The PSP isn't generally regarded as a hotbed for sports games, but there are a few series that have found success on the handheld, one of which is Sony's MLB series. MLB 07: The Show doesn't mess with success, and in many ways it feels like a slightly enhanced version of last year's game. However, its one big addition, road to the show, is a good one and offers a whole new way to progress through a professional baseball career. MLB 07: The Show is a great value if you're looking for a simulation or just want to play a few quick games here and there.
MLB 07's game modes will be familiar to anyone who played last year's game, and it's remarkably similar to the PS2 version, though you will have to contend with some lengthy load times. You can play a quick game, call the shots in manager mode, hop online, embark on a career, play multiple seasons, take part in a home-run derby, or try to become king of the diamond. The king-of-the-diamond mode is a timed game where you pick a pitcher and hitter and duel the opposing team on a field that's filled with obstacles and targets that penalize or reward you for where you hit the ball. It's not all that deep, but it's a fun diversion if you're looking to play a quick, stress-free game. Franchise mode is still missing in action, but the game does have a season mode. You'll be able to play or simulate games, trade players, sign free agents, and this year, you can edit your player rosters, as well as download new ones. You can even jump out of a game you've already begun and simulate it, which is one of the PS2 version's interesting features.
You can play friends online or via ad hoc. MLB 07's online offering is extremely deep for a PSP game. You can create an online persona, play a single ranked or unranked game, play in and create leagues, upload and share your own game-setting sliders, check MLB news, and even participate in message-board discussions. A few issues arose getting an online game started, but other than some lag making it difficult to hit, the game ran smoothly. Also, the game inaccurately reports wins, losses, and disconnects, which could severely hamper your enjoyment of the online component, depending on how important your record is to you. SCEA has posted an announcement on the game's online front page saying that it has "fixed these issues," though other than the disconnects, it never mentions exactly what issues have been fixed.
Without a doubt, MLB 07's biggest new feature is the road-to-the-show mode, which is an evolution of last year's career mode. It's great for anyone who doesn't want to play the role of GM, but still wants a game mode that offers a lot of depth. You create a ballplayer, pick a position, and find a team you think you can make, but instead of playing every pitch of every game, you only play when you're directly involved in the game. For example, if you're a right fielder, you'll only play when a ball is hit your way or when you're at bat. When your turn is over, the game simply fast-forwards to the next time you're involved.
Your player improves by reaching goals that are given to you before each at bat. Pitchers will be told to do things like strike out hitters or induce double plays, while hitters will have to make contact, get a hit, or drive in a run. It's pretty tough to succeed as a hitter because you're given such few opportunities to succeed and also because your performance on the field doesn't seem to have a whole lot of bearing on your value to the team. You earn points for reaching goals, and these can be spent on training your player. If you're a pitcher, you can focus on improving your stamina, ability with specific pitch types, and more. If you're a hitter, you can improve your prowess against left- or right-handed pitchers, as well as improve your speed, strength, and more. If you play well enough in the preseason, you'll be offered a contract, which means you get to keep playing and reaching new goals while trying to win awards and championships. And if you're not happy with your team, you can request a trade. If you don't get a contract, well, you're free to try out again next year, and the year after that, until you catch on with a team. It's very rewarding to work your way up from a nobody to a big star, and in a lot of ways it's refreshing to not have to deal with every aspect of a team--all you have to worry about is yourself. It would have been nice to play a shorter season, since you pretty much have to play all of the pre-season to make sure you get a contract offer and then the entire season after that, but other than that minor gripe, the road to the show is great.
MLB 07's pitching mechanic has gotten some attention, but the basics are mostly unchanged and still great. To throw a pitch, you press the corresponding face button, pick your location with the analog stick, press X to start the meter, X again to set power, and then X a third time to determine accuracy. Your pitches are organized onscreen by your ability to throw them, and they each have a small meter that raises or lowers depending on how effectively you're throwing that pitch during a specific game. Throw strikes, and the meter fills, which makes it even easier to throw that pitch; throw balls, and the meter empties a bit, and it's even harder to find your spots. The effect feels a bit exaggerated, but it does a nice job of getting you to pitch realistically and not throw garbage all of the time. You'll need to throw a variety of pitches, not only because you get better with each throw, but also because your catcher will call for specific pitches and locations based on the current game scenario. Sometimes your catcher asks for some questionable pitch locations, but for the most part, if you hit your spots, you'll have success. Hitting your spots is also key because you never know exactly what will or won't be called a ball or strike, thanks to umpires that have their own specific strike zones. While this is certainly realistic, it's more frustrating than fun when you strike out looking at a pitch that was clearly a ball. This can be turned off, though, so it's not a big deal if you don't like it.
Hitting is once again outstanding. You can choose to take a normal swing with a press of the X button or a mighty hack with the square button. To improve your chances of success, you can guess the pitch type and location before the pitch, and if you're correct on the pitch type, the strike zone flashes red. If you're right about the general location, the ball's outline appears where it's going to cross the plate. However, MLB 07's hitting really shines because it finds the perfect level of difficulty. The pitches are fast enough that you've got to be quick when deciding whether or not to swing, but they're not so fast that you simply don't have time to react. If you pay attention, it's not terribly difficult to judge whether a pitch is going to be a ball or a strike. You never feel like you're just guessing, and you really feel like you can work a count because you can actually see the pitches clearly. There are quite a few home runs--probably too many--but it's not an absurd amount, and you'll need to learn how to manufacture runs if you're going to win regularly.
Many baseball games have a hard time getting fielding down, but MLB 07 does a pretty good job here. It's easy to maneuver outfielders under fly balls, and it's just as intuitive to control the infielders. The only thing that's sometimes difficult is figuring out who you're controlling. Sometimes you'll be controlling the pitcher after a short bunt, even if the catcher is closer to the ball, and sometimes you're given control of an infielder who has no chance of making a play on a ball when there's another infielder who does have a chance. It's a piece of cake to control all of your base runners at once, but controlling them individually is a bit too complex, especially before a pitch. Between setting leads, telling people to steal, and then guessing pitch types and locations, there's just not enough time to get everything done.
As great as the gameplay is, there are a few problems that hold it back. We saw base runners leave the basepaths and jog across the diamond in the middle of a play. Sometimes players won't make an effort to scoop up the ball, which means that a player from far away will have to come in and try and make the play. There were a few occasions where the CPU was awarded runs that it didn't actually score, and sometimes players who were clearly out by several feet were called safe.
MLB 07's graphics haven't changed much since last year and it still looks great. However, the game routinely stutters when switching from the hitter's view to the overhead fielder's camera, which often makes it difficult to field sharply hit ground balls. The frame rate and camera are also a hindrance when you're running the bases or fielding in road to the show. There's a nice variety of player body types, and player likenesses are pretty good but not outstanding. Fielding animation is particularly well done, and players will gracefully execute double plays, dive for balls, or apply a tag. There are a solid number of individual player animations, be it on-deck routines, swings, or pitch deliveries. One nice thing about all of the player-specific animations is that they're not overdone. Sure, it shows tremendous attention to detail if a batter steps out after every pitch and adjusts his gloves and taps his bat on his cleats, but it makes the games take forever and doesn't add a whole lot to the overall package. There's even a fast-play mode that skips all the little stuff and lets you just play. MLB 07 keeps it simple, and it works. That doesn't mean that it couldn't use more in the way of conveying player emotion, and it might also benefit from a more TV-style presentation. As was the case last year, the stadiums are all accurately re-created and look nice, though they don't look as good as their PS2 counterparts because of less detail and some low-quality textures. The crowds don't look great, but for a PSP game, they're not half bad.
MLB 07's audio lives up to the same high quality as the rest of the game. San Diego Padre's announcer Matt Vasgersian calls the play-by-play. His commentary is accurate and timely. Although Vasgersian sometimes falls behind the action, for the most part, he does a fine job. Dave Campbell and Rex Hudler provide color commentary. They're OK, and thankfully Rex isn't as overbearing as he used to be, but they repeat themselves fairly often and don't always have the most insightful comments, though they occasionally offer some in-depth team- or player-specific nuggets. Even without commentary, the game would sound great. Umpires emphatically call players out, organ music plays between pitches, and there's a PA announcer that introduces hitters and makes general announcements.
Even though it doesn't have a flashy presentation and is still missing the PS2's excellent franchise mode, MLB 07: The Show is one of the better sports games on the PlayStation Portable. There's a ton of ways to enjoy the game, and the new road to the show is a fantastic addition to the series. Be it king of the diamond or the road to the show mode, there's something for every type of baseball fan here.