Poor execution all but wrecks the cutesy premise and promising arcade baseball action of MLB Bobblehead Pros. This Xbox Live Arcade game from Konami looks the part with its mostly adorable, partly creepy little bobblehead players. And, it occasionally delivers on the diamond with a solid, straightforward rendition of the national pastime that is far more true to life than its spring-headed players would lead you to believe. But too many frustrations mount from wonky pitching mechanics and some sloppy play in the field, making this game more of a wild pitch than a laser down the pipe.
At its heart, MLB Bobblehead Pros is a conventional arcade baseball game, with the noteworthy twist that you're playing with bobblehead players whose noggins bounce around on the end of springs. If your slugger takes a big cut and fails to connect here, he not only corkscrews himself into the ground, but he also finds his head going boingo-boingo for a few seconds. The whole presentation is cute and colorful, but it's not overdone. Even with the goofy player models and bobblehead fans in the bleachers, the game plays some pretty serious baseball. There are no ridiculous moments here with exploding balls, clown-show theatrics on the field, or anything else played purely for laughs. You get some chuckles from the head-bobbing players at times and occasionally laugh at how a player's cleats stomp around disembodied because nobody has any legs, but that's about it. Otherwise, this is a straight-up arcade baseball game where you try to hit the ball and touch 'em all.
Game options are pretty modest as well. You can play solo exhibition games, take over a team and run through full seasons, go online for matchups against other players in lag-free multiplayer, and play cooperatively with the same player in a unique mode of play that's good for a few quick giggles. Downloadable content is on the way in the form of My Bobble career play and Home Run Derby, but right now, these options can only be viewed as teasers on the main menu. Even without these extras, the game is fully featured, especially considering the 800-point asking price. Players are rated in numerous skill categories. Stadiums are rich and lifelike, albeit loaded with bobblehead fans. Seasons track loads of stats that are, for the most part, very accurate. Some oddities arise, like when the Toronto Blue Jays lose an incredible 72 games in one season, but otherwise, you can just about set your watch by the home-run totals, ERA, batting average, and the like. The only aspect of the game that seems chintzy is the audio, which is heavily reliant on a soundtrack that recalls the 16-bit era and grates at times. Limited voice samples make things even worse, with players coming to the plate being announced by number and position only, and sometimes, those positions are oddly pronounced ("desig-NATED hit-TER," anyone?).
Where MLB Bobblehead Pros falls apart is on the field. Pitching is extremely awkward. You throw courtesy of standard mechanics where you choose a pitch type and then pick a location by moving a cursor right up to the moment that the ball is released. In theory, such a tried-and-true system should be awfully hard to screw up, but the game somehow manages to do exactly that. For starters, aiming pitches successfully is nearly impossible. You basically never know where a pitch is going to land. If you try to chuck one down the center of the plate, it might wind up two feet outside. It's good and realistic that you can't constantly paint corners, but this goes way too far in the other direction. Second, things get dramatically worse when runners are on base and you have to throw from the stretch. At that point, everything gets jacked up to ridiculous speeds, with pitches released so soon after you select them that you have no time to properly aim them. You throw so fast that choosing a pitch gets tangled up with the aiming cursor. When you push up on the D pad to select a fastball, for instance, the ball is then released so quickly that you wind up picking a very high location for the ball as well, or have to quickly try to pull the cursor into the strike zone and just hope you don't groove a meatball. If you give up just one single, you typically find yourself in big trouble because of how this quirk hamstrings your ability to deliver accurate throws to the plate.
Fielding is just as erratic. While the fields look to be regulation size, and the ball sure seems to come off the bat as fast here as it does in real life, the little bobblehead players are typically quite sluggish. It can be very difficult to get under what should be routine flies, turn what should be routine double plays, or even cut off liners before they get into gaps in the outfield. Fielders also have to be directly lined up with balls to collect them. Balls slip past outfielders far too often and go all the way to the wall just because they're a fraction outside of the player's gloves. And the computer frequently activates the wrong player for fielding situations. The ball may be going straight at the second baseman, so you get control of the shortstop. The frustration that all this generates is hard to overstate. An absurd screwup of one sort or another seems to happen at a rate of about every other inning. When you combine this with the pitching problems, you can easily find yourself giving up four- and five-run innings on a regular basis.
Batting is at least a little better. You hit by both timing swings and by moving a sweet-spot bat cursor to where the pitcher is aiming the ball. This isn't incredibly difficult. Ball speed isn't unduly quick and you can see the pitcher's target, which lets you chase it around the batter's box with your cursor until the ball is released from the pitcher's hand. It's odd that a purely arcade game like this doesn't have an option where you just time swings, but at least the timing-location combination here isn't overly challenging. You can also take regular cuts or load up and swing for the fences. Enemy batters, however, are brutally tough on you. This seems to be because of the pitching and fielding problems noted above, as well as a truly preternatural ability to slap balls into the gaps. You can mitigate this somewhat by turning the AI batting skills down a notch, although even then, you still need to deal with all of the issues around getting balls over the plate and properly fielding hit balls.
What's most unfortunate about MLB Bobblehead Pros is that it clearly could have been a good arcade baseball game. That compelling kid-friendly theme, the number of modes of play, and a serious treatment of the grand old game are real pluses here. Some fairly minor tweaks to pitching accuracy and the speed of your release when throwing from the stretch would have made a world of difference on the mound, and a few fielding speed and ball coverage adjustments might have eliminated many grievances on the diamond. As it stands, however, frustrations outweigh the fun.