical baseball game's franchise feature, then success mode could be thought of as the Power Pros equivalent of a career mode. Here, you start as a college student looking to secure a minor league baseball contract. You'll have three years to get it done and, in between trying to become a star on your school's baseball team, you'll need to balance the other aspects of your collegiate life, such as your part-time job, your studies and, of course, your social life. It's a quirky mode that will have you going out with girls on dates, keeping up with your studies, working part-time jobs to earn cash for items and new equipment, attending team practices to improve your player's skills, and dealing with loads and loads of intrateam drama.
Though you'll spend a lot of your time dealing with off-the-field issues in success mode, you will have time to actually play baseball--typically just playing your own player's at-bats until you are eventually elected team captain, after which you'll have full control of your team for the final two innings of every game on the schedule. The game's fate card system, which gives you a randomly generated set of response cards to use when choices come up in success mode's story, helps ensure that each play-through is unique.
Other modes in the game include exhibition, arrange (a create-a-team option that will let you import your Miis onto a team), league (for up to six players), home run derby, and practice mode. The game won't have any online options, which means the slightly out-of-date rosters (Michael Barrett is still catching for the Cubs, for example) will need to be corrected by hand. And though the players look like kewpie dolls, all of the real MLB parks are created with a nice amount of detail.
The eccentric style of MLB Power Pros might be off-putting to baseball purists, but if you're looking for a fast-paced arcade baseball game that doesn't skimp on game modes and depth, this might be just the thing. The game is due for release in October; stay tuned for more on this quirky sports game in the near future.