MVP Baseball Review (PSP)

Check the front of the box, and you'll notice that the title of this game is MVP Baseball, not MVP Baseball 2005. It's significant because in many ways this is not a port of MVP 2005, released just a few months ago. This year's console innovations like the "Batter's Eye", yellow zones on the pitch meter, addictive minigames, and arguing calls are all absent. If you're expecting a straight port of 2005, you'll be disappointed. This is more like MVP Baseball 2004 and a Half. Is that a bad thing? And how does it make the transition to the PSP?

A small upgrade over MVP 2004 is still a solid basis for a game. The batting and pitching interfaces are excellent, and the small screen of the PSP makes pitching just a touch more difficult, especially on the higher difficulty levels. The batting remains a simple timing-based system where you can "influence" the trajectory using the analog nub, and translates well.

If the old Nike commercial has it right and "chicks dig the long ball", then "chicks" will definitely dig MVP. This is as home-run-happy a game as I've seen since Triple Play. It may be possible to tweak this with sliders, but on any difficulty out of the box, you'll see tater after tater inflate the scoreboard. It's not that the game necessarily gives out all that many hits; it's just that a disproportionate number of those hits leave the park.

Fielding for some reason takes a hit on the PSP, as preloading is really problematic. Double plays are too difficult to pull off, as you can't get the second throw started in time, and a simple toss to the pitcher covering first is a risky act, as you can't lead the pitcher at all. You need to wait until he hits first to begin the throw. Also, there's a real control issue in the outfield: the left trigger switches the player you're controlling before you get to the ball, then is the control to throw to the leadoff man. If you try and be too fine in your timing, you can easily be trying to get a jump on throwing to the cutoff, but instead switch players just as you're about to get to the ball.

Baserunning, particularly the simple act of advancing or retreating all runners, is implemented poorly. The standard configuration you'll see in most baseball games is that the left trigger advances all runners, with the right trigger retreating them. However, MVP uses the right trigger to handle the slides and "Big Play" moves that were assigned to the right thumbstick on the consoles, so it's not available as a baserunning command. You advance and retreat all runners by pressing the left and right triggers simultaneously. Not only is this tricky to get exactly right, but since the same command advances and retreats, you're often stuck guessing what will happen when you try it!

Usually, I try to prevent reviews from turning into "bug" hunts, but MVP has such a whopper that it deserves mention. In more than one game, MVP has been confused as to which inning it's in. I'll start a game, only to find the CPU warming up relievers before the first pitch is thrown. The CPU starter gets replaced after only a few pitches by a late reliever. That seemed strange enough, but when the game ends in the bottom of the first with a "game winning homer", you know there's something seriously amiss. The box score reads as if it's the first inning, but for all intents and purposes - it's the ninth. It’s a very strange and very frustrating bug, and it’s happened in a number of games for me.

The features and gameplay modes are minimal compared to the console versions. The robust “Owners Mode” of MVP Baseball 2005 is replaced with a bare bones “Season Mode”. The CPU trade AI is lively, and will offer you a decent amount of trades. Some will be one-sided dogs, some will be head-scratchers, but on the whole the trades make sense, and the CPU can't be easily abused. Mid-game saves in “Season Mode” are welcome, and combine with the PSP's "Sleep" function to ensure that you can hop into and out of games easily. Season mode, however, feels a bit hollow because of some odd interfaces. Although you can view statistical leaders and standings, there's no way to view league-wide injuries or transactions, so you tend to operate in a bit of a vacuum.

Besides “Season Mode”, there’s nothing beyond “Quick Game” and “Home Run Derby”. While I generally like “Home Run Derby” as a quick distraction, this is set up with one fixed camera angle that's a bit off to the side, and is difficult to hit with.

Sliders are fully implemented, so you'll be able to tweak the gameplay to your heart's content. Roster management is excellent. Though you can't download updates, you can create players, edit them, and make full trades to update the severely outdated shipping rosters.

The presentation is a double-edged sword, to say the least. All the presentation you'd expect from the console versions is intact: commentary, cutscenes, walkups, stat overlays, and so forth. It's the full console experience on the 4-inch screen. It would be a brilliant translation, but for the other edge of the sword: load times. The presentation chugs badly, with pauses as each bit of walkup or cutscene loads. If you could turn them off, I'd excuse it, but you can only reduce the frequency. You'll still spend good chunks of your gaming time looking at a frozen screen while the next graphic loads.

What's worse is that this extends to the menus themselves. Many times you'll select a menu item, then have to wait a few seconds until it responds. And this isn't for intensive things like simming games: this is for checking standings in “Season Mode”, or going in to warm up a pitcher. It really ruins the gameplay experience when even navigating menus is a laggy chore.

The graphics are split down the middle: the stadiums are accurate and beautiful, but the player models are blocky and lacking in texture and detail. So you have PS2 quality stadiums inhabited by PS1 quality players. It doesn't detract from the gameplay, but for the amount of walkups and cutscenes you're forced to watch, I'd like the models to be a better quality.

MVP Baseball should have been a grand slam: take a great console franchise, and downsize it just a bit into the PSP platform. Though the game was delayed from it's original launch date, I feel like this ended up a sloppy, rushed port. The controls don't translate well, the player models are well below the capabilities of the PSP, and the homer-happy gameplay is a complete break from the console experience. Intrepid slider adjustors will be able to counteract the home run issue, but I don’t know that anything can be done to help the poorly ported control system.

MVP Baseball Score
out of 10