Scientists have long pondered the existence of other universes in which the physics are totally different than they are here. In these strange dimensions, up would be down, fast would be slow, and Major League Baseball 2K9 would be a realistic depiction of the national pastime. However, in our own mundane reality, 2K Sports' latest look at the grand old American game skews baseball so much that you seem to be viewing the diamond action through a fun-house mirror. Although the Nintendo Wii version of the game is superior to its Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 counterparts due to the catchy, motion-sensing controls and some much-improved on-field animations, this remains a frustrating experience that never quite feels like real baseball.
Most features are identical to what they were in MLB 2K8 for the Wii, so you still have the options for single games, franchise play, playoffs, situational play, and the home-run derby, as well as matches against buddies on the couch. The Internet support offered in the 360 and PS3 versions of the game has been dropped on the Wii, as has the living-roster frill that lets owners of the other consoles automatically update their lineups based on what is taking place in the real Major Leagues. The interface has been refurbished with the addition of nested menus, so despite the wealth of options they're easy to navigate. Some items aren't where you might expect them to be, but after you spend about five minutes figuring your way around, you can navigate the interface with the Wii Remote almost as easily as if you were using a mouse.
Hitting, pitching, and fielding are carried over largely intact from last year, with Wii Remote movements and the Nunchuk handling just about everything. Taking swings is accomplished by wielding the Wii Remote like a bat, swinging it as if you were taking real cuts. Getting good wood on the ball is tough, though, because you have to time your Wii Remote swing to coincide with pitches crossing the plate and also target one of nine boxes in the strike zone by moving the Nunchuk's control stick. This is a real test of your reflexes, given that fireball hurlers such as cover boy Tim Lincecum don't give you a lot of time to figure out where a pitch is headed. The game is unforgiving when it comes to pitch location. If you predict an inside pitch, for instance, and get a ball low and away, at which point you'll either whiff or slap the ball weakly to the opposite field. As you might expect, this presents you with a pretty stiff challenge at the plate. It also presents your forearms with a repetitive motion that can be rather ache-inducing over the course of a nine-inning game.
Stepping onto the rubber has its issues as well, but for entirely different reasons. Whereas hitting is perhaps a little too difficult, pitching is far too easy. You select a pitch type and location with the Nunchuk and hold down the B button on the Wii Remote to begin a windup, then pull the Wii Remote back and flick it forward to emulate the motion of releasing the ball. That's it: instant Nolan Ryan. The only challenge comes from a collapsing red-yellow-green target that you have to hit when flicking the Wii Remote forward, and even it doesn't seem to affect your pitch too much. Even though you're supposed to time your release to keep you in the green, firing while in yellow or red rarely seems to result in a mistake in which you lob one down the pipe. Catchers also work with you, calling pitches and picking locations. They do a reasonably good job of switching up pitches and moving the ball around, too, so the end result of all of this is that you can pitch on automatic. Considering that you rarely have to worry about 450-foot consequences to a mistake, you can easily paint corners and mow down a dozen or more batters in just about every game.
Fielding also runs pretty much on autopilot. You move fielders around with the Nunchuk and throw to bases using the D pad on the Wii Remote with little muss or fuss. It can be a bit challenging in the beginning to coordinate your actions; it feels awkward using both hands and two separate controllers to pull off plays that you would normally make with a gamepad. But after a few innings, it seems like second nature. And better yet, the Wii version of MLB 2K9 isn't afflicted with the strange fielding animations that plague its sister games on the 360 and PS3. For example, infielders rarely double-pump for no reason, which results in much fewer botched double plays and absurd infield singles. Even the overall pace of fielding is much more realistic here. Outfielders take their time on routine tosses into second on grounders hit for singles, and infielders move more naturally when they make plays.
Unfortunately, though these superior animations help the baseball feel of the game, they do virtually nothing to improve its cosmetic appearance. This is an ugly game, loaded with jaggies and weird visual glitches such as blimps floating by overhead with absolutely no details at all, looking like weird holes in the sky. Players don't look much like their real-life counterparts, either. General body size seems to be dead-on, although the faces are often so generic that they might have been picked out of random police lineups instead of Major League rosters. However, audio is actually better here than it is on the other consoles, largely because it has been scaled down to match the Wii's technical capabilities. All that is provided here is a generic play-by-play from Gary Thorne, that consists largely of single-line observations about what the catcher is calling for and comments on good or bad swings. The soundtrack doesn't seem to have been cut down for the Wii, though. You get blitzed with the same bizarre, kitchen-sink mix of tunes here as you do on the other consoles, with the music varying wildly between Europe's "The Final Countdown," Latin hip-hop, and Judas Priest's "You've Got Another Thing Coming." The only difference here is that the music often plays in the background during at-bats, apparently to compensate for the pared-down play-by-play.
MLB 2K9 for the Wii isn't a great baseball game, but superior controls and animation make it a bit better than its 360 and PS3 siblings. Nevertheless, considering that you have to accept some serious trade-offs when it comes to the ugly graphics, difficult batting, and a more limited feature set that lacks online multiplayer, it's arguable whether this is really a step up. Like Chicago Cubs fans say every September: Wait till next year.