Being the sports fan that I am, I decided that it was time to pick up this year’s baseball game for the PS2. Now the last few years, Sega World Series Baseball was the king of the mound. I heard the buzz, and decided to pick up MVP Baseball 2004 from EA sports, the second incarnation since ditching the Triple Play name. Was it a good choice?
I admit that I am not really a real-life baseball fan. The game is too slow paced for me. It has no contact, and let’s face it, some big, fat out-of-shape pitcher can get paid how much to play a professional sport? Let’s at least look like a professional athlete please.
The draw to video baseball is that I can quickly switch innings. I don’t have to wait between batters, and instead of four hours, I can play a game of baseball between 30 and 60 minutes. This is just the right amount of time for me to play a game.
Last year I picked up Sega Baseball, so I cannot compare this year’s EA version versus last year’s title, but I can tell you how I liked the game, and how it plays.
Game play is phenomenal. Batting took me a few games to get used to. It seemed that the pitch came a lot faster than most games I’m used to. I swung late for a game or two until I got the hang of it. You have to take timing into consideration, as well as figuring out should you swing at the balls or strikes. You can use the left analog to aim your hit. I really liked this method, as I didn’t like in other games where you have to try and aim where the pitch is hit because you don’t seem to have the same control over where the ball is placed, unlike real baseball where players seem to be able to place the ball in the general area where they are trying to hit. Just like real baseball, however, it’s not guaranteed. Hitting a ball that’s low in the strike zone very deep, is much harder than nailing a high, chest level ball. Pulling a ball to the right that’s pitched to the left is harder than one that’s thrown to the right. It works out pretty well, and the averages in the games I’ve played seem to be realistic. Hitting is fun, which is 1/3 of the game (pitching and fielding being the other 2/3rds).
Well, we’ve established that batting is good. How’s the other side of the coin? Well, pitching is just fun. You pick your pitch with the different buttons on the controller, it varies per pitcher. You then aim the pitch in the strike zone w/ the left analog, and then hold down the button for the pitch you want to hit. There is a meter which pops up. The longer you hold the button, the more effective the pitch. For a fastball this is speed. For a curve ball this is movement on the ball. At the end of the meter is a red area which is “over-throwing”. It will really give you the sweet pitch, but hurts your accuracy and control. Once you let go, the meter swings back. Depending on the pitcher’s control, and the power you used there is a green area where you need to hit the button again to control your accuracy. If you over-powered the pitch, this meter will be smaller than usual. Miss the accuracy area by a little, and your pitch will be a little bit off. Miss the area by a lot, and you telegraph the pitch. The location of the ball will show up for the hitter to see. He will know not only if he should swing at that pitch (ball or strike), but he can figure out if it’s high, swing for the fences. It gives that “oh the pitch just got away” feeling while still keeping it realistic. Pitching is a lot more fun than you’d think, and with all the strategy, it’s even more work than batting.
The last major feature in MVP Baseball 2004 is fielding. Moving the fielders around is pretty painless. The control seems like a human can do it. The CPU usually gives you control of the correct player, and gives you the first jump on the ball so you can make the play. You can hit L1 to manually take control of a player if you think that someone else would be more suitable to make the play. Using the right analog stick you can control the special plays. Up will jump or climb the wall, left or right will dive that way, and down will slide. I have seen a lot more phenomenal catches than you do in a real game. I have only very rarely seen someone drop a ball on a diving catch in the outfield. We’re talking parallel extension, and some of these guys are still making the play. It’s not bad enough that it hurts the realism of the scores, or the stats, but it does seem a little unrealistic when a big fatty can jump and make that over the shoulder grab. Yes, fielding skill does come into play.
Once you have the ball, hitting each of the buttons throws to that base, X is home, Circle is First, etc. Once you hit the button to make the throw, our friend the meter makes his appearance. The longer you hold the button down, the harder you will throw. At the end of the meter is a red area where your throw will be hardest, but with the least amount of accuracy. I found this was a pretty accurate meter. If your feet are set, and your not moving the red area is VERY small. Trying to bare hand it, while on your knees falling backwards, and half of your meter is red. This gives strategy of do I really need to gun the ball over to first base? Can I risk it? What if I overthrow the base? What if the ball doesn’t get there in time? This is a really cool way to do fielding. It’s the best I’ve seen in a baseball game.
The other big part of MVP Baseball 2004, which I didn’t list as my personal major 3, is base running. Out of the three listed, this is the least favorite of mine. You use the D-Pad to pick which base you want to run to. The computer defaults you to the lead runner, but each runner on each base has a face button (just like throwing to a base). You can pick that runner, and individually pick where they are running. You can also use L1 to advance all, or R1 to retreat all. The right analog stick controls sliding. Up for headfirst, down for feet first. Push left for inside the bag, right for outside. Need to break up the double play at second? Slide feet first into the guy. Need to nail the catcher at home plate? Hold up.
I found the base running to be not intuitive. I have hit the ball for what should have been double-bases, and in my rush, I forget to use the “all” buttons (L1 and R1) so I advance the player, and then run him back to the base. I have played well over 20 games, so it’s not a matter of learning it, it’s just not intuitive as much as I would like. I have to keep reminding myself to use the all buttons, and for whatever reason, I don’t. I imagine this is because the rest of the game gives me so much individual control over each player that I don’t want to use the all buttons.
There are plenty of other features, all of them good. You have to warm people up before putting them into the game. Each pitcher/batter/pitch combination have hot and cold zones for batting. If a pitcher let’s a few hits on base he gets rattled and his meter moves faster than normal. You can then choose to visit the mound to try and calm the guy down. You can only use this feature once per inning, but it does seem very random to me. I have had positive, negative, and no reaction with little pattern to it.
Another really cool feature is in dynasty play, not only do you get a full 120 years of play, but you also control MLB, AAA, and AA teams. My Cleveland Indians can call up or send down players to the Buffalo Bisons, and/or the Akron Aeros. You can also play each of these games, for MORE baseball than I can handle. That’s a lot of games! Teams have chemistry ratings which go up and down. GMs get emails stating who’s unhappy with playing time or salary. You have short and long term goals. It’s a really really great dynasty mode. I have a lot of fun with this one. You have a payroll that goes up or down as you perform each season. My Indian’s and their measly 19,000 “units” of payment went down the first season from a horrid season, but the next season after over performing their expectations, it went up. (I lost CC Sabathia anyway, so I admit I manually edited some rookies and some vets to make the season a little more winnable).
Creating a player has a ton of options in addition to the many stats (right and left handed power, contact, etc) to edit. The game allows you to edit freely, and then assigns a point value to the guy so you can pick him up from free agency for a fair price based on his skill.
I didn’t even mention the home run and pitcher dual modes in which you have to hit a certain feet distance of homeruns, or hit a number of strikeouts before the opponent.
With as fun as MVP Baseball 2004 is, it doesn’t matter how the sound or graphics are, but they don’t disappoint. They have tons of animations and batting stances. Different pitching styles, strike out reactions, cut scenes. Play by play. Everything is good in the game. The game supports widescreen, and is THX certified for the sound systems for those that have receivers that support it.
I have only played one game online, and got crushed, but it was pretty lag free.
I can’t say enough good about MVP Baseball 2004. I’m not that big a baseball fan. I watch maybe 2 or 3 games a year, but I have played my way through about 20-30 games so far, although simming and only playing a game or two per month is the way I go.
If you’re a fan of baseball, I recommend you pick MVP Baseball 2004 up. There aren’t many negatives that I can see, and I’m pretty critical of the game. I’d say the worst part is the sound track. I didn’t like any of the songs that EA chose for the EA Trax that is now a standard part of all their sports titles.
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