homerun realsports



The Video Game Critic's
Baseball
Video Game Review Special

A fun look back at baseball video games through the years
Updated 4/10/2015


Home Run (Atari 1978)
System: Atari 2600 (and others)
Grade: D-
screenshot In all my years it just dawned on me that Home Run is in fact two words! I suspect Atari didn't go with "Baseball" because this game only vaguely resembles our national pastime. Home Run's graphics are as minimal as you can get with a field consisting of four bases. There's no dirt, no baselines, no fans, and no pitcher's mound. You pitch from second base for crying out loud! Your three fielders move in unison and can't even throw the ball. You just scoop it up and run down the baserunner before he can reach the next base. It's not as hard as it sounds because your fielders are speed demons. I like how the runner's footsteps continue long after he's disappeared from the screen. There are no fly balls but hits to straight-away center are automatic home runs. You'll want to share that little tidbit of information with your opponent or he'll be really mad at you. The pitching is the best part of the game. You have total control of the ball and can fool the batter by having it flutter all around before catching a corner of the plate. It's also possible to hit the batter in the face, which is always a good time. I have fond memories of playing Home Run with my dad as a kid but today I find the game borderline unplayable. If you employ a few basic techniques you'll throw a shutout every time. As an experiment I had my friends Brent and Kevin give it a try. They had never even heard of the game. To my surprise they seemed to have a great time, especially when it came to tormenting each other other with those crazy-ass pitches. After that I wondered if I had been too hard on the game. But then I had Scott and Chris play and they hated it. Scott remarked that if it he had a choice between playing Home Run or being poked in the crotch repeatedly with a sharp stick, he would only reluctantly choose Homerun. Home Run is a likeable but shallow sports title that's only fun for a while. On a final note, one astute reader pointed out that Home Run is only 1.84 kilobytes in size. By comparison, MLB The Show 17 is 38 gigabytes, making it 20.5 million times larger. The question is, is it 20.5 million times more fun? I doubt it.




Baseball (Magnavox 1978)
System: Odyssey 2 (and others)
Grade: B-
screenshot Compared to Homerun (Atari 2600, 1978), Baseball for the Odyssey 2 is pretty amazing! You get all nine players in the field and there's even a home run fence! The animation is smooth and the controls are responsive. The pitcher can curve the ball at will, but sadly he can't control the speed. When at bat you can direct your hits (allegedly) by swinging early or late. On defense you can shift your outfielders, which adds a strategic element. Then we get to the fielding, which is where things start to get a little dicey. Whenever you catch a moving ball, it's considered a fly out, yet baserunners can take off at any time without penalty. While this clearly violates the tag-up rule, it also spices thing up by rewarding aggressive baserunning. Throwing the ball around the bases is easy, but the throws are far too soft. It's especially aggravating when you're trying to throw out a runner at home and he's running as fast as the ball! The general pace of the game is brisk, allowing you to play nine innings in about 20 minutes. The audio is minimal, save for the "take me out to the ballgame" song, which is by far the most horrendous rendition I've ever heard in my life. There's no single-player mode, but Baseball's easy-going style makes it fun to play against a friend.




Realsports Baseball (Atari 1983)
System: Atari 5200 (and others)
Grade: A+
screenshot This is, without a doubt, my favorite classic baseball game. It may not have all the features of Intellivision's World Championship baseball, but it beats that game hands-down with superior graphics, awesome control, and impressive voice synthesis. Realsports Baseball gives you uniformed players, a sharp-looking diamond, and a stadium complete with a homerun fence -- and a crowd. There's even a scoreboard that displays the complete line score. The pitching controls are outstanding! You can choose between nine pitches, and even control the ball in flight. Thanks to the helpful shadow, each pitch is visually distinctive. The batting controls are also innovative, taking full advantage of the unique Atari 5200 joystick design. You swing by sliding the joystick left to right, and can even control the height of your cut. Fielding takes a while to get used to, but the computer is surprisingly adept at choosing the appropriate fielder. The whole baseball experience is captured in this game, complete with tagging up, hit and runs, squeeze plays, no wind-up pitches, base stealing, and throwing errors! Thanks to some nifty voice synthesis, an umpire calls strikes, balls, and outs. The menu screen allows you to fully configure the number of players, difficulty, and number of innings. No game is perfect, and waiting for the teams to leave the field between innings gets old after a while. But when it comes to classic baseball, Atari 5200 Realsports is second to none!




World Championship Baseball (Mattel 1983)
System: Intellivision (and others)
Grade: A-
screenshot World Championship Baseball was the result of Mattel's attempt to "update" its line of sports games. Apparently it was a bit rushed, as the title screen reads "All Star Baseball" (unlike the label) and there is said to be a nasty bug that can crash the game. In addition, there is no voice synthesis, which sucks for a system known for that feature. Still, World Championship Baseball does have an impressive feature list, including a single-player mode, variable difficulty levels, positioning of fielders, overrunning bases, sliding, fly balls, pitch-outs, errors, foul balls, bouncing balls, leading off, stealing, pick-offs, and extra innings. No other classic baseball game offers this kind of robust gameplay. The overrunning of bases is an awesome feature, giving your runner an extra burst of speed up the line. The graphics are basically the same as the first Intellivision baseball game, but the diamond looks a little better. I love how sliding creates a cloud of dust. Control is good, although you often need to glance at your controller to choose your fielder, which is a pain in the ass. The computer usually chooses the closest fielder automatically, but sometimes makes poor decisions. Once you get the hang of the controls, you'll be turning double plays in no time. The computer is a worthy opponent. He doesn't swing at balls, and won't hesitate to steal. The sound effects are odd. The crowd is silent except between innings or after a homerun. A series of beeps are used to simulate umpire calls like "YER OUT!" You'll need to use your imagination. The biggest flaw would have to be the weak pitching controls; it's nearly impossible to strike anyone out! But despite that, I was highly impressed with this ambitious game. As far as classic baseball games go, only the Atari 5200 Baseball is in the same league.




Super Action Baseball (Coleco 1983)
System: Colecovision (and others)
Grade: D-
screenshot What a *monumental* disappointment this game is! Super Action Baseball requires those huge Super Action Controllers to play, and these monstrosities feature 16 buttons, a joystick, and a roller! You really can't use them without looking ridiculous. Anyway, the main draw of Super Action Baseball is the groundbreaking pitcher/batter screen; featuring huge players. I must admit, this screen looks pretty cool, except that the players are wearing the ugliest uniforms imaginable (purple and orange?!? What were they thinking??). Unfortunately, the programmers must have spent 90% of their time on that screen alone, because the fielding screen is repugnant! Sure you can see the entire field and there's a nice-looking diamond, but the fielder movement is painfully choppy and the player graphics are completely static. The ball movement is equally horrific, featuring THE worst physics I've EVER seen in a baseball game. In addition, the control scheme is overcomplicated and more of a pain than anything else. Even the sound effects are annoying. What should have been a ground-breaking sports title is really only good for a laugh.




Star League Baseball (Gamestar 1983)
System: Atari XEGS (and others)
Grade: B
screenshot This is one of those easy games that's great for a quick contest against a friend. Star League's title screen plays a jaunty little tune, and each game begins with an abbreviated version of the national anthem. The stadium graphics look pretty sweet with a nicely-manicured field, well-defined fence, and even a 3D dugout (empty, but still). The players are small and single-colored, but highly detailed and smoothly animated. Each player selects from two starting pitchers: "Curves" Cassidy and "Heat" Muldoon. You also need to choose between a "liners" and "sluggers" line-up, although I would prefer a "balanced" option. The intuitive, responsive controls give Star League an arcade flavor. Moving the joystick in the four directions lets you throw basic pitches, but things get interesting when you use diagonals to throw combinations of pitches! You can swing with a press of a button, and I absolutely love the sound of the crack of the bat. Hitting the ball can be a challenge. It's hard to lay off the low pitch, and I can't hit Muldoon's fastball to save my life! When the ball is put into play, you control the nearest fielder, but the infielders often don't even flinch as ground balls roll through. The player on offense controls the lead runner, and once you get a feel for running the bases, you can really toy with (and piss off) your friend. Good luck tricking the CPU, which is remarkably adept at holding the runners on. The game has a few shortcomings. You have the option of bringing in a knuckleball reliever, but only at the top of the eighth inning. Outfielders sometimes throw out runners headed to first base, which is not very realistic. It's hard to reach second base even after hitting the ball into a gap, and runners don't slide. The controls for getting situated on the mound require a lot of extraneous button tapping. The game does have some nice bells and whistles, like a scoreboard shown between innings that displays paid attendance, an ad for a "Dutch Dougan" video game, and other scores from around the league. Star League Baseball isn't particularly deep but it hits the spot if you're looking for some simple fun.




Micro League Baseball (Micro League Sports 1984)
System: Atari XEGS (and others)
Grade: B+
screenshot Boasting ultra-realistic gameplay and actual historical teams, Micro League Baseball was state of the art... in 1984. It was the first baseball game to reflect actual player statistics. As a kid playing this on my Atari computer I was mesmerized by the TV-style presentation with live play-by-play in the form of scrolling text on the scoreboard. The commentary is brief but colorful ("A booming fly ball to the alley in left! Will he get it? Yes! Combs hauls it in.") The field is displayed using an unusual rendering technique, and if you look close you'll notice the pixels are arranged in a checkerboard pattern. It didn't take long for my buddy Scott to wisecrack about how "somebody's grandmother knitted the field" and "if you unfocus your eyes you might see a 3D image!" The players have black outlines and teams are limited to red or white uniforms. Still, the action unfolds smoothly and fly balls move on realistic arcs. The thing about Micro League is that you're just managing the team, with options entered via keyboard. You control the lineup and strategy, but after selecting a play you simply kick back and watch. It may sound lame but it's surprisingly suspenseful. On defense you choose the type of pitch, and typically there is only one pitch per batter, resulting in a hit ball, strikeout, or walk. It's an ingenious scheme that keeps things moving. You can also position fielders, pitch out, issue intentional walks, warm up the bullpen, and even visit the mound. On offense your choices are severely limited when there's no one on base. Normally you choose "swing away", but it would have been nice to have the option of making contact or swinging for the fences. With runners on base your options expand to include stealing, hit-and-runs, and safe (or aggressive) baserunning. It's fun to watch the action play out, especially with such a wide variety of outcomes including caroms off the wall, errant throws, balks, tag ups, and even head-first slides. I like how players throw the ball "around the horn" after a strikeout. Between innings it's boring to watch the players change sides, but you can press the R key to disable that. Micro League even lets you save a game in process! The 24 included teams span from the '27 Yankees to the '83 Orioles, with additional teams available via expansion disks. When I was young I enjoyed watching the computer play both sides, and when I recently tried it again, I was still riveted to the screen! One glaring flaw is a lack of crowd noise, resulting in a game played in mostly silence. The two manuals are fun to read and include biographies of all the teams. Micro League Baseball is a thinking-man's baseball game that's perfect for baseball fans who aren't necessarily video game fans. Technical note: This game was reviewed on an Atari 800XL because it displays the wrong colors on the Atari XEGS.




Reggie Jackson Baseball (Sega 1988)
System: Sega Master System (and others)
Grade: B
screenshot My first impression of Reggie Jackson Baseball was NOT good, and I think you'll understand why. When I first turned it on, I witnessed the most hideous sight ever seen in a baseball game: a RED FIELD with a GREEN crowd! I honestly thought my TV was broken. After nervously resetting the game, I was shocked to discover that Reggie Jackson Baseball has three fields - red, yellow, and green - which are selected at RANDOM! This has got to be the most unwanted feature EVER in a baseball game! Everyone I know who's played this game absolutely INSISTS on resetting it until you get the green field, and I feel the same way. Once you have the green field, the graphics are not bad at all. The behind-the-batter view of the pitcher looks nice, and once the ball is put into play, the game switches to an overhead view with tiny fielders. The ball movement is smooth, but it takes some practice to track fly balls, thanks to their deceiving arcing shadows. Your fielders are slow, so you'll need to get a good jump on the ball. Reggie Jackson also offers an "auto-fielding mode" for the lazy player. Forget that - once you get used to the controls, Reggie Jackson is one heck of a baseball game. The throwing controls are intuitive, so you'll be turning double plays with ease. During close plays at home, a close-up treats you to a nice view of the runner sliding into the catcher. There are some other nice graphical touches as well, like animated umpires, third base coaches, pitchers warming up on the sidelines, and cheerleaders (huh?). And be sure to check out what happens when the pitcher hits the batter with a pitch - a bench-clearing brawl always ensues, and although medics with a stretcher carry the batter away from home plate during the mayhem, five seconds later he magically appears on first base. Annoying music plays constantly throughout the game, and I have no idea why Sega did that. The teams are real, but the players are fictitious (except for the managers). The computer opponent isn't too bright, but against a human, Reggie Jackson Baseball is a fun contest.




Bases Loaded (Jaleco 1988)
System: NES (and others)
Grade: B-
screenshot In addition to being a terrific baseball game, Bases Loaded reinvigorated my interest in consoles in the late 1980's when I was more interested in home computers. I had stopped by my friend Tuan's house, and when I walked into his bedroom he was playing this game against my friend Bobby. Bases Loaded may have lacked the sharp graphics and sophisticated controls of a computer game, but I was captivated by its clean visuals, smooth animation, and intuitive gameplay. Innovative for its time, Bases Loaded helped popularize the realistic "behind the pitcher" camera angle, and its fast-paced gameplay has held up well over the years. You can pitch and swing with precision, but fielding is tricky because there's no diving and the fielders move like snails. The game is loaded with memorable moments, and its quirks actually make it more endearing. When pitching a ball way outside, it's hilarious to see the catcher's disembodied mitt float away from the catcher's body. Upon striking out, batters walk back to the dugout dejected with the bat on their shoulders. Pitchers can't seem to resist intercepting balls thrown from third base to first. Relief pitchers drive themselves to the mound, leaving me to wonder who is returning that little cart? And just look how wide that mound is! But the ultimate highlight of Bases Loaded is how you can initiate a brawl by hitting a batter in the face! That feature should be standard in all baseball games. Bases Loaded's background music plays non-stop, which would be irritating if it wasn't so freakin' good! Fielders sound like they're squealing as they throw the ball, but the clear synthesized umpire voices sound great. Bases Loaded lacks a major league license, which may explain why my favorite player is "Paste" from the New Jersey team. With so many overly-complex baseball games on the market today, it sure feels good to get "back to the basics" with a classic like this.




SportsTalk Baseball (Sega 1992)
System: Genesis (and others)
Grade: A-
screenshot It was groundbreaking for its time, and in terms of fun, no other baseball game for the Genesis can touch SportsTalk Baseball. Boasting arcade-style graphics, smooth action, and intuitive controls, this is ideal for the casual player looking for a quick game. The pitching and batting controls are as simple as pressing a button. When fielding, you can dive for grounders, leap for line drives, and even snatch homeruns from the top of the wall! Runners can lead off and steal, but don't forget to hit that slide button as you approach second base! Despite featuring major league players, Sega inexplicably did not obtain the MLB rights. Having the teams referred to by their city isn't an issue, but those homemade logos look cheesy as all hell! I suppose that explains why the guy on the box is wearing a generic green helmet. Three fictional stadiums are available: White-Sky Dome, Blue-Moon Stadium, and Red-Sun Stadium. SportsTalk's gameplay is solid all around, but its true claim to fame is its live commentary. This feature was amazing in 1992, and it's still quite entertaining today. The commentator (who looks like Larry King) keeps up with the action fairly well, and it's quite amusing when he lags behind. Since his voice doesn't affect the action on the field, you can just continue playing as he rambles on about the last play. For a good laugh, have a fielder tag an occupied base several times in succession, causing the commentator to exclaim "Safe! Safe! He's safe. Safe! He's safe. Safe!" Playing head-to-head is great, but the single-player mode is respectable as well, with aggressive CPU-controlled opponents that even try to steal bases. SportsTalk lets you play a whole season via the battery backup, but its menu interface is woefully slow and clunky. One bizarre "feature" is the game's "domination" rule, which abruptly ends the contest when one team goes up by ten runs. What the heck is that all about? Another issue is the lack of an instant replay. Oh well, this is a 1992 game, so I guess you can't ask for too much. But if you're looking for pure fun, Sportstalk Baseball is definitely the way to go.




Baseball Stars Professional 2 (SNK 1992)
System: Neo Geo (and others)
Grade: A-
screenshot I loved the first Baseball Stars Professional, and BSP2 really ups the ante. It's very similar to the first game, but the graphics have been given a major overhaul. In fact, the visuals are so flashy that sometimes I think they might have gone a bit overboard. The game bombards your senses by flashing so many windows and graphics that you can never digest it all. The main screen features animated close-ups of both the pitcher and batter, and while these look terrific, the same faces repeat with annoying frequency. There are numerous cool graphical details like batters that break their bats, submariner pitchers, and rolling balls that kick up dust. After a home run, the entire team (including the mascot) greets the player at home plate. There are a substantial number of cut scenes and close-ups, especially during diving catches and close plays, which add drama and excitement. Unfortunately, the umpires tend to make bad calls, often contradicting what you see on the field. The gameplay itself really hasn't changed much. It's easier to position your fielders laterally, but harder to tell how far the ball was hit. New "power-up" options add a bit more strategy, allowing you to increase your batter's strength a limited number of times per game. The single player tournament mode lets you save your place between innings, which is a welcome feature. I enjoy Baseball Stars Professional 2 immensely. It's probably the most spectacular baseball game I've ever played.




Ken Griffey Major League Baseball (Nintendo 1994)
System: Super Nintendo (and others)
Grade: B+
screenshot This game gave the SNES a legitimately baseball title - finally! This is a polished, arcade-style game featuring all of the major league teams and stadiums. Unfortunately, it does not contain any of the major league players - except Ken Griffey of course. In theory you could modify and save the rosters to reflect the real players, but this would be a lot of tedious work. The graphics look crisp and colorful, although the players look cartoonish with their exaggerated physiques. The scrolling and animation is smooth, and the detailed stadiums look terrific. I remember by friend Eric and I playing this game on a display at Toys R Us and being extremely impressed that the outfield wall at Wrigley Field was actually covered with ivy! Ken Griffey's controls are simple and responsive, and this has to be one of the fastest baseball games I've ever played. It's really too bad there's no instant replay feature. It may come up a bit short on realism, but Ken Griffey Major League Baseball is undeniably fun and entertaining.




World Series Baseball 98 (Sega 1997)
System: Saturn (and others)
Grade: A
screenshot With World Series Baseball 98 (WSB98), Sega finally fulfills the promise of the Saturn system. The game is now rendered using genuine 3D polygons which remarkably do not compromise the fast, fluid gameplay that's distinguished the franchise. The player models may look chunkier than their Playstation counterparts, but the animation is superb. The new 3D visuals allow for TV-style camera angles including players stepping up to the plate and dramatic collisions at home plate. Pitchers and batters possess the same mannerisms as their real-life counterparts, so baseball enthusiasts will recognize their favorites easily. The pitching and batting system has been overhauled and is much more sophisticated. The pitcher can precisely aim the ball, and the batter moves a target to direct his swing. A useful and unobtrusive "guess the location" feature gives the batter an advantage if he can anticipate the correct quadrant of the pitch. These new mechanics add depth but never impede the brisk pacing of the game. The weakest aspect of WSB98 is its audio. There's a new umpire voice, but he's just as annoying as the last guy, and you still can't shut him up! The commentator is less irritating but still dumb ("The ball goes hiiiiigh in the air!") Inexplicably, there's still no instant replay feature. But these gripes can't prevent World Series Baseball 98 from being a showcase sports title for the system, and one of the finest baseball games I've ever played.




All-Star Baseball 2001 (Acclaim 2000)
System: Nintendo 64 (and others)
Grade: C+
screenshot The tagline of All Star Baseball 2001 is telling: "The only new Nintendo 64 baseball game this season!" When that's the best thing you can say about your game, that's not a good sign! With little incentive to innovate, it's not surprising that this 2001 edition is practically identical to the year before, albeit with updated rosters. The graphics are exactly the same, with zero effort made to improve the stilted animation or questionable collision detection. You'd think they could have at least incorporated overrunning first base! The most substantial difference is the red color of the cartridge. I did take a slight interest in the new "easy pitching" and "easy batting" options, hoping they would make the game faster and more arcade-like. But instead they made the batting feel more like a guessing game, and it wasn’t long before I returned to the old, tedious cursors. All Star's pace is slow, and games take too long to play. The commentator constantly refers to home plate as "the dish", which is about the most annoying expression I've ever heard. All Star Baseball 2001 is clearly a case of Acclaim "mailing it in", making this a highly questionable "upgrade" for owners of All Star Baseball 2000.




World Series Baseball 2K2 (Sega 2001)
System: Dreamcast (and others)
Grade: B-
screenshot Last year Sega got caught with their pants down, inexplicably releasing an incomplete baseball game with no fielder control. This year I figured they'd come back strong with a robust, polished game with bells and whistles out the whazoo, but it didn't take me long to start picking this game apart. For an arcade-style baseball game, World Series 2K2 doesn't have any glaring flaws, but it does have a huge number of glitches and minor problems. First, the ball moves too quickly off the bat, making it difficult to flag down grounders or stretch a hit into a double, and outfielders can throw out runners they would never have caught in real life. Players sometimes forget to reach for balls or tag runners, and if they're running away towards the fence, they'll catch the ball with their backs! I actually saw a ball that bounced on the ground ruled a fly out! Pitchers field too many hits, and every play at the plate is a head-on collision. The single man commentary is incredibly boring, never adds anything to the gameplay, and often lags behind the action. Sometimes he's just plain wrong, like the time he said we were at the "half way point of the game" - in the ninth inning! And there's absolutely no drama for home runs. Graphically, the player bodies are modeled well, but their faces don't resemble their real-life counterparts at all. The crowd looks like cardboard cutouts, and the dugouts are completely empty. I think this game came out of the oven a little early. But despite all of these problems, a funny thing happened to me: I couldn't stop playing this game! I was won over by the easy-to-play, fast paced arcade action. The animation is smooth, and the stadiums look great. Thanks to the simple controls and user-friendly menu interface, I found this game strangely addicting despite its numerous flaws. In fact, I prefer this over any of the PS2 baseball games out there. And what other baseball game offers online play?




Mario Superstar Baseball (Nintendo 2005)
System: GameCube (and others)
Grade: B
screenshot As much as I enjoyed Mario Superstar Baseball, I'm irritated by its lack of fine-tuning. This should have been the ultimate arcade-style baseball game. The randomized teams are composed of just about every loveable character you've ever encountered in a Mario game, including obscure characters like Boo, Goomba, Shy Guy, and Dry Bones. Nintendo fans will absolutely freak out when they see these classic characters rendered in lush 3D. The baseball fields are a nice break from the usual, including Peach's castle with the trimmed hedges and Donkey Kong's jungle with a stream running through the outfield. Superstar Baseball's controls are simple as can be and responsive to boot, although selecting a base with the analog stick is a bit inexact. The games themselves are fast moving, action-packed contests with minimal lulls. Since there's no obligation to be realistic, Mario Baseball is able to forgo the more boring aspects of the sport. The default game length is only five innings, there's no bullpen to worry about, and you don't have to wait for the catcher to toss the ball back to the pitcher. But despite doing so many things right, Nintendo also screwed the game up in a number of ways. First off, it's awfully hard to hit the freakin' ball, and too many games turn into tedious pitching duels. This is supposed to be an arcade title, right? Even when you do make contact, the ball sails foul more than half the time! Hello? Didn't anybody bother to play-test this thing? Worst of all, the brain-dead base runners take off on any contact whatsoever, resulting in an inordinate number of double plays. The umpire that calls balls, strikes, and outs is extremely annoying as well. Several four-player mini-games are also included, but these are marginal. Mario Superstar Baseball is a nice break from those "realistic" baseball games, but it's still disappointing. A little fine-tuning could have gone a long way with this one.




MVP Baseball 2005 (Electronic Arts 2005)
System: Playstation 2 (and others)
Grade: B+
screenshot Considering the sport sucks, there are some very impressive baseball games out this year. Despite a host of worthy competitors, MVP Baseball 2005 reigns as the most realistic and polished baseball game of 2005. The pitcher/batter screen uses the best pitching meter I've seen, a simple and precise two-press mechanism (similar to those in golf games). The players are so detailed that you can see their faces, which look amazing. The player animation is equally impressive; the fielders move fluidly and react to any situation in a natural manner. During one notable play, I was chasing a fly ball down the foul line. Although I was a bit off-line, my fielder gracefully adjusted and snagged the ball with an impressive backhanded catch. But my favorite aspect of MVP Baseball is the ingenious "throw meter"; a single-press meter that lets you set the power of the throw. One you get used to it, you'll love it. The right joystick is used to jump and dive, and it works like a charm. In general, MVP's controls are outstanding, although the CPU sometimes inexplicably selects the wrong outfielder. The base runners react automatically (and intelligently) and balls are fouled with realistic frequency. Pitchers can intentionally hit a batter, and the batter can even charge the mound! Alas - the ensuing fight is not shown, so what's the point?? Nifty bells and whistles include a plethora of "customization" sliders which fine-tune every aspect of fielding, batting, and running. You can even enable "blown calls" by the umpire! There's no "fast play" option, but if you turn off the cut scenes, the game progresses at a reasonable clip. MVP also includes a collection of mini games that are definitely worth checking out. While I initially wrote them off, I would soon come to realize that these diversions are arguably more addictive than the normal game. If MVP has a weakness, it lies in the presentation. Some of the city skylines look dead wrong (Baltimore for example) and the commentary doesn't sound as professional as MLB 2K5. The two-man team is enthusiastic enough, but they tend to mispronounce names, which is annoying. Still, if you're looking for a compelling baseball game with realism and tight control, MVP Baseball is tough to beat.




MLB 07: The Show (Sony 2007)
System: Playstation 3 (and others)
Grade: B+
screenshot I've been less than thrilled with baseball games in recent years, but MLB 07 won me over with its brisk gameplay and no-nonsense control scheme. The Show's graphics are sharp, and even the crowd is composed of minutely detailed fans. Unlike other sports titles that favor tight camera angles to show off their fancy visuals, The Show keeps the camera pulled way back, giving you an optimal view of the action. Players move and react with the utmost realism, and do a terrific job of emulating their real-life counterparts. Swinging is as simple as pressing a button, and while the pitching meter isn't bad, I prefer the "classic" pitch mode where you just aim and hit a button. Fielding and running controls are extremely responsive, so turning 6-4-3 double plays is a pleasure. The menus are rich with options, but the expertly designed interface makes them a breeze to navigate. An amazing instant replay option allows you to examine tags from merely inches away. For casual players like myself, The Show offers a "fast mode", allowing you to bypass the tedious pauses between pitches and the time consuming instant replays. The problem is, not only does this bypass the boring stuff, but a lot of the good stuff as well, like batters charging the mound or the pageantry of a homerun. And there's a lot to see, including players goofing off in the dugout and outfielders chasing beach balls. Oddly, the fast mode still forces you to sit through long foul balls, which take forever to come down. A worse flaw is the fact that when a homerun is hit, all you see in the player breaking into his homerun trot, totally eliminating the drama of watching the ball sail over the fence! I noticed a few minor visual flaws, like deserted bullpens (which should have pitchers), or the empty Eutaw Street outside of the homerun fence in Baltimore. The Show's two-man commentary isn't bad, but not quite up to professional telecast standards. It's easy to nit-pick, but The Show delivers were it counts, and that's with quality gameplay. This is one of the few sports games that successfully caters to hardcore and casual baseball fans alike.




Major League Baseball 2K10 (2K Sports 2010)
System: Xbox 360 (and others)
Grade: C+
screenshot There are two heavy-hitting baseball games out this year: Major League Baseball 2K10 (Xbox 360) and MLB 10: The Show (Playstation 3). The Show is clearly the flashier pick, but 2K10 arguably offers a deeper experience with more long-term replay value. It's important to note that 2K10 is not a pick-up-and-play, arcade-style title. It takes a game or two to grasp the pitching mechanics due to its "gesture-based" system, which involves making a series of well-timed moves with the right stick. Throwing a fastball isn't so hard, but sliders and curveballs are more complicated. There's a learning curve but it's worth the effort. You swing the bat by pushing up on the right stick, and you have the option of pulling back first for a little extra power. Unfortunately, due to the 360 controller design it's very easy to accidentally hit Start (pausing the game) when trying to swing or throw a fastball. My friend George also had a problem issuing intentional walks by accidentally pressing in the right thumbstick. The fielding is the most rewarding aspect of 2K10. Gunning the ball with that awesome throw meter is satisfying, and turning a double play is pure joy. Baserunning is somewhat confusing because there are multiple ways to control your runners. For impatient players like myself, MLB 2K10 provides a "hurry up" mode - something I wish real baseball would adopt! The more I played this game, the more I liked it. 2K10's biggest flaw is the horrendous camera angles shown during homeruns. Sometimes you don't even see the ball clear the fence! I also dislike how fielders will make no-look, over-the-shoulder catches. 2K's menu interface is counter-intuitive (as usual), and the Pepsi "clutch player of the game" award usually goes to some schmuck who went 0-4 with a pair of strikeouts. When a foul ball enters the stands, fans tend to flop around like fish out of water, and that looks funny. I don't know why there are so many people in the stands at Camden Yards, but I'm assuming they're all Red Sox fans. Major League Baseball 2K10 isn't as polished as The Show, but the gameplay is more intense and the rich control scheme gives you more to chew on. You really can't go wrong with either game. NOTE: Unfortunately I discovered a pretty hideous bug in the game after posting this review. In one particular contest there were several situations when my baserunner was clearly thrown out at home plate, yet ruled safe! An obvious glitch like this is worth a letter grade.



MLB 14 The Show (Sony 2014)
System: Playstation 4 (and others)
Grade: C
screenshot Like previous editions on the PS3, MLB 14 The Show combines easy controls with true-to-life graphics. I was pretty psyched as I popped in the disc, but forced to endure a grueling one-hour+ installation process. You'd think the game would load in a flash after that, but no, it still takes forever. The menus employ a "panel navigation" system, a la Windows 8. I like how there's a season mode in addition to the online/offline franchise modes. The navigation controls really call into question the design of the PS4 controller. A lot of times you need to hit that poorly-designed "option" button to proceed when a "start" button would have made more sense. Visually, the game is impressive. The player mannerisms are dead-on, and purists will appreciate details like catchers flashing signs, fielders kicking dirt, and umpires making emphatic strike out calls. I love those crisp throws from the outfield. The batter and pitcher views give you a fair angle for judging pitches. The umpire may or may not call a pitch over the plate as a strike - just like real baseball! When a ball is hit deep the camera remains behind the plate, making it hard to see what's happening because the outfielders are so small. The Show 14 falls short in terms of gameplay and controls. Whoever designed the default "pulse" pitching meter failed to take into account that high-definition screens have inherent input lag, making this spastic mechanism unusable. When you can't even throw a change-up over the plate to avoid walking in a run, something is very wrong. You can fall back on the "classic" pitching mode, but that also has faults. Once the ball is hit, it's hard to tell which fielder you control and the throw meter is not intuitive. The hitting controls are solid, but there are an inordinate number of foul balls, which really drags things out. Played with the default broadcast mode, a game takes as long as the real thing, so the "fast mode" is a no-brainer. The Show can be pretty exciting when it's the bottom of the 9th inning and the other team has the tying run on third. Most of the time however it's unremarkable, and even a five-inning contest can seem awfully long. It's ironic, but I think the main weakness of MLB 14 The Show is how close it is to real baseball.