PSP Baseball Roundup

MLB vs. MVP on the PSP. We take a look at both handheld baseball games in our head-to-head roundup.

By Brian Ekberg
Design by James Cheung

We're already a quarter of the way through the 2005 Major League Baseball season, but the baseball video games keep coming. After breaking down all the console baseball games in our 2005 Console Baseball Roundup, we thought it was time to take a closer look at what's happening on the handheld front, namely through Sony's PSP. The sleek handheld has already seen the release of one Sony hardball game: MLB. EA Sports got sneaky on us recently and dropped its PSP baseball debut during the week of E3, which was not exactly the ideal time to get a game maximum press.

With 162 games in a season (not counting the play-offs, of course), a handheld baseball game has plenty to offer for sports gamers on the go who are willing to commit for the long haul. That said, there's a common thread running between both of these titles: a reduced number of features. For whatever reason--lack of development resources, limitations of the PSP technology (not bloody likely), or just plain tight release schedules--these handheld titles play a lot like, but not exactly like, their console cousins. We're here to dissect the differences and let you know what each game does well and not so well. The good news is both of these games are worth a look, provided you've got the cash to spend. Neither is particularly free from quirks and bugs, but both can provide you with plenty of innings of fun. If you're wondering which game is the right one for you, read on, as the answers are just a few pitches away...

MLB

MLB at a Glance

Publisher: SCEA
Developer: 989 Sports
Review
Adjustable sliders: 13
Stats tracked: 80
Difficulty levels: 3 (rookie, veteran, all-star)
Load times: 42 seconds (to load main menu from PSP main screen), 45 seconds (to load new game)
Notable extras: Fast-forward feature, online play
Multiplayer: Infrastructure, ad hoc
Buy this one if... you're looking for a fast-moving and challenging baseball experience with online play to boot.
Avoid this one if... you're looking for much more than that.

Sony's MLB is a close relative to the publisher's MLB series, which, among 989 Sports' current lineup, is currently undergoing the greatest renaissance. Year after year, each successive entry in the PlayStation 2 series has been a stronger affair than the previous, which bodes well for the series' future. On the PSP, MLB was a launch title...well, almost. The game missed the March 24 launch window by a few weeks, but it impressed practically everyone who played it with its sharp graphical style and wireless Internet play via the PSP's infrastructure mode (one of five Sony sports games thus playable at or around launch).

Game
MLB has a bare-bones set of modes, which include quickplay, season, and online, and the game tracks more than 80 statistics over the course of a season. The pitching and batting meters will be familiar to anyone who's played the console version before (or, indeed, anyone familiar with the basic controls of a baseball game). The analog stick is extremely sensitive, but you'll likely only encounter any difficulty with it in the pitching game, as you need a pretty deft touch on the stick to accurately aim your pitch. Unique touches found on the PS2 version of the game, such as the "guess pitch type" and "guess location" options make their way into the PSP version to great effect. Unfortunately, so do some interesting glitches. The preponderance of wild pitches seems exaggerated in the game and, of related interest, we ran into one situation where we lost complete control of our catcher when chasing down an errant pitch behind the plate, allowing an inside-the-park home run off of a wild pitch (which isn't very good for the old blood pressure). Unlike MVP Baseball, if you're looking to get your online game on, MLB is the only place to do so.

MLB's gameplay has a lot more pop than J.D. Drew's bat.

Look and Feel
The game has made some graphical strides since we first saw it, and it does a pretty good job of replicating the quality of the PS2 version. Some of the best of these aspects are conveyed in MLB's defensive game, such as the relatively smooth transitions between fielding animations, the ability to preload throws in order to pull off quick double plays, and the same attribute-specific fielding zones for handling fly balls as those found in the PS2 version of the game. A lot of the visual chaff from the PS2 game, such as player walk-ups, post-game fireworks, instant replays, and so on, has been exorcised from MLB on the PSP, speeding up the game considerably. And speaking of keeping things moving, the MLB's fast-forward feature lets you skip to any inning in the game, which is perfect for those times when you go up 10 runs in the first inning and don't want to babysit your way through the rest of the game.

The fielding system from MLB 2006 for PS2 is well intact on the PSP.

Missing
The feature that makes the PS2 version of MLB 2006 truly its own is the innovative career mode, which allows you to create your own minor league ballplayer looking to make a major league squad. Among the ubiquitous franchise modes found in console hardball games across all three consoles, MLB's career mode is a breath of fresh air. Unfortunately, you won't find it on the PSP version of the game. In fact, the game's bare-bones feature list means you won't even be able to whip up your own created character, something you can do in other launch PSP sports games such as NFL Street Unleashed and NBA Street Showdown (or MVP Baseball, for that matter). The absence of franchise mode is a bummer too, though it could be argued that in-depth franchise modes may not necessarily be ideal for handheld systems where battery life works into the equation.

MVP

MVP Baseball at a Glance

Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Canada
Review
Adjustable sliders: 35
Stats tracked: 57
Difficulty levels: 4 (rookie, pro, all-star, mvp)
Load times: 75 seconds (to load main menu from PSP main screen), 33 seconds (to load new game)
Notable extras: Party play mode, in-game save, plenty of unlockables
Rosters: Accurate as of 1/15/05
Multiplayer: Infrastructure only
Buy this one if... you love good controls and unlockable content galore.
Avoid this one if... up-to-date rosters and online play are your thing.

EA Sports' MVP Baseball series will probably only be a one-night stand on the PSP now that Major League Baseball is only playing with Take-Two and first-party publishers. That's a shame too, as many of the strongest aspects of the series have made their way to the handheld version, including authentic presentation, a fairly full set of features and, most importantly, solid baseball gameplay. That said, there's probably a reason the publisher left off the "2005" from the title of this game, as MVP Baseball definitely feels like a mishmash of previous games in the series.

Game
The story of MVP Baseball is what did and didn't make it into the port over to the PSP version. As for what failed to make the cut, scroll down a bit farther. Here, we'll talk about what is in the game, namely a modified version of the big-play controls that made the console version so fun. By fine-tuning the controls to compensate for the lack of a second control stick on the PSP, the game allows you to control the direction in which you dive for a ball, or which side of the base to slide to. While we never found much use for this when running the bases, controlling your fielders in this manner quickly becomes a necessity. Just as in MLB, the pitching meter relies on the sensitive analog stick for aiming, which can be frustrating when you're looking to work the corners. Apart from the actual baseball part, we love all the unlockable stuff, such as classic stadiums, legendary teams and players, and, of course, retro jerseys, and the in-game save feature should be standard in all handheld sports games. Simulating games in MVP is slightly different than in MLB, and the ability to interrupt the simulation and jump back into the game at any point is a nice touch. There's also a create-a-player option and a home run derby minigame that is amusing in short bursts.

MVP Baseball looks authentic and plays a great game of baseball.

Look and Feel
If only the best features of both MLB and MVP Baseball could merge into one supremely informative and great-looking baseball game. We love some of the informational aspects of MVP's approach. For one thing, your pitcher's stamina percentage is always onscreen, so you always know exactly how much gas he's got left on the mound. For another, the hot and cold batting zones illuminate slightly when you place your pitcher's aim icon over it, which is a nice little touch. There are plenty of interesting camera angles and slick transitions that bring a broadcast quality to the games as well, though it could be argued that they're mostly superfluous. It's too bad touches of quality such as this aren't reflected in the overall look of the game, which suffers from poor frame rate, some dramatically scaled-down player models, and stadiums that simply don't look as vibrant or sharp in MVP as they do in MLB. There are also noticeable (and prolonged) stutters during some transitions, which can be pretty annoying. The commentary team of Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow fill the booth in MVP, and their commentary is exactly the same as that found in the console version of the game. The same can't be said for MLB, which has a pared down commentary track.

There's more to do in MVP than in MLB, but lack of online play is a drag.

The Missing
Though MVP Baseball allows you to face off against a friend via the PSP's ad hoc wireless play mode, there is no infrastructure multiplayer support. This is unfortunate enough, but considering the outdated state of MVP's rosters (made all the more strange by the game shipping in mid-May), the very least that could have been done was to include the ability to download new rosters. We would have liked to have seen the innovative Hitter's Eye feature in the PSP version, if only because the color-coded pitch system so spiced up the pitcher/batter duel in the console version. Whereas MVP Baseball 2005 for consoles had two franchise modes--the regular version and a souped-up owner's mode--MVP Baseball for PSP lacks all franchise modes.

A Look Ahead

Now that Take-Two is the sole third-party publisher in the baseball game business, could a PSP version of the MLB 2K series be far behind? Though we don't have any official word, we hope so, especially if the 2K Sports folks can build on the success of the console version of the series and maybe even manage to keep the outstanding announcing duo of Jon Miller and Joe Morgan (despite no longer having the ESPN license). And though EA Sports' MVP series may be dearly departed, it's impossible to write the publisher off for good. After all, with the company entering into a long-term agreement with the NCAA for exclusive college football rights, a collegiate baseball series based on the MVP Baseball engine doesn't seem like much of a stretch.

With all the promise found in sports titles running on PSP technology, we'd be remiss if we didn't include a wish list of things we'd like to see in future handheld baseball games. First and possibly most important, is that something has to be done about the load times. Waiting more than a minute just to boot up a game is simply too long (and too much idle battery time eaten up). To that end, PSP games do not have to look exactly like their PS2 or Xbox counterparts, especially if that visual quality results in some noticeable chop in the gameplay department. In the end, punchier game pace is far more preferable than an exact port of a console baseball game. Third, the PSP has online capabilities, so use it! Full-fledged PSP online leagues would be ideal, but barring that, on-the-fly online play-off tourneys are a great start. And let's not make downloadable rosters only for console owners either--how cool would it be to be able to flip your Wi-Fi switch every Sunday and download the latest rosters for your game no matter where you are?

Though we figure franchise modes will make their way into the game at some point (and probably sooner than later), here's hoping that, when translated to the PSP "page," these data-rich modes are bolstered by attractive, well-organized screens. If complicated franchise or owner modes are going to work on the reduced-screen real estate of the PSP, they'll need a big bump in user-friendliness in order to do so.

So there's your look at the PSP baseball games of 2005. If you're wondering how the console baseball titles stack up, head on over to our Console Baseball Roundup. If you want to chime in on which MLB game you think is best regardless of platform, check out the Sports Game Discussion Forum and as always, stay tuned to the latest sports game coverage over at GameSpot Sports.

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