Thanks to the new trend in league licensing exclusivity when it comes to sports gaming today, MVP Baseball 2005 marks an at least temporary end to what's been a pretty successful three year run for the franchise. Improvements have been made over last year's game, including the rectification of the so-called "lefty bug", but the beauty of MVP Baseball 2005 lies in its consistency. Indeed, MVP Baseball 2005 proves that you don't always have to make a plethora of improvements or reinvent the genre in order to produce a solid game.
For those who might have missed out on playing past versions of MVP Baseball, one of the biggest things that the series introduced to the genre (and can now be seen in other games like 989's MLB 2006 and Take Two's MLB 2K5) was the pitching meter. This pitching meter, when mastered, enabled pitchers to paint the corners of the plate and change speeds based on the timing of button presses. The main difference between this year's game and past MVP versions is the inclusion of "early", "late", and "perfect" zones on the pitching meter. These new timing classifications affect a pitcher's accuracy, and when you combine this with a tiring pitcher and trying to muscle a pitch to a batter in the later innings—it can lead to that one mistake that batters salivate over, or can lead to a walk when you need it least. Aside from this change, the addictive nature of MVP's pitching meter remains the same. It's still as possible as ever to nibble at the corners or get batters to chase after high fastballs while down in the count. One note about the pitches in MVP 2005 versus its competition is that there doesn't seem to be as much break or movement in some of the pitch types; therefore, if you're accustomed to bigger breaks on your curveballs or splitters while playing MLB 2K5 or MLB 2006, you'll need to adjust.
The aspect of hitting in MVP 2005 will seem very familiar to fans of the series. It's all about timing, and players can use the left analog stick to pull pitches, take them the other way, send them skyward, or beat them into the ground for hot shots. It's all very fluid. New this year is something called the "Batter's Eye", which helps players to identify what type of pitch is coming by flashing the ball a certain color very briefly as it comes out of the pitcher's hand. This can help players to get their timing down better by being familiar with the pitch types and their common breaks or speeds. Players can also now adjust their stance in the batter's box, and this can affect the batter's hot and cold zones. There are adjustable sliders to increase or decrease the level of power and contact for batters, and a little fine-tuning may be in order to get the kind of experience that you want.
Much like hitting, base running and defense are also largely unchanged from past year. The picture-in-picture windows for runners return, and each runner has a face button assigned to him. If you have a runner at first and the batter smokes a liner into the corner, you can command that runner to go for third base (or even home plate, if he's fast enough) via a mere button and D-Pad direction combination. The right analog stick lets players pick the type of slide that runners will execute, including initiating devastating collisions at home plate in order to try and knock the ball loose. The right analog stick is also used to make some big plays on defense, including leaps and dives. Some of these plays look absolutely spectacular, especially in a replay. Standard fielding isn't too hard, either, and throws are made based on how long players hold down individual face buttons. A meter, similar to the pitching meter, comes up when you throw to a base. The longer you hold the button down, the higher the meter goes—and the more powerful the throw is. Harder throws usually mean less accuracy and invites the chance of errors to occur.
For those players with a lot of time on their hands, there are two lengthy dynasty modes available. The fairly deep Dynasty mode from MVP 2004 is back, and players can take their favorite team through up to 120 consecutive seasons while meeting specific team goals, signing key players, making key acquisitions, and monitoring players' stats accumulated over that time. The team goals do change from year to year and many involve both the major league club and its minor league affiliates. Expect to do a lot of shuffling between all four clubs as you attempt to keep your players happy and account for injuries, retirements, and more. New to this year's game is the Owner Mode, which lets players try and make as much money as possible over 30 straight seasons. Madden 2005 veterans will recognize a lot of the setup in MVP 2005's Owner Mode. The stadium customization options are a little on the weak side, but overall, it's still a pretty deep mode of play as it layers more financial responsibility onto the already busy duties of personnel management and playing the games.
EA has also introduced a couple of fun minigames to divert players from the rigors of seasonal play. The first of these minigames challenges players to hone their batting skills in what appears to be a derivative of the Home Run Challenge mode from the later versions of Triple Play Baseball on the PSX. In this mode, you're shown a general direction where you need to hit the ball. If you hit it correctly, you get points based on the distance that the ball travels and get bonus points for hitting the right zone. In order to progress from level to level, you need to reach a certain amount of points. The other minigame revolves around pitching and feels a bit like a puzzle game. Here, the strike zone fills with various colored blocks, each of which matches a pitch type. You knock out blocks by hitting them with the proper pitch. When three or more similarly colored blocks are in a row, they disappear, and more drop in to take their place. Both modes are quite addictive and also add valuable MVP Points to your playing profile, which are used to unlock classic stadiums, jerseys, and players.
Visually, MVP 2005 is as tight as ever, with numerous (and smooth) animations for each player and a fairly solid frame rate. The good news is that EA has managed to improve the facial models for each player. Many of the players now bear more than striking resemblances to their real-life counterparts. The uniform detailing is still a little off, as the numbers are a little small and some of the letter detailing isn't quite authentic, but that's more an issue of nitpicking than anything else. There's a fair amount of detail for each stadium, although MVP 2005 clearly lags behind MLB 2K5 in that regard, and MLB 2K5 sacrifices frame rate for detail. Basically, if you liked what you saw last year, you'll be more than pleased with what EA has brought to the table visually in 2005.
Sound is a mixed bag. The sound effects are crisp, and the crowd noise is believable. It really sets a good atmosphere for a ball game. The stadium music is authentic, although the music goes quickly downhill when EA TRAX rears its ugly head once again. While I had some tolerance for EA TRAX in years past, I strongly disliked this year's lineup of wannabe rock. What's even worse is that EA decided to add the Dropkick Murphys' "Tessie" into the rotation, and it's really out of place anywhere but at Fenway. Nothing is more irritating to a Red Sox fan than to hear "Tessie" playing as Hideki Matsui is strolling to the plate at Yankee Stadium. One area that EA has not improved upon has been the in-game commentary, which is clearly the worst of the three MLB games this year. Duane Kuiper offers little new in terms of his lines, and the delivery is inconsistent. Mike Krukow's "meat" references have grown stale after three years, too. I'm not sure if it's a matter of poor scripting, half-hearted delivery, or a combination of both… but it's disappointing that EA failed to address this after three years.
It's also worth noting that MVP 2005 has the weakest presentation of the three available baseball games this year. Granted, this doesn't adversely affect how well the game plays, but MVP 2005 doesn't come anywhere near as close to TV-style presentations as MLB 2K5 and MLB 2006 do. As has been the case with some EA Sports series, stat overlays aren't nearly as frequent in MVP as they are on an actual telecast, and the replay angles and cameras are the same old thing. Presentation, unlike gameplay, can always stand a little tweaking and improvement, and EA has largely left this area of the series alone.
MVP Baseball 2005 is the best-playing baseball game available this year, although its presentation is the weakest. There's a lot to like about this game, including the accessible gameplay, deep dynasty modes, and addictive minigames. It's unfortunate that we won't get to see what fruit that ESPN branding might have had on the MVP franchise, because a mesh of MLB 2K5's presentation and MVP 2005's gameplay could very well have been the perfect game. As it stands, despite its flaws, MVP Baseball 2005 is the baseball game to own this season… and that's the second time in the last three years that I've been able to say this here at PSX Extreme.