Baseball fans now, officially, have good reason to pick up Sony’s impressive new handheld with the Vita release of MLB The Show 12. Sony’s incredible hardball sim hits the portable scene with nearly all its big brother’s bells and whistles. The Show also takes portable sports gaming to the next level by introducing the ability to transfer saves between the two platforms, making it possible to start your game on the PS3 and finish it on your lunch break at work. This is a huge boost for the genre and reason enough, on its own, for fans to pick up both copies. That’s not all that’s cooking on that little cartridge though, as the game’s full featured modes and rock solid gameplay add up to a promising, if still improvable, experience.
Normally, when someone addresses you and says, “The new ball physics are a game-changer” you will immediately ask them to kindly pull up their slacks and park their windowless van elsewhere. In this case, though, it’s the truth. Sony San Diego has clearly put a ton of effort into this aspect of the game, and it shows immediately. Line Drives will now tail off to the left or right rather than flying in a perfectly straight line. Balls that come in contact with the mound, bases or even other players will carom off in unpredictable directions. This takes the already very realistic action on display to a whole new level, once again leaving the competition well behind. The only drawback to this new system is that it is clear that the developers were very proud of it, because it shows itself all the time. Maybe it’s just a perception problem on my part, but I can’t recall hitting so many balls at the pitcher’s mound or down the base paths as I have this year. It doesn’t happen enough to be distracting, but it’s certainly noticeable to anyone who has played the series for a long time.
The series’ most impressive graphical feature has always been its superb animations, and this year’s title takes the crown. Everything feels smoother and crisper this year, from the way players run, to the various swinging and pitching animations. While the animations in the Vita version are nearly on par with the console version, the player models and general graphical polish are certainly not. Player models look ok until you get to the face, then everything is kind of a mess. The stadiums look pretty good, as long as you don’t notice the very low quality crowds. During “cutscenes,” between the action, the game’s framerate has a tendency to take a dive into the teens. Luckily, this only seems to affect presentation aspects and not the actual on-field gameplay. Sony has managed to shoehorn umpires into this year’s portable version, but they did not manage to include anyone in the dugout, which makes for a pretty strange scene anytime the camera pans that direction. Overall, the game looks more like an upscaled PSP game than a title tailor-made for Sony’s beast of a machine. Hopefully, the second iteration of the game on this machine will address these issues and do more to take advantage of the system’s considerable power.
One area where the series still lags a bit behind a bit is in the overall presentation. They’ve added multiple new camera angles and player reactions this year, which certainly helps, but I feel like they’ve taken a real step back in several other areas like menu design and commentary. The same base commentary team has been doing voiceover for The Show for a while now, and it’s really starting to show. I feel like the game would be well served by a completely new commentary team for next year.
The Vita version of the game contains all the major game modes of the PS3 version barring the new Diamond Dynasty mode. This is an understandable exclusion, but a regrettable one nonetheless, as that mode seems like it would fit a portable system well. Your player now starts out as a highly touted prospect and is, thus, a AA starter to begin the mode rather than a bench player. This really helps to immediately get you into the action rather than having to suffer through an entire advancement period riding pine. The team at Sony San Diego has also made some changes to the trade logic across all modes to keep teams from proposing and accepting trades that don’t make sense.
As mentioned, perhaps the most exciting addition this year, is the ability to transfer one save at a time for a season, franchise, or RTTS to the cloud and then continue the action where you left off on the Vita. This is a phenomenal idea, and I wouldn’t be surprised if every other sports game that releases on both systems follows suit. In fact, the functionality is so great, that I can’t imagine not owning both copies of the game. The fact that I can maintain my connection to my created player while I’m on the go might be my favorite gaming innovation in years.
On the field, the team has added several new ways to control your players. On the batting side, Analog Hitting gets a secondary option now that also allows you to use the left stick in conjunction with the right stick to control not only the timing of your swing but also the zone where your hitter is aiming. This allows for a greater degree of control for those that like using the sticks. While I’ve never personally been a fan of the analog swinging system on display here, I found it even more difficult with the Vita’s smaller analog sticks. Of course, all the legacy control modes are also still available, including using the face buttons.
For pitchers, the new Pulse Pitching mechanic tasks the player with timing their button press to the motion of a circle that surrounds the target and pulses inward and outward. The goal is to press the button when the circle is smallest in order to maximize accuracy. While I prefer meter pitching on the console version of the game, I actually found Pulse pitching to be my system of choice on the Vita. I feel like this mechanic lends itself very well to the Vita’s smaller screen, and it is more responsive than the analog pitching, which again, I feel is compromised by the smaller range of motion on the Vita’s sticks.
Full disclosure, The Show was one of the primary impetuses for my purchase of the Vita. I couldn’t resist the notion of playing through my RTTS whether I was home or away. On this front, The Show has completely lived up to my expectations. While the game isn’t as polished as the console version, the meat of the game is still present here, and that is enough for me to recommend a purchase of both versions to anyone who owns both a PS3 and a Vita. Even with room to improve, The Show 12 for the Vita is the best portable sports game I’ve ever played, and it should be in every baseball fan’s library.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.