MLB 12: The Show is the best game on Vita, hands down. Something had to be, right? For non-sports fans this is probably of little consolation, as they would likely prefer to have an RPG or maybe a shooter be the defacto greatest title. But it isn’t, it’s a sports game. And for those of us that love sports games not only is MLB 12 an enormous accomplishment in its own right, but it also has us hot and sweaty for what the Madden’s and NBA 2K’s of the world can do on the system as well. Judging by The Show, the future is incredibly bright for sports game on the platform.
The first thing that struck me when I started the game up for the first time was that I was playing the console version. A lot of games on the Vita (and the PSP before it) have gone for ‘it’s like the console version.’ Not MLB 12, it IS the console version. It’s all there… Road to the Show, Franchise, Online play. All of the same mechanics are in the game, the improved physics, the graphics (slightly toned down but still rather brilliant), the seemingly trillions of animations. It’s all there. Let me say it again: THIS IS THE CONSOLE VERSION.
This is an absolutely incredible achievement by San Diego Studios because not only have they faithfully translated a beloved franchise to a handheld, they did it with a franchise that is arguably the best representation of any sport around. I know that baseball isn’t all that popular with the kids these days, but even people who would rather watch paint dry than watch a baseball game on TV have had to give respect to the MLB: The Show franchise over the last several years. It’s consistently been one of the best sports games around. Other franchises have had their ups (NBA 2k11) and downs (NBA 2K12); MLB: The Show is always amazing and this year is no different.
The biggest upgrade to this year’s game is something that will get sports geeks excited, but isn’t exactly greatest back of the box feature: the ball physics have been improved greatly. Balls now react to everything based off of a physics model instead of predetermined parameters. What this means for the end-user is that a ball will bounce correctly when slapped off a base, or when it bounces off the lip of the grass it will take a strange hop – heck even foul balls make more sense this year the way they fly off the bat (no more grounders foul past first when you swing at a ball over your head).
The Road to the Show mode has had some small changes made to create a more streamlined experience. If you aren’t a hardcore baseball nerd but would like to check out this game, I suggest starting here. It’s the same as prior years where you create a player and pick your base attributes and position and your team and off you go into a wonderful world of a sports RPG. RttS works really well because it skips large chunks of the game, so you just play what involves you. I created a shortstop, so a typical game for me is 4 to 6 at bats and 2-5 fielding chances (with hopefully at least one attempt to turn a double play). The whole game takes 3-5 minutes. There is virtually no load time between your plays either. It’s very zippy, though the load into each game is pretty long – as is the case with nearly every Vita game these days. But once you’re in it’s smooth as butter.
Getting through multiple seasons of RttS is incredibly fun and easy. Along the way you get more points to make your player better at whatever you choose. It satiates both the RPG nut and Sports geek in me. RttS was one of the first created player modes to get it right and to this day it remains one of the best. The NHL and NBA 2K series have made a serious run at this game type also, but the nature of how quick baseball games play when you only play your stuff makes the idea of playing a player’s full career an obtainable goal.
The franchise mode has all the bells and whistles you would expect. You manage your whole organization, including the minor leagues, which may be a bit overwhelming for some. Thankfully there are options to have the CPU manage many parts of your organization. Personally I’m not all that interested in scouting for prospects or the day to day management of my minor league rosters, so I left that to the CPU. One problem that does pop up is that when the CPU has control of some of your organization and you have control of others, they may overrule you. For instance, I set Aaron Cook to be my 5th starter in my Red Sox franchise but since the AI had control of the minors they called him down there and I was stuck with Daisuke Matsuzaka, who I would like to stab in the face with a rusty cleaver. I was able to correct it, of course, but it is a minor annoyance you will have to deal with.
Once you are on the field the gameplay is just about perfect. They’ve included all the of the controls schemes they’ve introduced over the years, so if you are still in love with last year’s Analog Hitting and Pitching that’s still there, but if you want to kick it old school with a meter that’s fine as well. There is a new pitching mechanic this year called “pulse pitching” but it’s too unwieldy for my tastes and I can’t make much sense of it. The hitting, as usual for The Show, is difficult. There are a million different sliders available though, so even if you’ve never played a baseball game in your life you can tweak the sliders so far in your favor that you can probably get hits with your eyes closed. It’s unfortunate that getting a perfect difficulty in a sports game requires the tweaking of sliders but it’s far preferable to just being stuck with default difficulties that may not be anywhere near where your skills are.
Online play is the weakest part of the package here. Fans of The Show aren’t likely to be surprised by this at all; up until last year the PS3 version was perennially terrible online as well. I’m happy to report that the game is actually playable online and indeed is quite fun – but it comes with decent helping of lag. I tried many different connections and they all played out the same way. It’s playable and the lag at least feels predictable. Heck, there are folks who have 300+ games played already with no disconnects – so it’s certainly not broken. But if you require your online gaming to be lag-free this is not the game for that.
MLB 12: The Show is an absolute triumph that shows the power of the Vita while also filling sports gamers with the excitement of what will happen next. With Road to the Show and in-game saves it also works incredibly well as a portable game, while not forsaking those of us that want the full experience. IT IS the full experience. MLB 12: The Show is hands down the best portable sports game ever made and I wouldn’t be surprised if at the end of the year it’s my sports game of the year. I don’t think it can be stated enough how impressive of an accomplishment this game is.