Baseball is a weird sport. There really shouldn’t be anything too exciting about it, in all honesty. There’s only so many things that can happen on the field, and a very strict template as to how the game should be played. There isn’t half the strategy of football, the pure athleticism of soccer and basketball, or the brutality of hockey, but there’s still something charming about baseball that’s missing in many other sports.
For those reasons, there’s something about baseball that always eludes game developers as well. What do people like about baseball? The home run? The ballpark ambiance? 100 mile-per-hour fastballs? There are very few games that get baseball right, and I’m happy to say that MLB Power Pros 2008 is one of them. Where does it excel? Where does it fall short? And why does a game with such cartoonish graphics feel more like baseball than a lot of more “realistic” baseball games?
The first thing you’ll notice about this game is that everything looks “cute.” Every player looks like they came out of the Lego Star Wars character generator. Their heads are half the size of their bodies (insert Barry Bonds joke here – Ed.), and their hands are no more than circles. Still, they manage to have personality. You’ll love the way a batter looks back at the umpire during a questionable strike or a pitcher tilts his head when we doesn’t like a call. It still makes me laugh every time.
Another note is that there are only four parks to play in during the game. There really isn’t anything special about any of them, but I never really noticed any problems with the parks. It would be nice to have more, and I understand the limitations of the DS cartridge. Still, Madden can have several different fields and stadiums on one little cartridge, so I don’t see what the holdup is.
MLB Power Pros 2008 sounds pretty good. You have the basic crowd sounds, and walkup music for each batter. The announcer says the name of every batter that walks up, or the name of the pitcher whenever there’s a pitching change. The background music on the menus is fine, and there’s a surprisingly good track that plays during the Home Run Derby.
Still, there are some glitches. For instance, I’ve run into more than one case when a batter’s walkup music doesn’t stop, and keeps going through the play, into the next batter, and the batter after that. The only way to stop it is going into the in-game menu, and when you come back the walkup music is off. The announcer hilariously over-enunciates everything, but that’s good for some laughs.
I played MLB The Show when I had a PS2, and I thought I would never play another game that managed to get the control scheme of baseball right. MLB Power Pros 2008 did, and in some ways improved on the control scheme.
When you throw a pitch, you can see how good your individual pitches are and how the ball will break. If you’re a good pitcher, you’ll get more break on your curve or slider, or more pitches in your arsenal. Some pitches, like the knuckleball, are ridiculous to control and can get you killed. If you throw the same pitch a couple of times in a row, the batter is bound to jump on it.
Speaking of batting, you have two choices on how to bat: with a precision swing meant to manufacture base hits, or with a power swing to swing for the fences. Some players have more power than others, and your rating is listed at the beginning of your at-bat in case you’ve forgotten.
I only have a couple of problems with these systems. Fastballs almost never work. You can set someone up with changeups and curveballs and sliders, but as soon as you send a fastball at them, they’ll hit it to the opposite field and leave you standing on the mound with your shorts down around your ankles. Also, in order to hit a home run, you have to hit the ball on the nose with the right timing, which means that home runs rarely come for you, the player. Opposing batters can hit them with normal regularity, which makes it a little frustrating.
I also had the computer run all my fielding for me, as I usually do in baseball games. There were way too many easy double-play balls that I couldn’t handle on my own, but the computer handled it all fantastically. All in all, this control scheme is well above and beyond any other baseball game on the DS.
I’m really docking this portion of the review for one major, major flaw:
THERE’S NO SEASON MODE! NO FRANCHISE MODE! NOTHING!
You have the ability to set up some playoffs, and you can play a game wirelessly, and do a Home Run Derby. That’s it.
For a game that has such excellent baseball mechanics, this was an extremely disappointing decision. I don’t get the rationale: Is it too hard to sim a baseball season? Bases Loaded for the NES had a season mode way back in 1987. Don’t give me that.
I would gladly sacrifice one of the four baseball parks for a season mode. I don’t need minor leagues, I don’t need a player creation mode, and I don’t ask for much. I would be happy with a 40-game season. I just want a season mode, and there’s absolutely no reason whatsoever not to supply it.
Everything else is just fine. The bullpen is simplified so you don’t have to warm up pitchers before you send them in. It worked out fine for me, because when a pitcher is getting rocked, you don’t always want to wait to see if you can get them out of a jam.
Also, each pitcher can only throw so many pitches before they tire out. This carries over from game to game, so that if you get to an opposing team’s bullpen early in a playoff series, you can significantly weaken the bullpen for later games. This would have been an awesome feature to integrate IN A SEASON MODE! Argh! I have to move on, I’m too angry.
We’ve already mentioned the egregious lack of a season mode, which knocks this score down as well. You can’t really have much value when you can’t even play a FULL FREAKING SEASON!
(I’m hyperventilating. Give me a moment.)
Whew. That’s better. Still, it’s telling that every time I look for something to play recently, I pick up MLB Power Pros 2008. There aren’t a whole lot of game modes, but there’s still wireless play and download play, and what’s there is so good that you’ll keep on coming back to it.