Now that it’s March once again, that means it’s time for yet another installment of Sony’s venerable baseball franchise, MLB The Show. When I reviewed last year’s installment, I waxed philosophic about how each installment of a sports franchise is scrutinized closely for being worth another investment, to justify its existence as more than just a series of updated rosters and players. MLB 12 was a fantastic game, which built upon the strengths the series had in the past, and expanded into new areas. MLB 13 manages to once again surpass the level of quality the series had attained last year, and brought a bevy of new changes, not just in game play, but in new game modes as well.
When it comes to sports simulation games, particularly baseball games, there is no true rival to The Show. Sure, MLB2K comes out with a new game each and every year, but it’s really only for Xbox users, as for PS3 owners there’s no real reason to not choose The Show. This year, it really feels like they listened to fans of the series, and made natural improvements that improved the game play. The menus are smoother and cleaner, and there’s been an emphasis on enhancing the simulated experience. To this end, the sound effects of the crowd have been further developed, as they are more responsive and reactive to the on-field game play. Coupled with this, SCEA has downplayed the commentator tracks, which previously had been a bit oppressive in past iterations of The Show. Personally, I wasn’t really against the commentators, but they did get quite repetitive, and it felt like there weren’t many new lines recorded each and every year. Once you owned a few installments of the franchise, you’d heard the same lines over and over again. You can still hear the same old standbys, but the plentiful nature of the narration has been severely stripped down and limited. When you put this together with the increased crowd effects, it’s a nice touch.
In recent years, one of the more difficult-to-master techniques in the game has been that of hitting, and to help with this SCEA has introduced a new difficulty level, which is long overdue: the new Beginner mode. When selecting difficulties, I really like how you can select different difficulties for hitting, batting and fielding, allowing you to play to your strengths as a player. If you’re really good at pitching, like I am, you might select all-star difficulty, but if you’re really lacking as a hitter, you can put it on beginner. For beginner mode when hitting, there’s also varying levels of beginner mode, and as you manage to make contact with the ball, you rank up through six different levels. They haven’t added new control methods this year, but instead have retained the various options from prior games. This is a big plus, because it allows the game for greater customization. When playing against two friends, I used analog pitching, one instead opted for pulse pitching, and the last friend used the classic meter pitching mode.
The Road To The Show (RTTS) mode, long my favourite game mode in The Show, has had some small improvements, including smoother loading, and a more intuitive leveling up mechanism. While fast-forwarding to the player’s next interaction in the game, instead of just having a static loading screen, you actually have the option to watch the game play out from the dugout, or watching it happen digitally on the game screen. It’s a nice touch.
There are two new game modes this year, including The Show mode which allows you to play match-ups from any particular day in the season, similar to a recent game mode in NHL 13. The other new game mode is the new Postseason mode, which allows you to pick a couple teams and play through a post-season experience. The sound effects are amped up, and the feeling of the game feels different than a simple exhibition game. I played in postseason mode against two friends of mine, and it was a great deal of fun.
This year the developers have added online competitive functionality to Home Run Derby, which feels long overdue, and yet I’m glad that they waited till they got down the mechanics of how to make it work. My only complaint about the online Home Run Derby was that it felt a bit too easy to hit home runs, although still quite challenging when going up against rival players. Prior to the release of the game, I really wasn’t sure how the developers would be able to make a competitive Home Run Derby work, but they really surpassed any expectations I might have had. Instead of having each player go through their series of swings sequentially, each player hits at the same time, and you can see your ball’s trail compared to other players’.
This year once again features the ability to use save data on either the PS3 or Vita, and shuffle it between the two platforms. When using RTTS, for example, you can upload your save file to the cloud and then use it on the other platform, and it’s totally seamless. This year’s only real cross-play functionality, however, is that Vita players can play against PS3 players during the online Home Run Derby.
MLB 13 is a fantastic new installment in the franchise, which manages to both balance the strengths of prior installments while also adding in new ideas and elements. I’m always impressed that SCEA doesn’t just rest on their laurels each and every year, as it always feels like they take the time to address fan concerns, and add in new ideas and elements to better the overall product and experience. The little things, such as ensuring that each team has two throwback uniforms this time around, help add to the overall package. The Vita version of the game is far superior to MLB 12 for Vita, as it has a much smoother interface, the graphics are superior, there are more animations in the game, and the menus aren’t glitchy. Additionally, the game hasn’t (thus far) proven itself prone to random crashes/freezes, which is what happened with last year’s installment. Overall, this is yet another fantastic package, and well worth the additional investment into the franchise. SCEA hasn’t disappointed me yet, and I look forward to even more innovations in next year’s installment.