Back in the day I used to buy Triple Play Baseball almost every year and play it on my computer. Back then I was not as technically minded as I am today about my baseball games. Back then it was fun to basically hit a homer every time I was up to the plate. I believe I once got 20+ home runs in a row in one of the Triple Play games, but I forget what year. That was the key problem with the Triple Play series. It tried to be too much like an arcade baseball game instead of a real simulation of the game. The series survived until last year when EA Sports finally decided to put it in the grave. The future of EA Sports baseball was sent north to EA Canada and out comes a valiant first effort that has quite a few problems, but is easy to pick up and enjoy.

EA Canada has basically recreated a baseball game from the ground up. MVP Baseball is rooted far deeper in simulation than the series that came before it, but it also has a bit of that arcade feel still tied to it. Two things will jump out at you when you start up this game: the pitcher/batter interface and the fielder throw meter. These are easily the biggest changes from any baseball game you have played recently. Come to think of it, I have never played a baseball game with these things in it, but they could be out there. I will key in on these two things now.

The pitching is the biggest change in this game. You now treat your whole pitch as you would a golf swing in a Tiger Woods PGA Tour game. First you choose where you want to aim your pitch, then you pick your pitch via the corresponding button on the controller. Be sure to hold down the button because the power meter starts when you do. You let the meter go up and you release the button as close to the end as possible (for speed) and then you push the button again inside the green range so you can have an accurate pitch. It takes a bit to get used to, but if you do it right the pitch will have a little more bite and not hang in there for the batter to swat hard at. The default right (or left depending on hitting side) catcher side camera is pretty cool, but it is difficult to hit from. You may want to choose a center camera for that.

The other big change I saw was the addition of a similar meter for the power of fielder’s throws. Basically you hold down the button to the corresponding base in relation to the 4 face buttons. You let go when you get some good power and the throw becomes slightly faster. If you let it get into the red area though you may do a throwing error. That happened to me on a routine grounder to 2nd and throwing to 1st. Went right by my first baseman…d’oh! Needless to say, I turned this option off because it became very hard to pull a double play with it on. Not to say it was much easier with it off either, but that is for another section.

MVP Baseball is quite good in its aesthetic presentation. The graphics are good, but seem to be a bit blurry. The players do not seem as detailed as in World Series Baseball 2k3, but there are other things WSB does not do as well in graphics as MVP. One such thing is the ballparks themselves. They seem much larger in MVP than WSB. The big problem here was that I played MVP before I touched WSB, so I immediately noticed the smallness of the ballparks. There just seems to be more space to hit the ball in MVP, but maybe it is just me or it is the cool MVP camera at work instead of the moving and turning WSB one. Another thing that is more detailed in MVP is the replays, especially the pitch ones. I can physically see the ball breaking and moving in the pitch replays. It was cool to see it. Replays themselves are longer than WSB’s replays which seem to only show the last few seconds of a play and not the whole play itself. Another thing MVP does better is the sound. It helps a lot that EA once again got some pretty good bands to contribute music to this game as they did in Madden 2003 and even some band mainstays from that game came over to this one. The crowd just sounds amazing and I actually hear the umpire in my rear speakers calling balls and strikes (I have 5.1 Dolby Digital). On a total presentation level, MVP Baseball does quite good.

Now onto the bad. This game has many problems, but none of them totally kill the game outright. Here are some of the errors I have encountered in playing a season, 2 franchise years and a couple pick-up games:

1. The computer absolutely will not swing at a ball outside of the strike zone. I have tried it on all levels…no dice.

2. On two occasions there was an inside the park home run, one by me and one by the computer. The one by me I hit the ball through the CF’s hands and no other computer player ran after the ball now in the warning track…oops! Mine was very odd. Same basic kind of play in that it went through my CF’s hands and control passed to the LF while the CF stood over the ball and did nothing. The LF got to it and control changed to the RF while the LF/CF both stood over the ball. The RF actually gets the ball, but by then the hitter is already at home…oops!

3. Yes, the rumors are true. Sometimes the fielder will jump or dive (you have no control over jumping or diving) for no reason in order to catch the ball. Sometimes this creates an error, but most of the time he comes up with the ball anyway. This keeps it from being a killer error.

4. The first baseman just loves to come off the bag quickly after getting the ball whether you throw hard or soft to him. Sometimes he even pulls off before the ball comes and the runner is safe at first base…d’oh! This happens a lot in OF to catcher throws as well where the catcher will be well off the bag with no chance to tag the runner. I have yet to nail someone at home plate, even with a great throwing outfielder.

5. Double plays seem to be impossible to do. My second baseman does not like to have balls thrown hard to him by the shortstop. That is fine and dandy, but when I do a light toss he comes off the base instead of staying on it so he can turn the double play. Add to this the problem above with the first baseman also loving to come off the bag even when the ball is not there. This makes it very difficult to turn a double play. Have I done it? Yes…once in about 20 games so far.

6. Running bases is cool with the picture-in-picture, but the runners seem to be a little more aggressive than I want them to be. There were a few times I was caught in-between bases not knowing that the one runner had advanced. Do they not see the player on the next base blocking them from forwarding? I lost some possible runs this way.

7. Home runs are a difficult thing to come by. You have control over how you hit the ball and hitting it with the analog control pushed up makes more medium pop flies than anything close to a home run. I have only done a home run once using a neutral stick and I maybe have 3 home runs total. I will be the first to admit that I am glad they got rid of the Triple Play Home Run-a-thon, but they should not have made them disappear.

That is just seven things I have found wrong with the game, I am sure there are more and maybe your mileage has varied on this game. My other problem with the game is the Franchise mode. I am big into franchise modes in games and I love what EA did with NCAA 2003 and Madden 2003. Now I will be honest and say I did not have directions for this game, so maybe I missed this: you have to sim/play through each game singly. You cannot take a range of games and just have them simmed. No, you have to choose your starter (or move your starting rotation around), choose sim or play and run the game. If you choose sim and accidentally press the button again you will be brought into the game. If you quit you have to do it all over again or you can play the whole game. The trading and draft sections of the game are ok, but WSB just does this part better in my opinion. I still am not sure how much I like the “goal system” of the franchise mode. From what I understand after 10 years if you do not meet your goals you could be “fired”. Why not make it a bit more like WSB or All-Star (from what I hear, I will be getting this game soon). MVP’s mechanics (with fixes) along with WSB’s franchise mode would be an awesome game.

Having played this and World Series Baseball 2k3 on my X-Box, I would have to say that the latter looks better than the former in the categories of sharpness and details. MVP Baseball does better with the fact that it looks like every batting stance is presented here (Sammy Sosa’s correct one is notably absent in WSB again this year), the players seem to have somewhat more realistic faces (although this is arguable) and seem to move more realistically. Where this game gets docked points is there seems to be fuzziness associated with this game. Things do not look as colorful as they could be. Altogether the graphics are pretty good.

EA Sports brings their EA Traxx stuff to this game. Many bands contribute songs to this game and it just makes it feel so cool to me. The sound in-game is simply amazing. The fans cheer and get quiet at the right time. You can hear the condiment vendor asking people if they want peanuts, pop or something else. EA has done a good job in bringing the ballpark into my house.

The controls are pretty good, but could use some tweaking. Getting rid of the throwing power meter for fielders would be the first thing for me. Even turning it off I could still feel if I touch the button he throws soft and if I press it hard he throws it hard and most of the time off-target. Fix this and I will have no problem. The baserunning could use a little overhaul as well, but it is presented pretty well here. Maybe not make people hold down the button to get pitch power. Just have them tap it twice…once for power and once for accuracy. Thumbs can really hurt after playing a while the way it is currently. Overall the controls are great though, could just use some refinement.

This is a tough section to judge. This game is plain fun, but it is hard to get over some of the problems I stated in my main review. The franchise mode also is not quite what I would hope it would be. I would like the option to be GM/Manager only and not have to go through every game, pick my pitcher and sim it. Let me pick a range to sim. Now this option may be there and I missed it because I do not have a manual. A great but somewhat flawed game.

There is certainly replay value here. If you have no problem with the franchise mode then the value will be infinite. If you do have a problem with it you may not want to play this game for as long as other people play it. This game is pretty easy to pick up and it will suck you in…far more than WSB 2k3 has so far this year. There is just something about this game that makes me want to play more of it…I, like other people have said, still have no clue what it is though.