Sports games take a lot of flak in the industry. Most who don’t play them dismiss the genre as uninspired, featuring a list of yearly releases that simply add an updated roster and a few new features. Yet franchises like Madden and FIFA have been around for years while selling countless copies. Baseball, football, basketball, foosball, curling–if it’s been a sport, chances are there’s been a game about it. What makes a great sports game is how it translates the stadium experience to the player. Whether it is a straight up simulation or a somewhat exaggerated translation, it should always be fun managing a team and scoring points on the path to victory. Sony’s MLB 13: The Show for PS Vita is a continuation of the premiere baseball simulation experience. The question is, are the additions worthy of a purchase or is it just a newer model with an old coat of paint?
From the onset it is readily apparent that The Show sets out to provide an in-depth and realistic baseball experience. Players are given the option to adjust almost every aspect of the gameplay. Camera angles, volume of individual commentators, pitching styles, batting styles and their variations can be adjusted to preference. For a newcomer to the series (and even the sport), it can be a bit overwhelming. Luckily, The Show incorporates an excellent Beginner mode. Those who don’t feel comfortable in their abilities or who want to warm up their skills should start out in Beginner. Here players learn the ropes of gameplay and the mode gradually increases the difficulty and complexity as skills improve.
The offerings of Beginner mode would be welcome in any sports game because it removes a large barrier for a gamer trying to introduce themselves to the genre. Finding the right play style or experimenting with different combinations makes The Show as deep or as simple as the individual desires. Learning the strengths and weaknesses of individual players while leveling them up is fun as well. Executing accurate pitches and swings can sometimes be an issue on the PS Vita. Getting a good grip on the small analog sticks isn’t always easy and is especially troublesome when trying to line up the perfect spot on the hitbox; expect a bit of waggle. It helps that the Vita’s touchscreen can be used to pinpoint spots when pitching or even something like stealing a base. Touch features aren’t necessarily tacked on and nothing feels forced or obtrusive.
Graphics and Sound
There are times when The Show can look quite impressive. Both the Vita and PS3 versions feature incredible and realistic player movement. Will the Vita version fool a casual observer into thinking they are seeing an actual baseball game on the tiny screen? Doubtful. Leave that kind of visual fidelity to the PS3 version. Regardless, though, the handheld is capable of pulling off fluid animation on the field even if faces aren’t as true-to-life as they could be. The crowds look a bit worse here than on the console version; at times bordering on models with oddly portioned limbs and one dimensional faces. There were moments when players would clip through each other or into the stands as well.
All in all, The Show sounds exactly like any baseball game found on television. Crowds and fanfare sweep you up in the moment and the crack of a bat rings true. The announcers are a hit or miss but don’t break the experience. Considering the large breadth of lines that can be heard, the disconnect can be expected. Fans of the sport will recognize the difference while the rest will probably be left impressed that their sixteenth strikeout is being recognized as such.
It’s slick. What else can be said? As should be expected, The Show resonates with a respect for the sport. The roster, the stadiums, the wonderful camera angles, and the realism round out an incredible package. Several game modes provided with The Show allow gamers many unique ways to play the sport. The Show Live uses feeds from MLB.com that makes rosters up to date with all the current trades, injuries, and other stats. Practice modes allow for further honing of skills outside of the Beginner mode. Franchise, Season, and Postseason give entertaining enough ways to play out certain teams and manage them to victory. Heck, there’s even a Home Run Derby that allows competition across the PS3 and Vita online. Road to the Show is what will impress baseball fans the most. Creating yourself (or anyone else for that matter) as a player rising through the minors to play with the big boys is a great experience. Fulfilling goals and leveling up is a blast and will have everyone coming back for more.
Sony has a great feather in their hat with The Show series. Like many sports franchises, there’s been a yearly entry in the series for quite some time. MLB 13: The Show doesn’t rest on its laurels. Though it doesn’t do anything extremely groundbreaking, the realism and features like Beginner mode and an improved Road to the Show make this a fantastic baseball simulator right in the palm of your hands.
Note: A copy of the game was provided to Gaming Illustrated for the purpose of this review.