In March, Operation Sports held a staff roundtable discussing which baseball games we had played for a full 162 game season.
At the time, I had only accomplished the feat in one game: Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball for the Super Nintendo.
A few weeks ago, I added a second game to my list: MLB Bobblehead Pros for the Xbox 360.
Here are some aspects, both good and bad, that stand out as I look back on my season with the Milwaukee Brewers in Konami's latest Power Pros game.
Pitcher Fatigue And Recovery
While position players can't fatigue, every pitcher in MLB Bobblehead Pros has a stamina rating and a recovery rating.
Stamina is tied to pitch counts, so a player with low stamina will start to lose velocity, control and pitch break as his number of throws rises.
A strong No. 1 pitcher like Zack Greinke can throw the ball 100 times and still be effective, but the deeper you go into the rotation, the less innings you can expect to get from your starters.
Bullpens are appropriately rated in stamina, with closers being good for only an inning or two and middle relievers lasting three to four innings.
Each staff also has a swing man, who can pitch five or six innings if you need him in a pinch start.
MLB Bobblehead Pros' fatigue rating determines how quickly each pitcher recovers from the previous game's appearance. Some pitchers bounce back from a tiring game faster than others, so it's important to manage your rotation and make sure not to overwork your core starters. Otherwise, you may have to start the swing man or pitch a string of relievers to get through a game where all the normal starters are resting and unavailable.
Slumps And Hot Streaks
Before each game, all players on both sides are given a condition rating that alters their base ratings negatively or positively. Player condition has five colored tiers, ranging from poor (purple face) to excellent (pink face).
Everyone's condition is rated neutral, good or excellent to begin the season, but as you start to play games, players' conditions can rise or fall depending on their performance.
If a player has multiple hits one night, his condition might improve for the next day. Alternatively, if a player fails to reach base, his condition could drop after the game.
Slumps can be difficult to overcome for players with low default ratings. My catcher, George Kottaras, struggled to get above a neutral condition for the first half of the season due to his poor hitting abilities. Once I finally got Kottaras into good condition, he stayed hot for a few weeks and his hitting attributes started to rise.
Elite hitters like Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, by contrast, have no trouble staying hot most of the season. On the off chance they do hit a slump, it shouldn't take them long to return to good form. Because star players' ratings are already so high to begin with, the slight decrease that comes with a poor condition rating won't make them totally ineffective at the plate.
As a manager in MLB Bobblehead Pros, you'll often have to decide between starting a less-talented player who's on a hot streak or a high-skill guy who slumping a bit.
Complete Seasons Quickly
With an average length of 20 to 25 minutes per game, getting in a full season of MLB Bobblehead Pros takes significantly less time than it would in other baseball titles.
Thanks to the Power Pros series' quick pace, it should only require about 54 hours of gameplay to finish all 162 games in a regular season.
I started my MLB Bobblehead Pros season in July 2011 and finished in June 2012, including a deep run into the playoffs and an eventual World Series victory.
After each season, there are four or five spring training games at the fictitious Paradise Park, then it's back to opening day. Season mode ends after completing five years, so if you plan to complete all five seasons, you can expect to spend about 280 hours of gameplay.
Daily Weather Changes
Aside from wind, all the weather effects in MLB Bobblehead Pros are cosmetic and do not affect gameplay. However, the constantly changing backgrounds help keep the game fresh.
In any four-game series against one team, you might play a day game in bright sunlight, a late-afternoon game with heavy shadows, a night game with the stadium lights turned on, and an overcast game with sporadic rain showers.
Rain games feature dynamic storm systems, as you might toss the first pitch with dark clouds on the horizon, then start to see some drizzling rain, then a torrential downpour, then finally back to just clouds, all within the span of a few innings.
Windy stadiums like U.S. Cellular Field and Wrigley Field can impact fly balls. Tailwinds increase the likelihood of hitting home runs; headwinds can turn should-be home runs into warning track outs; crosswinds can make it difficult for outfielders to track fly balls, causing fielding errors.
The only thing missing from MLB Bobblehead Pros' weather system is actual rain delays, though in the interest of keeping the game moving quickly, it's a forgivable omission.
Hot/Cold Zones Aren't Dynamic
While every batter in the game has unique hot, cold and neutral areas of his strike zone, those tendencies are unfortunately static, meaning they don't change over the course of a season.
It would be a big addition to Power Pros if the hot and cold zones were automatically adjusted over time based on where your players are getting their hits and outs.
Injuries Aren't Permanent
There are a lot of ways to injure players in MLB Bobblehead Pros: sliding into a base, diving into the turf, running into a wall, getting hit by a pitch, etc.
Unfortunately, injuries only keep players out for the remainder of the current game. Once your team takes the field the next day, all injuries from the previous game miraculously disappear, and all formerly injured players are back to normal.
The lack of long-term injuries hurts the authenticity of MLB Bobblehead Pros' pitching system, as there are no real consequences for overextending your pitchers' appearances. A player might get hurt from throwing too much and have to leave the game, but in his next appearance, he will be back to normal health as if the injury never happened.
It's likely that long-term injuries were disabled due to MLB Bobblehead Pros' lack of a farm system, as there would have been no minor leaguers to call up in the event of a significant injury.
Experience Points Build Too Quickly
Early in the season, my team's record was slightly below .500. My pitching staff had the highest team ERA in the league (around seven), and outside of star hitters like Braun and Fielder, I wasn't getting a ton of run production. It seemed I was destined to finish second or third in the NL Central, with no hope of making the Wild Card.
After about 60 or 70 games of mediocrity, I started a tear that rocketed my team to the best record in the league (112 - 50) and an eventual World Series championship, winning four games to one over the Yankees.
This dramatic turnaround is largely explained by my team leveling up their attributes at an unreasonably high rate.
Players at the bottom of my hitting order like George Kottaras (catcher) and Yuniesky Betancourt (shortstop) struggled to even reach base in the beginning of the season. Suddenly, around the All-Star break, they started knocking extra base hits and driving in runs.
Randy Wolf and Chris Narveson, the fourth and fifth pitchers my rotation, took their ERAs from double digits early in the season all the way down to the four or five range.
It's true that my skill playing the game improved some, but mostly, it was the attribute increases that transformed my entire roster from mediocrity to world champs.
Clearly, the rate at which you earn experience points needs to be drastically decreased if another Power Pros games is ever released.
A sports game has to be special to keep players interested all the way through a full season. Especially for baseball, which has the longest regular season of any major sport.
With its fast pace, varied ballparks and constantly changing player conditions, MLB Bobblehead Pros offers something new with each game on the calendar.
I'm now two seasons in and still playing the game regularly. The core gameplay is great, and daily lineup management keeps things fresh over the long summer months.
Every baseball fan should give Konami's Power Pros series a shot for the mere $10 it costs on the Xbox Live Marketplace.