Baseball season is right around the corner. Spring training is in full swing, fantasy baseball pool drafts have started, and the sun is going down a little later at night. I have to say, I just love this time of year and much of that love can be chalked-up to my passion for America’s favorite pass time – Major League Baseball. This time of year also brings Sony’s long running MLB franchise The Show. Long considered the top dog in the baseball video game world, Sony’s MLB 12: The Show not only arrives on the PS3 but also lands on Sony’s latest handheld machine. I recently had a chance to give the game on the PS Vita a spin and at the end of the day I left with some pretty favorable impressions as MLB 12: The Show is off to a good start on the Vita. This being said, I do expect some improvements next time around.
If you played MLB 11: The Show on the PS3 last year you will probably agree that MLB 12: The Show on the Vita feels awfully similar. It also plays very much like last year’s game but you will notice it is not on par in terms of the visuals, features, and overall gameplay experience. Some of this is certainly to be expected given the limitations of the PS Vita’s hardware. Yet the core ‘The Show’ experience is present and anyone who wants to take a team through a 162 full regular season, jump into a home run derby, or simply play an exhibition game can absolutely do that. Not to mention this is without a doubt the slickest looking baseball game you will have played on a handheld machine to date. But I will expand more on the games visuals below.
So many of you are likely wondering how does MLB 12: The Show for the PS Vita play? Well, overall quite swimmingly. Jumping into game is easy and the three levels of difficulty make it a game that is accessible for not only beginners but for those hardcore “Show” fans as well. I spent the bulk of my time in experienced mode, which would be the equivalent of a typical sports game’s normal mode. This mode gives you a little bit more control of the action and introduces you to the games new pitching control scheme, including pulse pitching. The pitcher meter is now gone and instead replaced with a circle that grows and shrinks in the strike box. It is somewhat similar to MLB 2K’s pitching scheme but it is different as the goal is to get the circle at its smallest to deliver an accurate and powerful pitch. I enjoyed this control scheme as it works perfectly for the handheld machine. It also seems to pick up the pace of the game somewhat as well, as let’s face it; baseball games can take some time.
MLB 12: The Show for the Vita also gives you some options in terms of what controls you want to use and how you can navigate around in the menus. MLB 12: The Show also utilizes the touchscreen and rear touch pad albeit on a somewhat limited basis. For instance, while pitching you pick a pitch just like you always have, but you can use the touch pad for pitch location. This is accomplished by touching the strike zone. You can also use the rear pad to select the location of the pitch as well. Much to my surprise I was impressed with how accurate and responsive the touchscreen controls were. Despite this, my personal preference was to stick with traditional button and analog stick controls, so it really does come down to person preference.
As I mentioned, the core “The Show” experience is included in the PS Vita version of the game with your typical Exhibition, ‘Road to the Show,’ Practice, Season, Home Run Derby and Franchise modes all present. For veterans of the franchise, you can skip this paragraph, but for those new to the franchise here are what the modes are about. Exhibition mode is great for jumping into a game right away. Pick two teams and off you go. This is generally my first stop, as I usually want to see how the game plays and feels before I get into a full MLB season. My next stop is usually the season mode. Here you pick a team and work your way through a full 162 game season, or a shorter game season if you want. One of these days I will play an entire season but when a game takes 35 minutes to an hour — you do the math. Who has that kind of time? The ‘Road to the Show’ mode is where you create a player in an effort to make the ‘Big Show’ (Major Leagues). You guide your player through spring training, spend some time in the minors, and eventually gain a spot on a major league team roster. Finally, the Franchise mode, which includes managing a team (e.g. signing players, making rosters, trades, etc.) returns and remains unchanged from last year.
I have yet to mention that MLB 12: The Show for the PS Vita also features the much talked about ability for users to share save files between PS3 and PS Vita for cross platform play. So in essence you can now take your season save files up to the cloud where you can then access those files on either platform. You are only limited to one file per mode per PlayStation Network account, which can be overwritten as often as you would like. Of course you have download the online pass activation code and you will have to do a couple of updates for your Vita and PS3 respectively. So there is a few hoops you have to jump through in order to get everything set up for save sharing but the reward is awesome. I was surprised how easy it was to pick up where I left off and continue my season on the road. It is a great feature indeed and one that will come as a welcome addition for hardcore “Show” fans.
Visually MLB 12: The Show for the Vita is very good. The games menus, players, venues and all the other little things you would typically see in an MLB game are present. Of course it is not as pretty as the PS3 version of the game but it is easily the best looking MLB game we have seen on a handheld machine to date. Rather than go on and on in terms of how much eye candy the game has, and yes there is plenty as you will notice many new animations, I want to focus on some of the negatives. For starters, I did notice some clipping issues. On a few instances I noticed players simply slice through other players. Not a major issue but more a minor deficiency. It also appeared that the ball was simply too big coming off the bat. In other words, whenever the ball was in play it almost seemed closer to the size of a basketball than a baseball. Now I know they wanted users to be able to readily see the ball when it was in play but to me it just seemed a bit big and not in line with a real baseball.
When it comes to the sound, MLB 12: The Show delivers and it sounds great coming from those tiny Vita speakers sound too. From the soundtrack to the commentators, this latest installment in Sony’s best-selling franchise does a wonderful job at creating that MLB big league atmosphere. I noticed a little more repetition with some of the announcing compared to the PS3 version, but otherwise I found the commentating to be accurate and authentic. For the most part, all the sounds you would typically hear in an MLB game are in MLB 12: The Show and for that the developers get plenty of kudos.
Overall, MLB 12: The Show has made a solid first impression on Sony’s latest handheld machine. The core “Show” gameplay is back and it is easily the best looking baseball game we have seen on a handheld machine to date. Sure it is not perfect by any stretch, and there is a plenty of room for improvement, but the end result is a game that fans of MLB gaming and Vita owning sports fans will absolutely want to pick up.