Nicktoons MLB Review (Xbox 360)
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Since 2K acquired the MLB license a few years ago, the company has released a wide range of titles utilizing team names and player likenesses. Beyond the annual release of the MLB2K series, we’ve seen arcade baseball (The Bigs), Japanese imports (Power Pros) and minigame collections (MLB Superstars). However, none of these are nearly as strange as the recent release of Nicktoons MLB.
The best thing I can say about Nicktoons MLB is that it’s the closest thing to The Bigs 3 you’ll currently find. The game plays like a stripped down version of The Bigs 2, with easier pitching and missing the Big Slam meter. Other than that, it’s the same arcade baseball with mini-games for making spectacular catches, caricatured players/stadiums and turbo to make you go faster and pitch harder.
The biggest difference is the obvious inclusion of Nickelodeon characters, from Avatar and Spongebob to Ren and Stimpy. I don’t really have a problem with this kind of mix, especially since the game is aimed at kids. However, the characters are so stiffly animated that they look more like people in mascots outfits than cartoon characters.
Beyond the poor characters, everything else retains the look from The Bigs 2, including some now very familiar animations and effects. A few NIck characters add a distinctive ball trail or get their own entrance animation. I was really disappointed in the stadium selection; you get six fantasy Nick stadiums and six MLB stadiums. The back of the box even points out this limited selection.
Sound-wise, the commentary gets old quickly, and I’m told that the characters aren’t all voiced by the original actors, something probably only noticeable to true Nick fans.
The game does feature Kinect support on the 360, but it’s very hit or miss in its execution. Pitching is unique, in that throwing at various arm angles produces different pitches. For instance, coming over the top is typically a fast ball; coming in at the side is usually breaking pitch. It’s an interesting way to use the motion controls for pitching, though I had a hard time adjusting the speed of my pitches. It also takes away location selection, a pretty important part of the game.
Batting on the other hand is about what you’d expect: swing to hit, square to bunt. My experience was that the Kinect took too long to process my natural timing; therefore I was behind every pitch. Batting with the Kinect also means you aren’t going to field on your own.
Also, in every mode, raising your hands above your head activates turbo, which is awkward and didn’t always work. The bottom line is that, like most other Kinect-optional games, the controller is still the best way to play.
Here’s where the beauty of The Bigs engine is left stranded on base. This game features three main modes, none which are very deep. There isn’t any traditional season mode, of any length; that’s not a huge problem, but would extend the value of the game. People may say that a game like this doesn't need a season mode, but it was a staple of Backyard Baseball for years. Even Little League World Series featured a pretty deep tournament mode.
What you do get are Quick Play, Showdown and Tournament modes. Despite their relative shallowness (you can’t even adjust lineups), there are some unique elements found within each mode.
Quick Play is the standard exhibition mode, but instead of playing with a regular MLB team, you draft Nicktoons to fill certain holes in the lineup. I’m not sure how they picked which of your favorite team’s players will be substituted, but you’ll have a mix of real and fictitious people in your lineup. I like the “pick up game” format of this mode, but it could have been more elegantly handled.
Showdown is essentially an all-star vs. all-star game, featuring the best of the Nicktoons roster versus the best of the MLB. An neat twist here is that you’ll select the players you want on your team. Not every position player in the league is represented, but when asked to pick your catcher, for example, you’ll get a healthy selection of about 25 to choose from.
Finally, Tournament mode has you climbing a ladder of teams, as you beat them in short series. This is your best opportunity to play sans cartoon characters, if you want, since the first few series are simply made up of standard MLB teams. For a game coming out this late in the baseball season, it would be nice if the rosters were more up to date. It looks like trade deadline deals didn’t make the cut, as Hunter Pence is still an Astro, etc. Again, little to no control of your team’s lineup takes away some of the fun.
To be honest, this isn’t a horrible game if you or your kids are big Nickelodeon and baseball fans. It’s full of the characters you love, and features a significant number of real MLB players. However, the vibe of this game seems to be a quick marketing ploy to further milk the MLB license; it’s really just a skin on top of the already great Bigs 2.
Actually, it’s worse than that, since features and stadiums found in that game aren’t in here, the Nick license doesn’t do enough to make this game stand on its own. Certainly kids would enjoy missing features like creating their own player, or create-a-team to inhabit this strange crossover world.
As it is, you should only buy this for the Nickelodeon characters or if you are dying to play a Kinect baseball game. Otherwise, just treat yourself and your kids to The Bigs 2, a game with more polish and much more to do. Then, when you are done, watch Spongebob.
Learning Curve: Plenty of pop-up tutorial windows, though a spoken interactive tutorial would be more beneficial to the little ones.
Control Scheme: The controls are meant to be, and are, simple enough for everyone to play. Kinect support is really hit or miss; if you use the Kinect, know that you aren’t placing pitches or fielding.
Visuals: A real mix of good and bad. Stadiums look nice enough, as do the MLB players. The Nicktoons characters mostly look bad; probably a result of trying to model 2D characters in a 3D world.
Audio: Passable, though the commentators get super annoying.
Rosters: The Nick characters are a nice twist on the genre, though something like The Peanuts or MLB Mascots would be a better fit. The MLB rosters are out of date.
Stadiums: The new Nick stadiums are interesting, but the limited selection of MLB stadiums hurts the overall value.
4 (Below Average)