While many of the PSP’s initial sports offerings were shadows of their PS2 selves, MLB managed to capture the look and feel of its console counterpart quite well. What it lacked was game modes. There was no create-a-character Career Mode and no Franchise mode. In other words, it had no long-term appeal. The developers worked hard this past off-season and coming into the new campaign, MLB ’06: The Show offers an impressive roster of new and improved game modes and features. So lace up your baseball cleets and grab your glove as we take to the field with MLB ’06: The Show for the PSP.
The most significant additions to MLB ’06: The Show come in the form of two new game modes, Career Mode and King of the Diamond Mode, as well as an updated Season Mode that now tracks multiple seasons. While not quite a Franchise Mode, the Season Mode offers more than enough ingredients for armchair GMs to build a dynasty by taking part in such off-season activities as signing free agents, tending contract extensions to existing players, making trades, and drafting prospects.
New to the PSP version this season is a robust Career Mode that allows gamers to create a player, choose a team and attempt to win a permanent spot on that club. Joining it is the King of the Diamond Mode, a fun mini-game that pits pitchers and batters in a timed, point-based duel. With only cardboard cut-outs of fielders and oversized targets populating the field, batters attempt to score points by acquiring ghost runners with base hits and walks, then knocking them home. At the same time, batters are penalized for called strikes, infield flies and weak groundouts. King of the Diamond is reminiscent of wallball, except for the targets. Hit one of them, located both on the field and beyond the outfield wall, and players are awarded bonuses that extend their time at the plate. Playable in both a Ladder System and Quick Play, the King of the Diamond Mode joins the Home Run Derby as perfect 15-minute diversions.
Taking The Show online, players can compete in exhibition matches and King of the Diamond challenges in both Ad Hoc and Infrastructure Modes. There’s also a new Online News Service, News2Go, where baseball fans can get the latest feeds from MLB, which provides hourly updates on news and events from around the league, and either read them online or save them to their Memory Card to review at their convenience. Roster updates can similarly be downloaded via the online community and players can set up friend lists and send Instant Messages or join chat rooms between games.
The core gameplay elements have been carried over from the previous edition of MLB, including Release Point Pitching, complete with Confidence Meter. For those unfamiliar with this feature, it basically means your pitcher’s confidence increases the more you hit the release spot in the pitch meter, while frequent mistakes will make it more difficult to paint the corners of the strike zone. Similarly, batters can use the Zone Control Batting system to guess what pitch is coming and where in the strike zone it will be thrown. The Strike Zone has been expanded to nine areas, making it more difficult to predict, but if you manage to do so the batter will have a greater chance to hit the ball on the sweet spot of the bat and subsequently boost their confidence for their next plate appearance.
While the fielding interface continues to make use of the Fielding Zone Marker, to help players determine the trajectory of fly balls, the developers have implemented a new feature that allows players to take full control of a fielder and change the fielding decision on the fly. For example, if by mistake you pre-loaded an outfielder to throw the ball home after catching a fly ball, you can break into the animation and have him throw the ball to the cut-off man instead. Baserunning has also been tweaked a little, allowing players more control over their runners. For example, you can now hold up a runner between bases to determine whether they need to tag-up on a fly ball or not. You can also select an individual runner to advance independent of the rest of the baserunners, which is important when you want a player to advance from first to third on a single to right field without having the batter try for a double.
Visually, MLB ’06 hasn’t made a significant leap forward but there are noticeable improvements to the menu system and the amount of detail in the players’ faces. With over 8000 motion-captured moves, you’ll recognize many of the players’ signature batting stances and pitching wind-ups. The fielding animations are top notch as well. The stadiums look great for the most part, but there are a few ballparks that suffer from generic background textures. The crowds could look a little better too.
Complimenting the graphical presentation is a solid audio component. Rex Hudler joins Matt Vasgersian and Dave Campbell to form a 3-man commentary booth. The play-by-play is not only timely but it adapts to the ballgame as it progresses. In the later innings, the broadcast team will point out batters who have had a particularly good day at the plate or pitchers who have had a rough outing on the mound. Rounding out the package are some solid ballpark effects and a nice soundtrack, the same one featured in the PS2 version.
MLB ’06: The Show for the PSP is a much more complete portable package compared to last year’s edition. The core gameplay mechanics remain in tact and the presentation is as solid as ever. Combine that with the addition of several new and improved game modes, such as Career Mode, Multi-Season Mode and King of the Diamond Mode, and you’ve got a baseball simulation that is sure to entertain baseball fans throughout the entire season.