Its overly plain presentation will probably turn off the casual set, but MVP 06 NCAA Baseball's top-notch gameplay is exactly what baseball purists are looking for.
- Intricate controls and spot-on physics
- Hundreds of teams to pick from
- Thousands of unique play animations
- Mike Patrick's play calling feels so natural
- Dynasty mode simulates recruiting beautifully.
- NCAA license means real teams but fictional players
- Presentation lacks attitude
- ESPN brand is hardly noticeable
- Many teams and stadiums were left out.
As the saying goes, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Shut out of the MLB license by rival 2K Games, EA Sports turned a sour situation sweet by signing a deal with the NCAA to produce the first-ever video game based on college baseball. Not a bad idea, seeing as college baseball has a large fan base in certain regions, and that many diehard baseball fans will buy any video game built on the MVP Baseball engine, whether it features pro teams or not. Indeed, MVP 06 NCAA Baseball is just as intricate and playable as MVP Baseball 2005 was, and it brings with it a few minor tweaks that should please the MVP faithful. The overall presentation is rather bland though, mainly because EA Sports didn't do anything to jazz up the on-field atmosphere after removing the thumping sound systems and happy home run celebrations that served to set the mood in its MLB-based games.
Because this is an NCAA-licensed product, you won't be able to send the Red Sox Nation up against the Bronx Bombers, but you can pair the 2005 College World Series champs, Texas, against runners-up Florida, or have Stanford square off against USC, which is a rivalry almost as intense as the one shared between Yankees and Red Sox fans. More than 100 NCAA Division I schools are available for play. All of the big conference teams, like those belonging to the SEC, Big 12, Conference USA, PAC-10, and so forth, made the cut. Smaller conferences, however, such as the Ivy League, Atlantic 10, and Mid-American conferences, did not. Neither did any Division II or Division III schools. Such oversights are unfortunate, but they can be remedied to some extent by making use of the game's individual player, team, and stadium editors. You may want to take advantage of those editors anyway, because all of the included players and roughly one-third of the 30 stadiums are fictional.
The list of play modes is pretty much identical to those included in last year's MLB-branded MVP Baseball 2005. Offline, you can get in a quick game in the exhibition or coach mode, practice your skills in the batting and pitching minigames, set up a specific situation in scenario mode, hit for the seats in the home run showdown, or take a team to glory in the tournament and dynasty modes. Online, you can participate in one-on-one exhibition games or try to take the top spot in a four- or eight-player tournament. The offline dynasty and tournament modes have undergone a few necessary NCAA-specific changes in this year's game. In the dynasty mode, instead of signing rookies and free agents to contracts, you have to recruit players out of high school by buttering them up with e-mails, phone calls, and campus visits. Meanwhile, the tournament mode lets you put together a tournament featuring anywhere from four to eight teams going at it in single- or double-elimination rounds.
College baseball isn't all that dissimilar from big-league baseball in terms of how the game is played, although there are some key differences. The most obvious is the use of aluminum bats, which, while cost-effective for schools on a budget, emit an annoying "tink" sound when the ball is hit and tend to produce faster line drives than a wooden bat would. While screaming line drives are a very unsafe situation, collegiate baseball has a number of rules in place that are meant to make the game safer. Take-out slides and home plate collisions are prohibited, for example, and the strike zone is smaller, which deters pitchers from throwing too far inside, and hitters from crowding the plate. For various reasons, lopsided scores are more common in college baseball. Aluminum bats and smaller ballpark dimensions are contributing factors, as is the generally low experience level of the players themselves. Perhaps in light of the college game's higher run output, there's a 10-run "mercy rule" effect, which ends the game early if one team outscores the other by 10 runs. These are college baseball's unique quirks, all of which (and more) EA Sports has gone to great lengths to implement into MVP 06 NCAA Baseball.
It's worth mentioning, though, that all of the game's NCAA-specific settings can be changed to so-called "summer" settings in the gameplay options menu. The aluminum bats can be swapped for wood, baserunning rules can be changed to allow hard slides, and the 10-run rule can be turned off. You can't play with major league teams, but if you want to play by the MLB's rules or make the game even more challenging, you can certainly do so within seconds, just by adjusting a few toggles and sliders.
For the most part, MVP 06 NCAA Baseball retains the same superb physics and controls that made MVP Baseball 2005 such a joy to play. Line drives, grounders, and pop hits behave just like the real deals, and there are also dozens of miscellaneous animations for infrequent and odd plays too, such as check-swing hits, booted balls, and off-line catches. The default pitching controls utilize EA's wonderful meter-based interface, which is the darling of diehard players everywhere. The baserunning controls let players control individual runners at the touch of a button, and you can preload stolen base attempts and choose various slides by tapping the different directions on the digital pad and right analog stick. The default fielding interface still lets you push the hustle button to sprint for distant balls, at the risk of injury or fatigue, and you still have to build power into subsequent throws by using a simple press-and-release meter. Not all is the same old, same old in this year's game, however; the default hitting and fielding controls have undergone a major shift into analog territory--to the right analog stick, that is.