When a new gaming platform is released, the sports games that are launched alongside it are typically stripped of a lot of the expected core features. Surprisingly, that isn't the case with MLB 12: The Show for the PlayStation Vita. Rather than simply release a quick baseball game in time for the upcoming season, SCEA's San Diego Studio has delivered a game that is nearly identical to its console big brother. While there is still room for improvement, the Vita's first baseball game shows potential.
In terms of features, the Vita version of The Show is almost on par with what is available on the PlayStation 3. Apart from the exclusion of the dynamic presentation and the new Diamond Dynasty mode, everything that is available on your PS3 is featured in your hands. This even includes the new pulse pitching and zone analog batting systems introduced earlier this year.
Pulse pitching is a new throwing system that replaces the pitching meter seen in previous games. In its place, there is a pulsating circle that needs to be stopped when at its smallest to get the most effective throws. Depending on a number of factors, the size and speed of the circle fluctuate. While it can be difficult to master and consistently stop the circle at its smallest, it's easy enough to grasp so that most players should be able to throw effectively in a short amount of time.
Although the pulse pitching system transfers well to the Vita, it is exploitable because of the system's touch screen. On the PS3, you need to hold the left analog stick in position for each throw, but on the Vita, you can easily move the pulsating circle with your finger and leave it where you want it for your pitch. Of course, the ability to mimic the same balancing act with the left analog stick is possible, but once you discover the ease of using your finger instead, there is no point in relying on anything else.
The other feature, zone batting, gives the batter more control in the strike zone. Rather than swing in the center of the strike zone, the zone batting system allows the batter to target specific spots when a pitch is thrown. If you notice that a pitcher tends to throw inside and you want to punish him, you can make it so that the batter swings with the most focus in that particular spot.
Though it's a fine system, only the truly dedicated are likely to make use of this feature. The learning curve for newcomers to the series makes trying to juggle readjusting your swing while grasping the timing a challenging process. Although this new approach to batting might click immediately for some, for the most part, the precision and timing needs to utilize this feature makes it a daunting prospect in the early going.
The Vita's touch features are used in various ways. Menu navigation is best used by swiping and touching the screen, but the option for standard button presses is available. On the field, those who use touch controls can use them for pitch selection, both as the pitcher and the batter. As mentioned, you can move the pulse pitching circle around with your finger, but you can also select a pitch by touching the corresponding one as it appears on the screen. The same goes for those who like to guess their pitches when at bat because both the ability to guess the specific pitch and its probable location are possible. Unfortunately, neither the actual act of throwing or hitting is achievable by touching the screen or even the touch pad. It is also not possible to manipulate the zone analog batting with your fingers.
By default, rear-touch-pad features are turned off, but when activated, they can be used for fielding and baserunning. When on defense, you can use the rear touch pad to throw balls to specific spots. On offense, the ability to advance runners or attempt steals can be done with simple swipes. All aspects of the touch pad are good and easy to get a handle of, but it is interesting that this aspect of the Vita is not turned on automatically.
Touch features are also turned off when playing online. Even with that extra layer removed, the online performance is on par with what you get on the PlayStation 3; meaning, it needs work. The same choppiness and moments where players stutter and the ball disappears prior to reaching the catcher occur on a regular basis. While finding matches is easy, those hoping for a hassle-free online experience with the Vita will need to wait just a little bit longer.
There are parts of The Show on the Vita that look good but a few areas don't live up to the unit's potential. Most players look decent, but some animations lack detail. On top of that, fans in the stands look extremely bland, including times where those in attendance clip through seats. From afar, stadiums have been designed well, but between half innings, graphical hiccups appear through the course of a game. When playing in Oakland's O.co Coliseum, the camera pans to the club sections during breaks in the action, but the windows momentarily appear and disappear.
Although the dynamic presentation isn't available from the PS3 version, the three-man team of Matt Vasgersian, Dave Campbell, and Eric Karros is featured, and the result is on par with what you might expect from a real broadcast. Additionally, the ambient sounds--from cheering fans in the stands to noise from your dugout--can be heard loud and clear, as well as add to the atmosphere of a match.
Though this is the first appearance for the series on the PlayStation Vita, it is a fine introductory effort. While there are a few areas to improve upon, all signs indicate that future iterations of The Show for the Vita should be a joy to play. Casual fans may want to hold off, but if you're a fan of the series or if you want to play baseball wherever you are, you won't be disappointed, provided you don't want to play online.