MLB 13: The Show Review

A scrunched-down version of its big-brother PlayStation 3 game, MLB 13: The Show for the PS Vita offers good, not great, handheld baseball.


Compare the backs of the boxes, and MLB 13: The Show looks pretty much identical on both the PlayStation 3 and PS Vita. Get into the actual games, however, and some substantial differences pop up when it comes to playability. Where the PS3 game is the real deal, another fantastic baseball game that walks the line better than ever between simulation realism and on-the-diamond action, the handheld Vita version falls short in a few key areas. You get a very good game of baseball here, due to the huge number of options and attention to detail in every aspect of hitting, pitching, and fielding. Still, scrunching the big-brother console version down to handheld size causes a few problems that feel like they could have been avoided.

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For the most part, however, MLB 13 plays pretty similarly on both systems. Virtually all of the modes of play have been shifted to the Vita mostly intact. So you get all of the core experiences that the game has to offer, including franchise and season play, online options, the role-playing Road to the Show, and the new Postseason playoffs and The Show Live (which lets you follow the real 2013 Major League season as it unfolds). Beginner mode is available as well, providing a good if overly simplistic entry to video game baseball for rookies. Ad hoc mode is available for local multiplayer. Just about everything has been cut back, though. Animations aren't as varied on the field. Broadcast booth commentary is down to the odd line from play-by-play man Matt Vasgersian. Player creation options have been reduced, so you don't have as many little frills to tweak when crafting your wannabe in Road to the Show.

These cuts don't initially seem like huge sacrifices to make for the big plus of portability. But the omissions are notable if you're also playing the PS3 version, and they add up over time to give you the impression that this is something of a cut-rate edition of the game. You might find this perfectly acceptable, especially when you want to link up with the PS3 version of the game and download games from the cloud on the road. (Direct play between the platforms is supported only in Home Run Derby mode.) It is undeniably nifty to catch up on a few games with your Road to the Show guy when away from home or when your main gaming TV in the living room is being occupied by other folks in the household.

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In spite of being stripped down in comparison to its big brother, The Show feels as though it still bit off more than it could chew. Load times are quite long, especially when playing Road to the Show with a position player where you're taking only a few at-bats and fielding attempts in each game. Visual details overload performance, as well. The great-looking graphics and countless animations crammed onto the card slow the frame rate down. There are no big hitches, but the consistent frame slowdown is noticeable, especially in the field.

Getting down on the diamond lets you forget about some of these problems. MLB 13 plays a very good, very addictive game of baseball. Pitching and batting are very challenging and realistic. You have to work your pitches on the mound and pay close attention when in the batter's box. The pitcher-batter duel is uncannily realistic. You regularly get into wars, trying to fool batters with pitch type, placement, and speed. And then you get into the same battles on the other side of the equation, fighting off enemy hurlers doing the same thing to you when you're at bat. Ball physics are brilliantly realized. The ball always moves in a realistic fashion, whether coming off the bat, coming out of a shortstop's hand, or ricocheting off the pitcher's skull.

Fielding animations are just as lifelike and extremely varied, even if not to the level of what's on display on the PS3. The same goes with visual quality. Players are readily recognizable, and ballparks are lovingly depicted, giving games a serious big league atmosphere. There is even a touch of glitz provided through the remarkably complete soundtrack, which contains the same big songs as on the PS3 by the likes of The Rolling Stones and ZZ Top. All in all, games feel and look and sound true to life.

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For the most part. There are some problems here, which again come down to not fully adjusting the PS3 game for the Vita. Making contact was opened up in the PS3 game this year for the first time with the timing window adjusted so you can be late or early and still have a shot at a hit or fouling the pitch off to stay alive. This allows you to more easily get good wood on the ball at default difficulties. Here, though, it's still tough to lay the lumber on pitches. Hitting is more like what was seen in MLB 12 and its predecessors. Making contact is a little easier, just not as easy as it is on the PS3. That's a bit of a letdown, because the revamped PS3 batting has removed some of the frustration factor from the series and made it more playable than ever before, even to ballgame newbies. Some of this could be due to the small screen. Hitting has always been tougher on the Vita and the PSP because of the size of the ball on the little screens in comparison with the 50-inch-plus HDTVs in living rooms. At any rate, some tweaks are needed to get hitting to the same outstanding ease-of-use level seen in the PS3 edition of the game.

Pitching and fielding can be even more problematic. The pitching challenge has been dialed up, again due to the size of what you're working with on the screen. No significant adjustments have been made to game speed or anything else to make hurling easier to handle. Control mechanics are problematic as well. Pulse Pitching, for instance, is almost impossible to use here because of the size of the rapidly pulsating target and how its dark color blends in with catcher chest protectors. Aiming pitches can be annoying no matter what pitching control you choose, because the amount of play in the Vita thumbsticks makes it hard to lock down locations. If you're looking for something to exacerbate carpal tunnel syndrome, you've found it.

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Fielding will also test your patience. The somewhat awkward fielder sliding on the PS3 can be a huge issue on the Vita when scooping grounders in both the infield and the outfield, because it is all too easy to skate past (those very tiny) routine balls. Oddly enough, though, the new Button Accuracy Throw fielding option is better here than on the PS3, where it is ridiculously touchy.

Customizability can be a saving grace. You can adjust just about every aspect of MLB 13 through its comprehensive slider settings. Tailor-making a game just right for the skills that you bring to the table is possible. But it requires more fiddling than it should, solely because the game design hasn't been tweaked enough out of the box to allow for the differences between a handheld like the Vita and the full-size PS3. While you can't be negative over what remains an impressive baseball game, MLB 13: The Show on the Vita feels too much like a port done without enough regard for the smaller-sized platform of the handheld system. The hitting window should have been opened up a little more to compensate for the tiny screen and controls, and mechanics like Pulse Pitching needed some extra work to make them more usable here. It's understandable that Sony wants to link the two versions of the game every year, but more acknowledgement that these are two different games for two different platforms and even two somewhat different audiences would make the Vita version stand on its own much better.


The Good

  • Continues to offer a ton of options
  • Plays a great game of baseball on the diamond, with superb pitcher-batter duels
  • Addictive Road to the Show mode of play
  • Cross-platform support to take your PS3 cloud saves on the road

The Bad

  • Mechanics like Pulse Pitching not properly scaled down for Vita
  • Long load times and visual slowdown

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