If I were going to describe last year’s Vita version of MLB: The Show, I would probably liken it to a AA ballplayer; it showed potential, was clearly talented, but fell short of the big leagues. This year’s game doesn’t quite make it to the majors, but it certainly gets promoted to AAA. An improved presentation, a host of new modes, and improved gameplay help make this a solid second entry for Sony’s powerful handheld.
This year’s version of The Show adds some new flavor to a well-established formula. The overall presentation has been ratcheted up a notch. Although missing some of the presentation bells and whistles of its big brother, new camera angles, new between action and pre-game cutscenes, and a host of improvements to what was already the best animation system in sports gaming are all here. Enough can’t be said about how much the realistic animations add to the dynamics of the visual aspects and game play.
Visually, the game is a slight step up from last year, but still below par from what I would expect. The graphics look like an up-port from the PSP, and the game still doesn’t run at native resolution. They have corrected the strange softball-sized ball from last year, although on the Vita’s smaller screen, I don’t know that the change is a net positive.
One of the big changes to this year’s iteration is the addition of online support for nearly every mode. While your standard online exhibition matches still exist, there is also online co-op against the computer, leaderboards in Road to the Show mode and a really awesome Vita/PS3 cross-play feature that allows Vita users to play directly against PS3 users in the Homerun Derby mode. If this gets expanded for next year’s game it’ll be a big win. Of course cross platform saves also return which makes this almost a must purchase for PS3 players who want to take the action on the go. It’s a shame Sony didn’t put together a strong combo deal for the two titles this year.
The most obvious online addition is in the new The Show Live feature that apes a similar inclusion in 2K’s baseball series. In this mode, it’s easy to stay on top of the baseball season by playing games beamed straight to your PS3 from the MLB’s real schedule, complete with actual lineups and starters. Of course, there isn’t much to speak of here just yet, but it should be fun once the season kicks off.
Road to the Show is the major attraction with this franchise, and this year it’s no different. The presentation upgrades across the other modes are most readily apparent here, as just about everything is different. There are several new player creation options, including customizing their walk-up and between pitch animations. Once the game starts, instead of presenting created players as if they are on television, the goal this year seems to be to enhance the “put you in the game” mindset. Everything is presented from the perspective of your slugger. Between appearances, there is a new interface to keep players abreast of what’s going on in the game during downtime. It still moved quickly enough that I never felt like my time was being wasted. When it’s time to play, there is a really great zoom in/zoom out function that seamlessly transitions from watching to playing.
When making solid contact with the ball, I noticed a huge and jarring (at least at first) change. The view changes to a close-up, over the shoulder view of the ball in flight. This is meant to mimic your player watching the ball as it soars through the air. It can be interrupted with button presses to look at the third base coach for instruction or switch back to broadcast mode. Once I got used to it, I found it to be a pretty cool addition (particularly for the base coach stuff), but it definitely required an adjustment. I also found it to be a bit clunky when attempting to field fly balls over my head.
Of course, there are never any questions about the way the game plays. The controls are smooth as butter, and new tweaks to the ball physics that were overhauled last year mean more possible ball flights and quirks. Sony has also altered both the visual presentation and behind the scenes mechanics for the “Guess Pitch” feature. I’ve noticed a couple of clipping glitches, as I did with its big brother.
Perhaps the biggest change to the way the game plays is the fact that they’ve made hitting much easier than in last year’s game. Instead of the Sisyphean task that time in the batter’s box often felt like, this year’s outing feels like it’s paying attention to the selected level of hitting difficulty. This was particularly obvious during the early part of my RTTS career. Those of you afraid this will lead to ridiculously high scoring games and .500 averages need not fear. Selecting the correct difficultly for my talent level still yielded a realistic experience. This should be more welcoming for new players or those who stuck to pitchers because of this issue.
The other major addition is the new Postseason mode. This mode allows players to focus exclusively on the postseason. It features special presentations that give the game a much grander feel. Sony has put a lot of work into increasing the atmosphere for these games, and it really shows. Crowds build to a fever pitch and swing their rally towels in anticipation of each swing of the bat. This doesn’t have the same impact on the Vita as it does on the big screen, but it’s still a much more realistic way to represent the excitement of October than in the past. It’s a fun mode and a great way for players to take their favorite team to the Series without having to play through a full season or franchise.
While it’s still working to catch up to its console big brother, MLB: The Show 2013 on the Vita is a very solid game and a great way to take the experience on the go. If next year’s version can continue to improve the visual fidelity and expand on the cross platform functionality, it will be an impressive feat. If you only have a Vita and crave baseball action, you need to pick this up. If you are like me and can’t get enough of the PS3 version, this is an excellent supplement (and you don’t even have to go to BioGenesis or BALCO to get it).
Review copy of game provided by publisher.