The start of the 2009 Major League Baseball season is less than two weeks away, and I couldn’t be more excited. The World Baseball Classic, which ended in a thrilling 5-3 extra-inning victory for Japan over Korea last night, helped get me “back in the mood,” so to speak. But what really kick-started that progression away from football -- which I spent the majority of February thinking about -- and toward baseball was the release of Sony’s MLB 09 The Show in the first week of March.
MLB 09 The Show (PlayStation 3 [reviewed], PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable)
An area where major tweaking is evident is fielding. In previous iterations, hitters would often be robbed of an extra-base hit because outfielders would run directly toward balls (that is, they’d “know” where the ball would end up, so they’d just run straight to that spot -- and that led to less aggressive base runners, which meant that would-be doubles became singles, for example). This time around, fielders take realistic routes to the ball, like “rounded” paths to balls hit down the line or in the gaps, so nobody gets thrown out at first base from right field anymore. And since the game features hundreds of new animations for things like tags and double play turns, every fielding instance looks and flows better. There’s also a “hotshot” system in MLB 09 to account for balls that are smashed at defenders, so lower-rated fielders will have a higher chance of missing or bobbling a play -- whereas previously, fielders would pretty much catch any ball that was hit at or near them.
MLB 09 brings plenty of new content as well, though much of it is tailored to the hardcore audience. The Franchise and Season modes grow ever deeper with the addition of 40-man rosters, September call-ups, salary arbitration, waivers, and both the amateur and Rule 5 drafts. (If you’re not familiar with those terms, the game includes a Transaction Handbook with definitions.) Sounds of the Show allows you to record custom chants and yells (“A-Roid”? “A-Fraud”? it’s up to you), and My MLB Music lets you edit music (from the indie rock and hip-hop soundtrack or your PS3’s hard drive) to create batter walk-up, reliever entry, or home run song clips. Pressing the L3 button at any time during a game or replay will begin recording; the game outputs an MP4 to your hard drive. And for the best of the best, there’s an insane new difficulty setting, “Legend.” You’ll really have to bring your ‘A’ game to compete.
Other than the new baserunning controls, nothing has changed on that front. A few gamers have taken to criticizing the developers for not trying analog stick controls, but I don’t fault Sony for not messing with a system that works so well. Change for the sake of change often ends up hurting a game rather than helping it, and while I don’t think that the team shouldn’t at least consider a control scheme other than the button-press pitching and hitting, the current setup provides an experience that is second to none. This manifests itself in the improved hit variety -- if you’ve ever seen it happen in a real baseball game, it can happen in MLB 09.
Oh, and just for fun, here’s a video I captured of Mark Teixeira taking Jon Lester deep to left center. Enjoy! (The crowd noise doesn’t correspond to the home run because I viewed the replay after the next hitter had already come up to bat; it’s “current,” so to speak. And in case you’re wondering -- yes, I did beat the blasted Red Sox. The final score was 6-3; Joba got the win, and Rivera got the save.)
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