Review: MLB 12: The Show (Vita)

MLB12TheShow

Freshly mown grass. Fragrant, blossoming flowers. Hot dogs sizzling away on the grill. The first opened box of Cracker Jack. Oh yes, spring is in the air. Ahhh…do you smell it?

With the coming of spring, baseball is back. Today marks the true Opening Day of the 2012 MLB season, and for gamers that means it’s also time to step up to the plate and swing for the fences in the latest crop of baseball video games. On the PS Vita, the choice is limited to Sony’s own MLB 12: The Show, and fortunately this portable baseball sim does America’s Favorite Pastime justice.

Over the last few years, The Show has become the leading baseball video game on the market, and this season’s installment slides onto the Vita with everything its PS3 console companion has to offer. Well, almost everything. The PS3’s new Diamond Dynasty mode didn’t make the Vita roster, nor is there any support for PlayStation Move motion control, for obvious reasons. But other than that the main features lineup is the same.

Exhibition, Franchise, Season, Home Run Derby and multiplayer match-ups, both infrastructure and ad hoc, are available to play on the go, and if you happen to buy in on both platforms season/career progress can be uploaded to the PSN cloud. Play one game on the couch, upload your save file to the cloud, play the next game on your Vita while on lunch break at work or on the bus ride home, and then return to the comfy confines of your La-Z-Boy for the next game. Just remember that both versions of the game and Online Passes for each platform are required, even if cross-platform data sharing is the only online function you intend to use. Online pass codes are included free in new copies but cost $9.99 otherwise.

The same cross-platform continuity is also present in Road to The Show, the series’ ongoing RPG-like career mode in which you get to create an up and coming baseball prospect to take through the MLB ranks. Once a team has drafted your superstar slugger/ace to be, the journey to baseball immortality begins in Double-A. By performing well in the minors, you’ll climb up to Triple-A, and before long the big leagues will come a-callin’.

Throughout the process, training points are earned by performing well in games and completing training exercises, and with these points you can bolster your player’s abilities. But don’t rest on your laurels— poor play and on-field errors in judgment can lead to gradual skill erosion, and any extended slump in performance can even result in a demotion. Getting the call up to Triple-A only to be sent back down to Double-A is like a punch to the gut (and a shot to the psyche), but only makes you work that much harder to improve.

The best thing about Road to The Show is the way it allows you to focus on just your player. Like real baseball, traditional 9-inning games can drag on for a while. But in Road to The Show, when it isn’t your turn in the batter’s box or your player isn’t involved on the defensive side, events are simulated and fast-forwarded through until your next appearance. This puts greater emphasis on performance as you only have so many chances to impact a game. It also allows for playing through multiple games in rapid succession, which is doubly important when it comes to portable gaming.

What’s great about MLB 12 as a whole is its adaptability. Every aspect of gameplay, be it pitching, batting, fielding, or baserunning, has multiple difficulty settings and control configurations to choose from. Dig a little deeper, and you’ll find an extensive list of sliders that allow for further difficulty adjustment, whether you want to increase/decrease CPU batting power, pitch speed and control, baserunner speed, fielder arm strength, and so on.

Control customization is equally robust. If you want to pitch, bat and field with traditional button presses, you can certainly do that. But you can also use the Pure Analog interface to play ball using strokes of the analog sticks, or mix and match different control schemes for each individual component.

Pitching, for example, is available in four flavors. Classic mode is ideal for beginners as it allows for single-press clicks of the X button to play. The Meter scheme goes a little further by introducing a two-click pitch meter similar to swing systems you may remember from old school golf video games. Pure Analog mode, as previously mentioned, has you pulling back and pushing forward on the right analog stick to throw across the plate. And last but not least is Pulse Pitching, which happens to be brand new to The Show franchise. With Pulse Pitching turned on, pitch speed and placement is determined by a pulsing circle hovering over the strike zone. The smaller the circle is when you press the button, the faster and more accurate the pitch will be.

My personal play setup goes like this: Pulse Pitching, Pure Analog batting, and traditional buttons for fielding and baserunning. But you can tailor the interface to meet your preferred play style and skill level, and that freedom of customization opens the game up to baseball fans and sports gamers from all walks of life.

MLB 12 on the Vita wouldn’t be complete without touchscreen integration either, but like many other early Vita titles the touch implementation is a mixed bag of good, bad, useless, and nonexistent. Finger-flicking through the menus is great, and for Pulse Pitching I especially like being able to select pitch types and placement with a simple tap. Without the touchscreen, you have to tilt the left analog stick and hold it in place to set pitch direction, but if you have jittery fingers (which I do) it’s hard to keep the pulsing circle steady while also concentrating on timing the button press.

Elsewhere, the touch controls aren’t so hot. Swipes on the touchscreen and rear touch pad can be used to steal bases or to make directional throws while fielding, but in all cases, for me, buttons worked more reliably for actions like these. For a first-party Vita showcase, it’s also surprising and a little disappointing that the developers didn’t incorporate full touchscreen systems for batting and pitching. You can make icon selections, but the actual acts of swinging and throwing can only be performed with buttons or analog sticks. I’m fine with that overall as I would rather have no touch control than half-assed, gimmicky touch control. But with the developers already going to great lengths to provide such in-depth control configuration, I wanted to see what they could do with a true touchscreen-only scheme. Maybe next season.

Another area of concern is the online play. MLB 12’s “Online Everywhere” structure is great. Leaderboards, ranked game lobbies, roster updates and MLB.com news headlines can be quickly accessed from the main menu. Within Exhibition mode, you can also choose to play against a CPU opponent or instantly enter matchmaking to compete against another live player in ad hoc or infrastructure. Unfortunately, in-game performance while playing online isn’t ideal. Admittedly, I haven’t spent nearly as much time online as offline in Road to The Show mode, but in the matches that I have sampled, lag has been a consistent drawback. Button presses often seem to have a slight delay, which is a killer when attempting to line up a pitch, and forced pauses (there’s a connection indicator that says “Online” when connected but flashes “Traffic Delay” when the connection hits a snag) are too regular. I simply don’t have the patience for this kind of stuff, so I always end up quitting out early due to connection delays or lag-induced errors. Hopefully Sony can get these early kinks worked out with a patch.

Performance is not an issue when it comes to offline play and graphical prowess, though. Compared to the PS3 version, the broadcast presentation isn’t quite as dynamic with things like replays and graphical overlays, and there are some minor graphical glitches, such as crowd members occasionally clipping through stadium barriers. However, the frame rate is rock solid throughout and the look of the game is still remarkably lifelike on the Vita’s crystal-clear display. Fans will instantly recognize players by the way they stand in the batter’s box and individual stadiums for their distinguishing bleacher attractions. The crowd atmosphere is a bright spot too, and I’m also quite fond of the hitting sound effects. The cracking of the bat varies in impact based on contact, making it all the more satisfying when you finally hit the sweet spot and hear that resounding wooden “pop” of bat on ball. Somewhere in between is the commentary. Matt Vasgersian, Dave Campbell, and Eric Karros aren’t the most enthusiastic team of commentators, but they do bring a respectable professionalism to the job that makes for an authentic, albeit sleepy, broadcast presentation.

MLB 12 on the Vita could use work in the areas of online performance, touchscreen optimization, and matching the PS3’s TruBroadcast presentation, but overall I’m really not sure what more you could ask for in a portable baseball simulation. The depth of customization boggles the mind, yet the intuitive controls and abundance of easily accessible tutorial documentation keep the learning curve low. The impressive mode lineup, high-end graphics, and cross-platform cloud support only further realize the dream of enjoying a home console caliber sports simulation on a handheld gaming machine, and amazingly this is merely the first of what will surely be many more seasons to come.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Road to The Show continues to bring RPG-like depth to sports gaming
+ Robust control and difficulty customization
+ Sound baseball gameplay systems across the board
+ Impressive graphics
+ Cross-platform cloud sharing

Cons:
– Spotty online performance
– No full touchscreen controls for hitting or pitching
– Could use more dynamic presentation in terms of replays and announcing

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PlayStation Vita, also available for PS3
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: SCEA San Diego Studios
Release Date: 3/6/2012
Genre: Sports – Baseball
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1-2 (ad hoc and infrastructure)
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

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About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!