The last time I played MLB The Show, the PS2 was at the end of it’s lifespan. David Wright, my favorite player, was the cover athlete, and I spent many hours trying to emulate him in Road to the Show. Sadly, that was the only time I would play MLB The Show since I couldn’t afford to buy multiple consoles each generation and the fanboy in me couldn’t break away from Nintendo. Now, 15 years later, I have the opportunity to play MLB The Show on a Nintendo console. The announcement was massively exciting as a former player, and when given the opportunity to try it out, I didn’t hesitate. Does MLB The Show 22 create the same magic that it did all those years ago on PS2?
Diamonds are a Player’s Best Friend
The build of the game I played was missing the common modes like season and franchise, and there was also no access to Road to the Show, the game’s career mode. The primary mode available was Diamond Dynasty where players create their team out of baseball cards. Players are given a randomly generated team which can be upgraded by buying packs of cards. The players in the card packs span the complete spectrum of baseball history, from baseball legends like Honus Wagner and Babe Ruth to current superstars like Mike Trout and Mookie Betts. This format has all the excitement of collectible card games, but also the biggest drawback: paying to win. Players can buy in-game currency with real money and then use the in-game currency on card packs or buy specific cards from the marketplace. However, playing Diamond Dynasty took me back to my days of playing collectible card games in high school and college and brought back a ton of memories. I’d love to see other licensed sports games add a similar mode assuming they can also find a way to minimize the “pay to win” strategy.
Diamond Dynasty isn’t a new mode, having premiered last year, but there is one new mode coming to all versions of MLB The Show, co-op mode. Players can group up in 2-vs-2 or 3-vs-3 games with cross-platform play. When batting, players cycle through the lineup, alternating turns swinging a bat. When not batting, the other players in the group control the runners, deciding when to steal bases and how to run the bases should the player batting put the ball into play. On the defensive side, players will take turns on the mound, pitching a whole inning and controlling the bullpen before relinquishing duties to another player. The players not pitching control the other fielders when the ball enters play. Breaking up the tasks between players on both sides of the ball makes the game better than the typical 1-on-1 game. Individuals can develop tendencies during the game which makes it easier to anticipate what will happen. I’ve won plenty of games by waiting on a pitch low in the zone having scouted out the opposing player’s pitch history over the course of the game. It becomes a much more difficult task when the opposite player changes regularly. Playing 2-vs-2 provides plenty of action so no one is bored waiting for their turn. I did not have a chance to play 3-vs-3, so I can’t speak to the amount of down time that happens with two other teammates.
Swinging for the Fences
When it comes to gameplay, MLB The Show is a bit of a mixed bag. Batting is similar to most baseball games with the camera behind the batter, lined up with the catcher. I struggled to find a camera angle that worked for me. Most of them were so similar I had difficulty seeing the differences. I prefer a camera angle that’s at eye level with the batter, but I couldn’t find it. With the batter at the plate, the strike zone is shown on the screen, and players have an option to target specific zones by using the left stick to move a cursor to where they think the pitch will be thrown. The closer the cursor is to the spot, the more likely the batter will hit the ball. Players can also see the pitch history per batter which may help them anticipate where balls will be thrown. When swinging the bat, players have the option to swing for contact or power instead of a normal swing. I preferred using the normal swing; I made more contact that way and still had the power to hit home runs. The swing animations were fluid and the batters reacted appropriately when trying to hit a pitch that was just out of reach. Overall, the batting interface really works. The only real complaint I had when batting was the cursor; it is huge!
A Pitch in the Dirt
The pitching interface is the exact opposite of the batting interface. As good as the batting feels (aside from my personal camera preference), the pitching is a hot mess. Each pitcher has at least 4 pitches mapped to buttons on the controller. Each pitch type has its own meter that fills when that type of pitch is thrown. I never discovered what happens when a specific pitch type’s meter fills. Once the pitch is selected, players aim the pitch by using the left control stick but the cursor doesn’t stay on the screen very long. This makes it very difficult to position pitches in the zone and forces educated guesswork by relying on rumble features when the invisible cursor is near the edge of the strike zone. I can understand this in couch co-op mode, but that this is the choice for single player games makes no sense. At least while the cursor is on the screen, the trajectory of the ball is displayed which is a nice touch for those that don’t know the difference between a curve ball and a slider.
The mechanics for actually throwing the ball was the hardest thing for me to do. It uses a 3-button combo similar to golf games where the first button press starts the power meter, the second button press sets the power and the third button press attempts to stop the meter in a specific range for accuracy. The build up for power shows the meter slowly rising, but after the power is set, the meter discharges so quickly that it’s almost impossible to stop it within the proper range. There’s less than a second to determine how fast the meter is depleting and how much time to account for button lag before pressing the button a third time. Instead of trying to get the timing down, it was easier to position the cursor in extreme locations with the expectation of missing the third button press.
The Graphics Engine That Can’t
Graphically, the developers tried to give Nintendo Switch owners the full experience as all other platforms including complete stadium and player renders. Sadly, the Switch can’t handle the same models and textures as Playstation and XBox, so the graphics look a bit primitive. Player hair looks like yarn, and not in a Yoshi’s Wooly World kind of way. Kudos to the development team for squeezing in the complete stadium backdrops, but they look rough. The anti-aliasing doesn’t do anything to smooth out the lines which makes the backgrounds messy and blurry. Sometimes less is more.
It will be interesting to see how the developers bring everything together on Nintendo Switch. This is a huge step forward for baseball lovers. Despite it’s flaws, Playstation Studios is doing something many never expected possible. MLB The Show 22 is set to arrive on April 1 for all current gen consoles and PC.