MLB Bobblehead Battle Review (Xbox 360)
Read about how we complete our reviews. You can check out the review process here, and then you can scope out the scoring guidelines and scoring rubric.
Konami's third and final Bobblehead title functions both as a stand-alone minigame and as an unlock key for the roster editor feature in MLB Bobblehead Pros, which Operation Sports reviewed in July.
Unlike most arcade baseball games, MLB Bobblehead Battle requires more than quick reflexes at the plate. Players must manage a card inventory and aim hits towards landing pads to advance runners, but the CPU can be beaten by swinging wildly and ignoring the card deck. Simply making contact with the ball and hoping for hits won't guarantee victory against a human opponent.
Hitting in Bobblehead Battle requires careful timing of swings to direct the ball away from field obstacles and towards point pads. Field zones are always changing, as power-ups can create windstorms or turn areas of the field into giant out-zones.
Power-ups cost money, which is earned by performing positive actions like getting a hit or striking out a batter. The best ability cards have high prices, so if you want a 300 MPH "Cannonball," or the massive "Epic Bat," expect to empty your team's funds.
Card bonuses last three at-bats before expiring. Each team is limited to activating one card at a time, making for some tough decisions at the plate:
Do you grab an "Epic Bat" for the heart of your lineup, or save the power boost 'til the bottom of your order, which will need that extra boom to get the ball to the outfield? Playing human opponents in MLB Bobblehead Battle will have you thinking and scheming like a Major League manager.
Booting up MLB Bobblehead Battle for the first time, you'll notice that all the stadium editor parts and the 30 MLB stadiums must be unlocked by completing Challenge mode.
Challenge mode borrows the ladder format from NBA JAM, starting you against the lowest-rated team in the game (Pittsburgh), then sending you on a road trip across MLB, culminating in a match against the game's highest-rated team, San Francisco.
A win unlocks the next challenge, but to earn new cards, stadiums or editor pieces, you must pass unique requirements for each game, such as "Pitch only fastballs," "Never take a power swing" or "Record a complete-game shutout."
Initially, Challenge mode looks daunting, but it can only be played on default settings, which provides too much human batting assist and dumbs down the AI's hitting ability. Destroying computer teams with scores like 27-0, 17-0 and 19-1 makes Challenge mode a bore.
Without adjustable difficulty settings, Challenge mode can be cleared in a week, leaving no other single player options aside from exhibition games against the CPU.
Ballparks are beautifully detailed, with functional jumbotrons, flagpoles and fake ads like the Target Center's "Three Eggs! Eat Eggs!," Turner Field's giant "MACARONI" sign or Miller Park's eco-friendly "Spring Cleaning!" message. The Cubs' Wrigley Field even has metro buses running along the adjacent street, which honk their horn when struck by a home run ball.
Flaws from MLB Bobblehead Pros are still present, such as names not showing up on the back of player jerseys, a lack of commentary, the PA announcer only calling players by their number and the game giving no indication of how far a home run travels.
Player models are still without legs, but heads and faces are accurately rendered: Andre Ethier has Jheri curls flowing out the back of his helmet, while Jayson Werth sports his signature soul patch. Should your favorite player change his look in real life, you can simply go into MLB Bobblehead Battle'sroster editor and update any player's in-game appearance.
Lag and a poorly designed online interface ruin MLB Bobblehead Battle's online experience. I was unable to find a single "Quick Match" ranked game, even after a week of trying during peak hours. MLB Bobblehead Battle hasn't sold well, giving the game a tiny online player pool. Stupidly, Konami splits the small user-base into a mess of ranked matchmaking portals.
MLB Bobblehead Battle doesn't require roster updates to play ranked online games. So if you're using the roster update and another player isn't, the game puts the two of you into different matchmaking search engines. Independent matchmaking systems for 3-inning, 6-inning and 9-inning games also keep potential players away from each other.
Identical roster files are required to connect with an opponent, making it impossible to play online if you've made a few edits to the default roster. I was finally able to get into an online game by setting up an unranked custom match with a friend, but even then, my friend had to reset his roster file and lose some of the trades he'd made to fix faults in the default roster.
Once you finally connect to an opponent, the input delay makes fastball power-ups like the 200 MPH "Fired Up 2" and 300 MPH "Cannonball" virtually impossible to hit. A "house rule" ban on upgraded fastball cards is needed to keep online games from becoming a strikeout-fest.
MLB Bobblehead Battle's core concept and gameplay are well-designed, but with limited single player longevity and weak online options, Bobblehead Battledoesn't feel worth $10 unless you have local friends to challenge in multiplayer.
The full game, MLB Bobblehead Pros, already costs $10, so a mini-game like Bobblehead Battle should have been priced at $5, just like the previous downloadable pack, MLB Bobblehead Stars.
Baseball fans should wait for MLB Bobblehead Battle's inevitable 50% off sale unless they really want the unlockable roster editor or are simply looking for a quick-hitting party game.
Visuals: New obstacles like the steel wall look shockingly low-res, creating a weird contrast between the detailed stadiums and player models.
Audio: Instead of simply slapping in some licensed music, Konami creates an upbeat, original soundtrack, with most of the songs sounding like they'd fit better in an Old Navy store than a Major League ballpark.
Control Scheme: The left analog stick aims your cursor, "A" swings, "B" bunts, left trigger brings up the card menu and right bumper toggles between power swing or contact swing. Easy peasy!
Learning Curve: With no fielding or baserunning, the only difficult part of MLB Bobblehead Battle is learning which ability cards counter each other.
Lasting Appeal: Solo gamers will feel ripped off after completing challenge mode in a few days and having nothing else to do. Online gamers will rage at the outdated online interface and dial-up-quality lag. If you don't have local opponents to play, there's no reason to download MLB Bobblehead Battle.
Score: 4.5 (Below-Average)
What Does a 4.5 mean? "4 - 4.5 (Below Average) -- This game is close to average, as there are some redeeming qualities about the title, but there are serious flaws that still outweigh the good. If you are a fan of the sport, you should consider the game -- but only if there aren't better options on the market."