Baseball season is here again and Sony has given us a way to take our big league fix on-the-go with MLB '06: The Show for the PlayStation Portable. This latest installment is a realistic and slickly-produced baseball sim that any fan will like, and a major improvement over last year's game, even if it's still missing some of the features that its PlayStation 2 counterpart has.
Play modes include exhibition, season, career, home run derby, king of the diamond, and online. The season and career modes allow multi-season play, but only include basic trade and lineup management functions. Also, aside from the lone character you can create in the career mode, you can't edit rosters or customize players. The king of the diamond mode is basically a contest between pitchers and hitters, without any fielders involved.
Online play allows head-to-head play in exhibition games and king of the diamond contests. Overall, the smoothness of online games is highly dependent on the speed and quality of your Internet connection. If your connection is solid, online play is just as smooth as offline play is.
Physics and subtle nuances seem to be accurate. Pitches break realistically near the strike zone and hits don't go to the same fielders all the time. Pitchers tire as their pitch counts go up. Player confidence; and thus, clutch ability; goes up or down with every pitch thrown and swing taken.
Also, the gameplay is very user-friendly. Each control interface is pretty standard. In fact, if you've played any baseball game put out by Sony, EA Sports, or 2K Games in the past three years, you already know how to play this game. Pitching uses a meter to set the effectiveness and accuracy of each pitch. The batting controls offer "guess pitch" and zone aiming functions. This year's game also lets players take control of individual baserunners and preload stolen base commands. Like every good baseball sim, MLB '06: The Show lets you adjust line-ups, warm-up pitchers in the bullpen, and make substitutions. It's still not possible to shift defensive alignments though (weak!).
In terms of presentation, MLB '06: The Show has a distinct broadcast-style flavor and, at the same time, does a good job of replicating the sights and sounds of the ballpark. The players and stadiums look accurate. The variety of different play animations is wonderful. Graphics are crisp, for the most part, and the animation is smooth. Little details like dirty uniforms and updating scoreboards add to the game's dynamic feel. The broadcast aspects of this year's game are much nicer than they were last year, now that batter walk ups, instant replays, and homerun celebrations have been incorporated into the mix. All of the audio stuff (crowd noise, player announcements, sound effects) seems to be right on the money.
Commentary is provided by a three-man "booth" consisting of Matt Vasgersian, Dave Campbell, and Rex Hudler. Vasgersian does all of the general play-by-play while the other two have the color duties. Just in general, the variety of play-by-play comments is greater in this year's game, and the delivery is smoother. Overall, the commentary is chatty and accuate.
Compared to the PS2 game, the PSP version of MLB '06: The Show has fewer broadcast views and play-by-play comments, but the variety is still good enough to keep the presentation lively… especially if you haven't played the flashier PS2 game.
On the whole, MLB '06: The Show for PSP is a solid package that offers the authentic gameplay, intricate controls, slick visuals, and unflappable commentary that MLB fans crave. The lack of a real franchise mode and any sort of player editing options are the only significant knocks against what is otherwise a great baseball video game.