Tag Archive: baseball


Before getting into video games, I always thought sports would be the ultimate end goal of my media career—who knew you could make money playing and writing about video games—because all I ever wanted as a kid was to get into every game at Yankees Stadium for free. Obviously, my career took a different turn, but I still have an undying love for baseball (and still think I’m better than 90% of the play-by-play broadcasters out there). So, it is with renewed joy every spring that the baseball season gets underway, and with it my two loves of video games and baseball come together with the annual release of MLB The Show—and this year’s entry into the series is enough to have both gamers and sabermetricians alike excited.

MLB The Show 17 is a year where it feels like everything has come together for the franchise on the PS4. Whereas last year was a big focus on new modes and really expanding the series’ repertoire, this year was refining everything into a mold as perfectly cast as a Cooperstown plaque. While graphical improvements, ball physicals, and fielding animation improvements may not sound as exciting as brand new modes, they lend themselves to help make this the most realistic experience the series has yet provided for baseball fans. And, all it took was one full game in Franchise mode for me to be immediately blown away.

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My New York Yankees were opening up the season at Tropicana Field against the Tampa Bay Rays, and I was locked in a 0-0 tie in the fourth inning. Yankees second baseman Starlin Castro was stepping to the plate with one out when I ripped a changeup I was a little out in front of down towards third base. Evan Longoria made a dive to stop it. In previous years, this ball would often have been shot on a straight line, likely into Longoria’s glove—but right after the first hop about halfway between home plate and third base, the ball was clearly curving. In fact, it had curved in a way I had never seen before in a game, bouncing between Longoria’s outstretched glove and the bag, and into the Trop’s exposed bullpen area. A satisfied smirk crossed my face when the umpire pointed that the ball was fair. As my time with The Show 17 continued, I would have more moments like this, both on ground balls on the infield and fly balls down the line. I bring this up specifically because it provided a sense of realism—of true simulation—that I had never seen before from a baseball game.

Of course, just because the ball moves how it might in a real game now doesn’t mean it’s uncatchable. At the time of my writing this review, I’ve come a long way from that first game, and am well into the dog days of summer with both my Franchise and Road to the Show created player. Since then I’ve fielded dozens, if not hundreds, of ground balls, and a new tweak to throwing runners out on the basepaths is that you can now pre-load your throw by selecting the base before actually catching the ball. This allows not only for a more fluid and natural looking animation from when your player catches the ball to when they release it, but prevents a lot of the cheap infield hits that plagued previous entries in the series due to that extra delay caused by not being able to throw until obtaining possession of the ball.

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Besides the smoother animations this year, new character faces and models—coupled with three brand new presentation packages—provide a sleeker look to The Show as well. MLB Network now lends its entire graphics package, including all sorts of hit-tracking effects and replays, to The Show alongside two more “regional” looking setups for those games that aren’t necessarily game of the week caliber matchups or for those minor-league days in RTTS. Matt Vasgersian returns to do play-by-play (he’s one of those 10% who are better than me) with brand new lines, but is now joined by three-time gold glove winning second baseman Harold Reynolds and 18-year journeyman relief pitcher Dan Plesac from the MLB Network team. The commentary has been something I’ve been able to come down on for quite some time for The Show, but the addition of Reynolds and Plesac, along with their situational banter, really kept things fresh for far longer than normal this year on the announcer side of things.

Now, when playing The Show, I admit I am usually one of those control freaks who loves playing every single game from start to finish. Yet, even I admit a 162-game regular season can be a bit of a grind. And, in an attempt to mimic other sports games out on the market such as Madden that have added similar options in recent years, there are two new additions to Franchise to help speed up that process. One is called Critical Situations, and allows you to simulate large sections of a team’s schedule with The Show dropping you into individual games during moments that can decide the outcome. It’s a great way to circumvent that summer grind, and really move from game to game quickly. My only issue with this option thus far is that most of those moments seem to come sometime in the ninth inning, which takes a little bit of the impact out of the situation if you always know what’s coming.

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If you still want a touch more control when simming, there’s also the new Quick Manage and Player Lock options. Player lock has you follow key moments for an individual in the game and provides an experience similar to RTTS where you only follow your created player. Your chosen player’s fielding opportunities and at-bats are all you play. Meanwhile, Quick Manage gives you a more top-down approach, similar to just managing a game. You decide when to hit, bunt, steal, hit & run, pitch to a hitter, pitch for contact, pitch around them, change pitchers, and more. Every major decision can be done batter to batter from both sides of the ball, but unlike a straight CPU sim, you can drop in whenever you want. I found myself dropping in a lot because one negative I discovered with this option is that the AI is lacking, often stranding runners on third with nobody out, or failing to get them over in appropriate situations, even when calling for more situational hitting. Also, I’d love if I could more easily see match-up numbers, like how opponents do hitting against lefties or righties, from the main screen in this mode without having to navigate lots of menus or jump into the game to decide what substitutions I should make. It would help with the flow—and again plays into my micromanaging style—but I found this Quick Manage as a whole the best way for me to get through my season at a much more decent clip.

The other major offline mode for MLB The Show 17 is, of course, Road to the Show. In another attempt by The Show to mimic its sports game contemporaries out there, RTTS this year has focused on adding a stronger narrative direction while maintaining much of the gameplay from years past, streamlined by a cleaner user interface. This story, where an omnipresent narrator talks over new cutscenes that feature sit-downs with your manager and coaches in the clubhouse, along with branching dialogue paths that can dictate the future of your career and what your team thinks of you, is meant to help give a more human feel to what has become in years past a methodical grind to the top of baseball-dom. It’s not nearly as in depth as what is seen in NBA 2K or even what FIFA added last year, but it does add a lot of personality to the mode, and I hope this serves as the foundation for something deeper in later years. I found myself wanting to interact with my coaches more, and even looking for boosts or rewards of some sort stemming from my answers, so hopefully this is just the first step in taking an already great mode to a new level.

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The final staple of The Show’s repertoire is its online modes. The card-collecting Diamond Dynasty mode returns, and is addictive as ever if you get as involved with collectibles as I do. The single-player Conquest section of this suite, which features three-inning games with you using a team you build from those collected cards, also returns largely unchanged if fantasy match-ups are more your thing. There’s then online seasons and the returning Battle Royal mode that is basically baseball’s version of Madden and NHL’s Draft Champions, where you draft a fantasy team before taking on random opponents. The biggest issue with MLB The Show 17, however, is one that has plagued the series for years now: the fact that, at least thus far in the first week since launch, the online issues are ever-present. Although connecting with people seems to have resolved itself over the past few days, tremendous lag and online glitches are still constant. Balls getting stuck against the wall, players not leaving the batter’s box on hits (and subsequently being thrown out at first on shots into the gaps), and lag to where you can barely even see the ball, leave the online play again wanting.

Luckily, as I’ve lain out, there’s plenty to do offline, but it’s still disappointing that online play remains The Show’s bugaboo. And, while I focused primarily on the improvements to the series’ staple modes, there is one new mode that can also provide some local play if you’re looking for a throwback and still need that human competition. It’s honestly a bit of a throwaway mode really, but it’s a nice nod to cover athlete and new MLB Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr., and the early baseball games Griffey championed back in the NES, SNES, and N64 days. Retro mode, which features an 8-bit filter if you so choose, touts old-school sound effects and UI, and even two-button gameplay that out R.B.I. Baseball’s R.B.I. Baseball. After years of so many more complex button schemes, I admit it might’ve been the hardest thing to get used to in this year’s version of The Show—but it’s a nice little bonus for those of us old enough to remember the “good ol’ days”, although Junior’s weird, deadpan commentary on some plays and between innings was definitely not necessary.

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MLB The Show 17 is easily the pinnacle for the series thus far. It continues to add depth to its staple modes, and find new ways to increase the realism of its simulation experience. The narrative addition to RTTS could lay the foundation for even more exciting and immersive things in the future, while online play continues to nag the series at launch—but, with so much depth of play in the offline experience, some might not even notice. If you love baseball as much as I do, you’ll no doubt love MLB The Show 17, too.

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment • Developer: SIE San Diego Studio • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 03.28.17
9.0
MLB The Show 17 sets a new pinnacle for the franchise. It creates more depth for its tent pole modes and polishes everything else to a terrific gleam. Some online issues and glitches still continue to plague the series at launch, but you might get so engrossed in Franchise or RTTS that you won’t even notice until they’re fixed.
The Good New ball physics, quick manage mode, and the RTTS narrator are great additions to The Show’s best modes.
The Bad Consistent server and online issues. Again.
The Ugly How the heck did we ever see anything back in the 8-bit days?
MLB The Show 17 is a PS4 exclusive. Review code was provided by Sony for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

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Take me out to the ballgame

I’ve loved sports all my life, and while football and hockey have earned copious amounts of my attention over the years, my first love remains baseball. Many of my earliest sports memories revolve around playing, watching, and studying the game (my 1995 MLB Almanac that began my obsession with statistics still holds a special place in my personal library). So, it’s no wonder that I get an extra spring in my step when Opening Day begins to roll around once more. I start studying rosters, rotations, scouting reports, schedules, and more with the tenacity of an FBI manhunt for a most wanted criminal.

In recent years, my annual routine has slightly shifted to include playing MLB The Show. I’ve picked up every copy of the game since 2010, and have found it is a great way to prepare for the season—even if it’s never exactly been perfect. But each year I still return to the only true baseball simulation on the market to help take the edge off when I need a fix of America’s pastime.

This year’s entry into the annual franchise, MLB The Show 16, looked to enhance the game in every aspect and mode while also adding a bevy of new features, especially in their online suite. Some of these changes add a lot to the experience, and I can say Sony San Diego knocked them out of the park. Others, however, are clear swing and misses.

Visually, the game is stunning. More realistic lighting, and a whole slew of new hitting, running, and fielding animations makes this easily the prettiest entry in the series thus far. Even after putting nearly two-dozen hours into the offline modes, there wasn’t a glitch to be found.

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The core modes of MLB The Show—Franchise and Road to the Show—have also seen upgrades. Franchise mode, which gives you total control over your favorite MLB team, has more stats than ever before, and finally gives a player’s full career history when you look at their numbers. Baseball is a stats driven game, and it’s about time this was included.

Also, taking a page out of EA Sports’ NHL franchise, players now have morale indicators based on a variety of factors. These influence their performance, as well as the likelihood of them signing or re-signing a contract with your team. Whether your team is located close to their home, how much money you’re offering, the coach, your team’s position in the standings, and much more will affect the player’s happiness level, making contract negotiations a more involved process than just throwing more money at players.

Road to the Show, which gives you a chance to create a player and live out your own major league aspirations, has added even more new features than Franchise. One new aspect in particular hugely changes gameplay here, and it’s called “Showtime”. This special meter allows players to slow down time and focus on really big moments. Need to make a diving catch to save a run? Stepping to the plate, down by three with the bases loaded and wanting to walk-off in style? Slow down time, hone in on the moment, and come through in the clutch. It takes a fair amount of time to get used to—especially when you slow down your at-bats at the plate—but when you get the timing down, it’s a fun new wrinkle to help accelerate your player’s growth from AA-prospect to MLB-superstar.

Another way that RTTS accelerates your development is that you can play entire series after one load screen. Sitting down and fast-forwarding to each of your at-bats and moments in the field in three or four game clips really zips you through the minors if you’re good enough. I polished off my first month of the season in just a couple hours, a process that used to take much longer in previous years.

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Besides this, new training tools allow you to add perks to your players as they improve, like better contact when hitting to cut down on strikeouts in high-pressure situations, or increasing the likelihood of opponents making errors in the field so you always get on base. The mode even kicks off with a chance to play in the Bowman Scout Day, helping define your player the second you start down the path to a major league career.

The biggest changes that came to MLB The Show 16, though, easily fall under Diamond Dynasty, MLB’s online fantasy mode that lets you put together a dream team by collecting different player cards. More cards are available than ever before, and that’s because of a new category called “Flashbacks.” These cards feature superstar players who might be in the twilight of their career, but with statistics from different chapters of their MLB playing time. Texas Rangers MVP Alex Rodriguez, and Oakland Athletics rookie Kurt Suzuki are just a couple of the new cards featured, and Legend cards also return featuring the likes of Nolan Ryan, making it so you can turn your online team into a juggernaut in no time.

To help flesh out your rosters, there are also more ways than ever to get cards, using either the franchise’s traditional in-game currency earned by playing the game known as “stubs,” or the brand new ticket currency added to MLB The Show 16. When you start the game, you’ll be allowed to pick from one of six special captains from around baseball: cover boy and reigning AL MVP Josh Donaldson from the Blue Jays; Mets pitcher Jacob DeGrom; retiring Red Sox slugger David Ortiz; defending world champion Royals first-baseman Eric Hosmer; Astros speedster second baseman Jose Altuve; and Cubs superstar first-baseman Anthony Rizzo. By playing different modes in MLB The Show 16, you’ll earn experience towards each captain. In a way, the six captains work as a form of prestige for the game itself, because by leveling up each captain to their max, you’ll have a chance to buy special cards associated with each one at higher levels. Each captain also offers unique challenges towards earning those award tickets, which can then also be redeemed for special reward cards.

I like the idea behind the captain system, but I think, as it is, it’s a bit too convoluted. Trying to keep track of what challenge you’re going for and introducing a second currency feels like a ham-fisted attempt at trying to jam more overarching content into the game. Plus, limiting the system to only these captains—instead of offering less levels to max each one out, but representing each team around baseball—feels like a missed opportunity. Not to mention, you can always find a lot of the cards being offered in random packs or the game’s online auction house. The inside track this mode offers doesn’t really expedite anything, considering the grind to max each captain out to get to the best cards available.

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There are also two new modes in MLB The Show 16’s online suite of games.

Diamond Dynasty is no longer limited to just playing people in head-to-head matchups, as there’s now also a weird RTS Risk-style game where you take your team online in an attempt to conquer all the other MLB teams across North America. By playing and winning repeated games, you’ll earn more fans and your influence will grow. When you completely absorb the fan base of another team, you’ll conquer their region.

I love the concept, but as is, even with each game being limited to 3-inning exhibitions, this mode is a grind to play. It might take you days to beat Conquest even once, and considering the game forces you to play on higher difficulties when you have fewer fans (or your fans are too spread out between multiple fronts), the reward for playing feels minimal compared to the time investment.

The other new mode is Battle Royale, which takes a page out of EA Sports’ Madden playbook in that it comes off a lot like their Draft Champions. You begin the mode by drafting a 25-man team from current and hall of fame baseball players. After setting your line-up, you have to hop online and play 3-inning games against human players. If you win, you’ll earn more player cards. The more you win, the better cards you get, and the stiffer the competition you’ll face as online rankings start being taken into account. If you lose twice, the mode is over and you have to re-draft and start over, trying to win crappy cards again before moving on up. The mode is also a gamble as it requires 1500 stubs to play. That isn’t a monumental amount, but it’s enough for most folks to take pause before jumping right in—and the rewards don’t feel like they justify the time sink.

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Unfortunately, I ran into one major issue with these new modes during my time with MLB The Show 16, and that’s the fact that they require you to be online in order to play them (unlike RTTS and Franchise). Lo and behold, just like almost every other year, the game’s servers have been completely unstable at launch. In fact, in the first 48 hours of playing post-release, I’ve had more full disconnects from MLB The Show’s online servers than I’ve been able to connect and finish a 3-inning game with people. And even when I do connect, the lag is atrocious.

Talking with friends and even the strangers I’ve played online, I’ve found they are experiencing the same issues. I’ve played other online games without a hitch, again pointing to the fact that just like every year, Sony San Diego could not get their online act together in time for launch. It’s a huge disappointment, especially considering these new modes are all tied directly to online play.

There also seems to be a tendency on Sony San Diego’s part to fix things that aren’t broken instead of fixing things that are. I’m sure the servers will get to a better point sooner rather than later, but minor things like UI changes to the menus and stat cards for players—including player stamina meters now being a circle bar instead of a more clearly readable long bar like in last year’s game—just seem wholly unnecessary when you have these sorts of netcode problems.

A part of me wonders if it all stems from the fact that MLB The Show 16 maybe tried to offer too much new stuff this go around. Had they focused on making a couple of the new features they included as polished and user-friendly as possible, and for once had a smooth online launch, this could’ve been a very special baseball sim. As it is, it is very good, with some solid ideas being added, yet you can’t help but knock them for botching online play again—especially when the majority of new features are connected to it. You can’t win the World Series in the first month of the season, but you can lose it with a slow start, and there’s no doubt that MLB The Show 16 at least stumbled out of the gate on that one. That said, if you need a baseball fix and find you spend most of your time playing RTTS and Franchise modes anyway, MLB The Show 16 delivers in spades on those fronts.

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Developer: SCEA San Diego • Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 03.29.16
8.0
MLB The Show 16 continues to find innovative ways to push the series forward by adding new features and improving on old ones. Some new problems have arisen, however, and old ones—most notably the horrendous stability of online play—continue to persist and hold the series back.
The Good Deeper Road to the Show mode, better visuals, and the concept of new online modes.
The Bad The online play itself is as atrocious as ever.
The Ugly Even with thousands of new lines of commentary recorded, Steve Lyons, Eric Karros, and Tom Vasgersian still started to repeat themselves after only a half-dozen games or so.
MLB The Show 16 is available on PS4 and PS3. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Sony for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

Swing and a miss

Like many others who grew up with R.B.I. Baseball, I was thrilled when I found out it would be making a return on modern platforms after two decades of dormancy. As a pioneer of baseball on consoles, R.B.I. Baseball obtained the license from the MLB Players Association to be the first game to feature actual player names back in the 1980s. Now, 20 years after the last game to bear the name—with this new title developed by Major League Baseball itself—R.B.I Baseball looks to reignite a passion in arcade-style sports games that has been snuffed out by the barrage of simulation games over the past couple of decades.

Unfortunately, it seems that the inexperience Major League Baseball has in actually making videogames is an issue. R.B.I. Baseball 14 is one of the biggest wastes of time and money I’ve ever had the displeasure of putting on one of my home consoles.

R.B.I. Baseball 14 has only three modes: Exhibition to play a single game, Season to play a full 162-game schedule (with options for shorter seasons), and Playoffs to jump right to October with your favorite team. As a baseball junkie, I jumped into a full Season mode and felt I’d get enough of a sense of the game. After eight games as my beloved New York Yankees, I never want to pick my controller up for the sake of this game ever again.

Let’s start by looking at the presentation. Once you’re past the colorful opening screen and get into an actual game, you’ll quickly grow weary of looking at the same three player models over and over again. Each stadium at least has a bit more character to it, with familiar landmarks etched out behind outfield walls, but you only get brief glimpses of them on long flyballs or home runs. You’re then met with the same repetitive scoreboard between innings, no matter the stadium, and the most annoyingly wretched jingle outside of your local doctor office’s elevators.

Also, while I’m fully aware that this is an arcade-style game and that stats aren’t stressed here, I can’t stand the fact that when a player comes to bat, his 2013 stats are shown every time. If you’re going to make that big of a deal about old numbers, you should update them for how well I do in the game—or nix them altogether.

I could deal with some lackluster visuals, however, if the gameplay provided a worthwhile experience. It doesn’t. The worst aspect? The defense. Every flyball is an adventure, because the game offers no indication whatsoever of where the ball will land. Cans of corn turn into inside-the-park home runs, infield flies into doubles, and every foul ball into another opportunity for the batter to punish you for not being able to judge virtual depth from a bird’s-eye view of the field.

Pitching is the next shortcoming. While R.B.I. Baseball 14’s pitching mechanics are a throwback to those versions we played on the NES, with every pitcher having a screwball, a fastball, and a really hard fastball that you can move around while the ball is in motion, the idea of managing pitching is completely lost. Every starting pitcher can only go four to six innings before becoming too tired to continue effectively in most instances. But there’s only one actual relief pitcher in your bullpen, so you’re often just rotating starters for other starters because the invisible stamina meters for the pitchers are out of whack.

At least hitting and baserunning are fairly straightforward, relying mostly on timing and not having to worry about a power swing versus a normal swing or matching up overlays with both analog sticks or anything too insane. It’s such a simple mechanic that even R.B.I. Baseball 14 couldn’t find a way to mess it up.

This doesn’t mean things get better outside of the batters box and the bases, though. The computer AI is atrocious, and remember those tired pitchers I mentioned before? Sometimes the computer forgets to adjust to the slower velocity you have. I struck out the side in three of the last four innings I pitched with Masahiro Tanaka after he was “exhausted” throwing 62 mph “fastballs.” The computer kept swinging early as if I were still throwing 93 mph.

The AI also has as much difficulty fielding as you do, often just standing still as slow groundballs find their way to the outfield while the first baseman and second baseman stare blankly at each other. Sometimes the computer will make up for this, though, and magically teleport the ball into a fielder’s glove. They don’t even have to be on the same side of the field!

Really, the only good part of R.B.I. Baseball 14 is the mercy rule: If you’re ahead by more than 10 runs past the 5th inning, the game is over. I was able to institute that in a couple of my games, and I was grateful: The game mercifully, for me, came to an early end.

In all seriousness, Major League Baseball should be as embarrassed about R.B.I. Baseball 14 as they were about the 1994 strike and the steroid scandals. This game is an abomination, and it’s not a worthy representation of the sport. Don’t even look this game’s way—or you risk losing your baseball-loving soul.

Developer: MLB Advanced Media • Publisher: MLB.com • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 06.24.14
2.0
R.B.I. Baseball 14 features horrible presentation, broken AI, and lacks so many features that no one with any love for the sport of baseball will be able to stomach playing the game.
The Good Mercy rules added to the basic baseball parameters.
The Bad Computer AI; the presentation; the defensive aspects of the game.
The Ugly Every single stadium and player model.
R.B.I. Baseball 14 is available on Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360, PS3, iOS, Android. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Sony for the benefit of this review.

THE BUZZ: Sony announced today that the 2011 Gold Glove Winner at first base in the American League, Adrian Gonzalez of the Boston Red Sox, will grace MLB 12: The Show’s cover.

Gonzalez came to Beantown in the 2010-2011 off-season via a trade with the San Diego Padres and showed that the big market pressure would not faze him as he produced 27 HRs, 117 RBIs, and a .338 batting average in 159 games.

Gonzalez also marks the 3rd Red Sox to grace The Show’s cover in its 7th year after David Ortiz did it in the inaugural year of the franchise in 2006 and Dustin Pedroia did it in 2009. This selection also continues the trend that no outfielder or pitcher has ever graced the franchise’s cover.

EGM’S TAKE: This Boston bias that Sony is showing is a little ridiculous. Pedroia and Ortiz both made sense when they graced the cover, but Gonzalez will be lucky to even make the Top 5 in AL MVP voting after stellar years from guys like the New York Yankees’ Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson, Toronto’s Jose Bautista, Texas’s Michael Young, the White Sox’s Paul Konerko, or Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander. Not to mention National Leaguers like Ryan Braun or Prince Fielder of the Brewers, Matt Kemp of the Dodgers, or World Series Champion pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals Chris Carpenter, any of whom also would’ve been more than worthy to grace the cover.

Although Verlander was snatched up first by 2K and you wouldn’t want a pair of players from the same team to grace the only baseball games on the market so that eliminates Cabrera, there are still clearly better selections for the cover. Not to mention it is arguable that Gonzalez shouldn’t even have been in the Top 3 for the Gold Glove this year as he robbed players like the Yankees’ Mark Teixeira, the Rays’ Casey Kotchman, and Detroit’s Cabrera again, showing once more that offensive numbers somehow influence defensive awards. Heck, Gonzalez is barely in the Top 3 in the division when it comes to fielding and I’m tempted to put Toronto’s Adam Lind ahead of him.

All of this on top of the fact that he was part of the greatest collapse in baseball history blowing a nine game Wild Card lead with his Red Sox in the last month of the season.

The only explanation I might have is that Sony’s San Diego based studios have a soft spot for the guy for all the time he put in with the Padres and as long as he had a good year, this may have been planned ahead of time. It still seems fishy to me though when there are clearly better choices available to you.

What do you guys think of Adrian Gonzalez making the cover? Are you bigger fans of 2K or The Show? Is The Show showing a Boston bias? What other athletes may have been more deserving?

THE BUZZ: 2K Games announced today that their cover boy for MLB 2K12 is the front runner for the 2011 Cy Young Award and a strong candidate to be the first League MVP since 1992 to be a pitcher (Dennis Eckersley, Oakland Athletics), Detroit Tigers’ number one starter Justin Verlander.

“Justin’s amazing performance this season speaks for itself, between his second career no-hitter and leading the league in virtually every pitching category, I can’t think of anyone else but Justin Verlander to serve as the face of Major League Baseball 2K12, ” said Jason Argent, vice president of marketing for 2K Sports on the decision.

Verlander led the Tigers to the ALCS before falling to the Texas Rangers. In the regular season, Verlander led the majors with 24 wins against 5 losses with a 2.40 ERA this year in 251 innings pitched and an almost unheard of .920 WHIP. He threw four complete games, including two shutouts, one of them being his second career no-hitter.

“It’s a dream come true to be on the cover of Major League Baseball 2K12,” added Verlander. “I’ve worked closely with 2K Sports on the MLB 2K series since 2007, and I couldn’t be more excited to continue my relationship with such a great baseball game.”

EGM’S TAKE: Verlander is clearly one of, if not the most, dominate pitchers in baseball and was an easy choice to name him the cover boy for 2K. The big question that arises now though is who will grace the cover of MLB 12: The Show, which has emerged as the more quality franchise even though it’s a Sony exclusive, with Verlander off the table? To check out the reveal trailer for the game, scroll down!

What do you guys think Justin Verlander making the cover? Are you bigger fans of 2K or the Show? Let us know with comments below!

Originally Published: March 8, 2011, on youtube.com/RCars4885

I come to you once again with your weekly geek fix from my mother’s basement! This week’s episode sees me review Batman Beyond #3 from DC Comics and MLB 11 The Show for the PS3. My hot chick pick of the week is Jayonna Fabro and this week’s theme is The Ice Titan theme from Castlevania: Lords of Shadow by the Bratislava Symphony Orchestra.

Originally Published: February 26, 2011, on PlayerAffinity.com and Original-Gamer.com

Most of us single guys out there (and maybe even some of us with significant others) saw only one significance with February 14th this year: Pitchers and Catchers are officially reported. And with the crack of the bat and the smell of fresh cut grass soon to be once again bombarding our senses, we know that baseball season is right around the corner.

Something else that’s right around the corner that also comes as a harbinger of the upcoming glorious baseball season is Sony adding another chapter to their premiere baseball series MLB The Show.

MLB 11 The Show will hit store shelves on March 8th, 2011, and so as spring training really starts to get underway, I had a chance to talk with Jason Villa, the Senior Producer for MLB 11 The Show, about just what will separate this year’s version from previous incarnations and just who The Show predicts will win it all this year!

Ray Carsillo: The first thing most people notice with a game is the game cover. There’s always a lot of hype surrounding the cover athletes for sports games, but The Show broke the tradition of having a different cover athlete every year with this year’s return of Joe Mauer after gracing last year’s cover. Joe is clearly an elite player in the game, but what made you want to bring him back again?

Jason Villa: Well, to your point, Joe Mauer continues to be a driving force in Major League Baseball as the premier all around player in the game. Year in and year out, MLB The Show delivers the best baseball gameplay experience available, truly in a class of its own, so I could not think of a more worthy ambassador to once again represent the highest rated, best selling baseball video game franchise of all time.

RC: The first of the new features I want to delve into is the new Co-op mode. Baseball is probably the most individualistic of the team sports as the game revolves around the very base match-up of the pitcher vs. the hitter. How was it that you were able to integrate a co-op mode and explain how it works?

JV: Yes, I agree that the one-on-one element between the pitcher and the batter is probably the most important element of the game. If you have a Roy Halladay on the mound, sometimes you wonder if the fielders are even going to bother bringing their gloves with them out to their positions. But when you have a sport like baseball where only one team averaged a winning margin of over 1 run a game (Yankees +1.02), there is something to be said for the little things that come from good teamwork. A well timed hit and run, sacrificing a runner into scoring position, or hitting your cutoff man and him making a strong relay throw could really make a difference in a game. While our regular exhibition, season, and Road to the Show modes focus on what the individual can do, Co-op stresses the importance of playing more of a team game.

Co-op is set up to allow you to play 2 players vs 2 players, 2 players vs 1 player, or 2 players vs the CPU. When you first select to play Co-op, you will be given a variety of player control options. Defensively, you choose who will handle the outfielders, the infielders, the catcher, and the pitcher. With the pitcher, you have an option to alternate, meaning you will switch control each inning between the two teammates. Offensively, you also have the choice to give all the hitting to one teammate or alternate each at-bat. When you alternate batters, whichever teammate is not at-bat, will be responsible for controlling the base runners if there are any. At the beginning of each at-bat, a Player Control OSD will appear from the scoreboard in case you need a quick reminder of who is responsible for what. Although, we love to give everyone the ability to customize the control to their liking, we have defaulted the options to a way that best promotes the focus of playing as teammates. Without defaults, both teammates will be responsible for different parts of a relay throw from the outfield. Both teammates will be responsible for different parts of a sacrifice or a hit and run. Co-op adds a new level of realism that exists in baseball by making more than one person responsible for making smart decisions on a single play. It also adds a new level of trash talk as well when your partner fails to deliver. Hopefully it doesn’t ruin friendships.

RC: Baseball video games do a great job of eliminating a lot of the inherit downtime that occurs in the game, but are you afraid of co-op players getting bored incase there are three ground ball outs in an inning and they’re playing the outfield or they choose to play as the 4, 5, 7, and 8 hitters in a line-up and their friend starts the game off by going down 1-2-3?

JV: When we initially started designing this mode, we considered this question a lot. This is how the idea of alternating came about. Instead of allowing the user to choose specific batters to control in the lineup, choosing to alternate means if you are not batting, then you are on-deck. You will never have to wait more than one batter to participate. And even more importantly, if you are on-deck, you are controlling the base runners so you may still be busy. As for fielding, we divided up the responsibilities as much as we could while still trying to keep the user from feeling uninvolved. But you are right, there is only so much we can do. If the pitcher dominates, the fielders aren’t going to see much action. But that is baseball. Fortunately, that option to alternate the pitching helps with this as well.

One cool element that you might not be aware of is that we have given the users the ability to “call off” a teammate. Let’s say that there is a shallow fly ball to left field and the SS is chasing it down. If your teammate in LF is within range and has a play on the ball, he can take control of the fielding responsibility with a simple button press. We set it up to work how it works in real baseball. Infielders can call of the pitcher. Outfielders can call off the infielders, but not the other way around. Just another smaller detail that makes the game feel more realistic. It is going to be pretty tough to feel bored unless you change the settings to exclude one teammate from doing things. But with the default settings, everyone is going to have plenty of work to do.

RC: Moving away from the co-op, if you’re like me, you don’t want to be weighed down by your friends and will probably be playing more games versus people or the computer by yourself. For some of us Show veterans though, the control scheme this go around has changed and now features the Pure Analog Control System and is supposed to provide the most accurate experience to date. Tell us how the Pure Analog Control System works and just what aspects of the game we can see this pinpoint accuracy in.

JV: Pure Analog Pitching allows users to control pitch height, location, and velocity with the right analog stick. Pulling down on the right analog stick begins the pitcher’s delivery as a ball icon moves gradually downward towards a yellow line that represents your ideal pitch height. Time it such that you push the stick upward at precisely the time the ball icon hits this yellow line. Inside-outside pitch location is a result of the direction you push the right analog stick up. How hard you flick the right stick up will determine how much effort the pitcher will put into the throw. Your timing, accuracy, and speed are all taken into account when delivering a pitch with Pure Analog Pitching.

To use the new Pure Analog Hitting system, simply pull back on the R-stick to stride and push forward in the direction of the incoming pitch to drive through the ball. Be sure to time your stride just as the pitcher releases the ball, a poorly timed stride will result in a less powerful swing. Don’t try to hold you’re stride back just waiting for the pitch – you’ll loose power! Time it like a real swing and begin your stride as the pitcher’s getting ready to deliver! Getting that solid hit has never been so rewarding!

Pure Analog Throwing offers a new way to experience fielding in The Show, as you can now control both the accuracy and power behind your throws. Push the analog stick towards any base to release your throw, or hold L1 while pushing the stick in any direction to throw the ball from the outfield to the cutoff man. Holding the stick longer will put a little extra mustard on the ball, but make sure to keep your throws accurate by pushing the analog stick in a straight line. Keep in mind that you can adjust Analog Throwing difficulty to make your experience more enjoyable. With a little practice, you’ll be filling up your trophy cabinet with gold gloves in no time!

RC: Speaking of the controls, MLB The Show 11 is compatible with the PS Move controller, but only in the HR Derby mode. Why limit the Move to only the Derby mode?

JV: The PS Move is going to be a big part of our plans going forward, but it will take some time to make sure it works the best it can within all areas of gameplay (batting, pitching, fielding, base running) and at the high level that we expect from our features. For this year, however, we were only able to include Move functionally with Home Run Derby.

RC: A returning feature and a staple of the series, Road to the Show, comes with a complete facelift, which is saying something considering how it is already one of the most in-depth experience simulators out there. What new features did you add this year to Road to the Show while also maintaining a balance with the authenticity and detail that the mode is known for?

JV: We started out this year’s design by looking at what we had already done with the mode, and what areas we felt maybe were lacking or needed the full facelift. After analyzing the mode, we determined one area that needed a tweak was the create player process. We’ve heard lots of community suggestions regarding creating more realistic player abilities right out of the gate. This was the overall goal we had when creating the new interactive create player sliders. We evaluated the types of skills player posses, and determined that most skills come at a price to another. This was the approach we took for the new sliders. So if you want to create a power hitter, your sacrifice comes from your initial contact abilities. Or for pitchers, establishing yourself as a control pitcher comes as a sacrifice to your initial movement. While we created this new system, we also kept in some of the old elements that limit your abilities based on position as well. So if you want to create a fast catcher, he’ll be exactly that, not necessarily a fast player. Of course all areas are still trainable so even though you picked to be a power hitter, if you work on your contact over time, you can be a double threat.

From there we examined the advancement goal process and found that improvements were needed more-so than a facelift. We’ve altered our evaluation logic to now compare your stats versus the players around you. In the past, you were evaluated separately, but now you will be in full competition to the players around you. This opens up the ability to fast track to the MLB if you overachieve in an organization that may be lacking in your position, while it also means you can lose your spot if an up and coming player is playing at a higher level than you. Along with this addition, we’ve also adjusted our expectations to be more in-line with your abilities. The goals themselves are still challenging, but we’ve modified our expectations based on data from real players. Your target attribute levels are completely in-line with your real-life counterparts.

The last big change in the mode is how we award training points. We’ve completely remodeled this area by creating a new Performance Evaluator system. This system analyzes your plate appearances, or batters faced, and then grades you based on a number of factors. The system looks at how many pitches you saw (or threw), the type contact of the hit, and the play result to then award you a grade and training points. Not only does it summarize the at-bat, but we also evaluate things during that at-bat to determine areas you excel or fall short in. We evaluate your swing timing, pitch recognition ability, percentage of strikes versus balls thrown, etc… and use that data to then trigger trainings. The training modes themselves have been overhauled as well to now focus on specific areas to improve on. As mentioned before, we trigger specific training types based on areas of the game you need to improve on. These trainings include contact, plate discipline, pitch location, specific pitch type trainings, a few others. The trainings also have levels of difficulty where you will start at level 1 and progress through the levels as you achieve the target success ratings.

A few smaller changes that add to the facelift of the mode include: New minor league playing time logic that focuses on developing your player. This means as a position player, the majority of your appearances will be starting and playing the whole game. Manager interactions have been updated to refine the logic for what is available and when, as well as the types of results you get should you initiate an interaction. A new playing time screen appears before each appearance to give you the ability to decide if you want to play that game or not. This screen lets you know if you are starting that day or not, and if not, it tells you the situation you are being brought into giving you the choice to play or sim that game. Finally, we removed the goals you would be given during the course of the game as simply these were just too obvious. You will no longer be told to take a strike, or drive the runner in. We felt these situations were just too obvious and disrupted the flow of the game.

RC: Another returning feature that will probably get a lot of diehard fans’ revved up is the return of the online leagues and this has also gotten an upgrade. Talk about what all those pseudo-commissioners will be able to tinker with in the revamped Online League.

JV: This year, we’ve finally been able to add and tighten up the loose ends we’ve been wanting to for years. Just to run down a quick list… New Create League process (with more customization), Leagues and Divisions (both able to be named), custom division amounts and sizes, ability to use a custom roster in leagues, CPU controlled teams (to fill up and play vacant spots), user management (to move users from divisions to others, set teams, etc..), Role Management (to give other users commish rights), ability to Reset and Simulate games, ability to change sliders and league settings throughout the league, and an all New Schedule Generator.

RC: Continuing with the online features, there is also a new mode called Challenge of the Week, that just in the title sounds a lot like the Left 4 Dead 2 Mutations. What exactly does the Challenge of the Week entail and give us a couple of examples of what players will have to do?

JV: Challenge of the week is designed to be a pick up and play, fast paced arcade batting skills challenge. The entire mode centers around a scoring system that rewards quality hits and increases in difficulty with each consecutive success. There is a Bonus system where users can gain momentum and/or point boosts for achieving them within a given time frame, the Bonuses change for each new challenge and are a key piece for success in Challenge of the Week. Each weekly challenge will be based on real events in the previous week of Baseball. For example, let’s say in the 2nd week of the season, Strasburg throws his first perfect game and he does so facing the Mets. In another game of the Nats/Mets series, Wright hits for the cycle. The next week you might see Strasburg face Wright with Bonuses for “cycle like” performance.

RC: What are some of the rewards players can get by completing these challenges? Is there a bank system that keeps tracks of how many challenges you complete? Are certain challenges worth more than others?

JV: The Challenge of the Week “weekly” prizes range from autographed balls/bats/jerseys to trips to a ML game of your choice. We also have a Monthly and two Grand Prize winners. Monthly winners are the combined total of a 4 week period, and the two Grand Prize winners are the totals of the 12 weekly scores. Our goal is to have each challenge VERY close in points each and every week.

RC: Now, something The Show has always been head and shoulders above the competition with has been the A.I. that it features, from Umpire Personalities, to proper situation intelligence from the CPU. This has also led to The Show making some great predictions for the season ahead. So, with spring training right around the corner, does The Show say the Philadelphia Phillies will be as good this year as they seem to be on paper and if not, then who is going to win it all?

JV: In all of my simulations, there are few surprises… Surprise 1: The Dodgers win the west / wild card around 70% of the time. Surprise 2: The White Sox are in the playoffs 80% of the time. Surprise 3: Ok, maybe this isn’t a surprise, but the Red Sox are GOOD. Philly beatin’ good!

RC: As a Yankees fan, that wasn’t what I was hoping to hear. Thanks to Jason Villa for taking the time to answer my questions. MLB 11 The Show will be available as a Sony exclusive for baseball fans everywhere on March 8, 2011.

Little League World Series 2010 Review

Originally Posted: August 27, 2010 on PlayerAffinity.com

It is a time of the summer when the crack of the bat is replaced by an aluminum ping and the average player goes from being 6′ 5″ to more like 5′ 4″. It is a time when Williamsport, Pennsylvania, plays host to kids from all over the world who care more about getting their homework done than a seven-figure salary as they all vie for a shot at the world title.

In honor of the actual Little League World Series tournament going on (I’m actually watching an elimination game as I write this); I felt it would be prudent to review the corresponding video game. For the first time we see the cartoony graphics and kid-friendly gameplay mechanics leap over to the more adult oriented game systems. That’s right; LLWS 2010 is now available on all systems, including Xbox 360 and PS3 and that alone makes this game deserve a look.

With the leap to the new systems, there are promises of more surprises and content besides just achievements or trophies. Unfortunately, most of the promises of deeper gameplay and a more enthralling experience are false. The addition of being able to compare your stats online is a nice feature and a new season style mode to settle the tournament is a different take on things for sure if you don’t want to go through the traditional tournament. The inclusion of new mini-games such as a Simon-like memory game and a baseball bowling hybrid help flesh out the game, but besides all this it’s really the same experience as the 2009 version.

You select where your team originates from various regions and countries all over the world and can customize the look of your team after choosing a mascot from a previously compiled list. You then play through the deepest regional tournament mode to date to see if you can become the team to represent your region or country (being from Jersey, I always try to represent the hometown Toms River powerhouses in the Mid-Atlantic region). If you continue to win, you continue to advance until you hopefully take home the trophy that serves as the ultimate representation of teamwork and selflessness as Little League World Champs.

In order to help you out, just like in the previous games, you can use cards that you earn by doing well (like in Madden from the late 90s-early 2000s) to bolster your stats for an at-bat, an inning, or an entire game. By also doing well in a particular game, you can earn levels that you can use to have you pitcher throw fire, literally, for an at-bat, or to give your superstar player the ability to hit an instant home run if they make contact.

Brent Musberger and Gary Thorne return to the do the limited play-by-play that stresses “sportsmanship and fair play” and the graphics at least are crisper and cleaner than in previous years, even if all the players are still very anime influenced, showing that developer NOW Productions took advantage of the better processing power of the new systems, even though LLWS 2010 still won’t push the Xbox 360 or PS3 anywhere near to where they are capable of going.

Clearly, this is a game geared towards kids who are still eligible for the LLWS and taking that into consideration, this is a solid experience overall. The game allows you to use a strong A.I. to help with fielding and base-running if necessary, although it does make the wrong decision sometimes in taking one base too few or having the wrong fielder go for the ball. It can be forgiven though because it always works both ways. The graphics are also the best they’ve been for the series, even if they are a little too anime influenced for a simulation game. There is no plot to speak of with a simulation because it all revolves around how you do with your particular team and so it is like you write your own storylines. Add in a brand new season mode and deeper tournament mode and you have a very strong rental experience, but I doubt this will hold any up and coming baseball diehards’ attention for too long.

Overall: 7.0/10

-Ray Carsillo

It’s always nice when you actually get credit for something. Thanks to the fine folks at Atari for passing this along. Check out the :26 mark.

Better than a Babe Ruth League

Originally Published: May 28, 2010, on Examiner.com, PlayerAffinity.com, and ESPNNewYork.com

I still reminisce every now and then about the glorious springs of my youth when baseball season would start and once our local organized little leagues were finished, my friends and I would head down to the park and play stick ball on abandoned tennis courts, wiffle ball on side streets, or home run derby on empty diamonds. Something that’s going to make me reminisce a little bit more about those days is the latest entry into the Backyard Sports series, Backyard Sports: Sandlot Sluggers.

Before reading my full review of the game, be sure to check out my interview with the producer of Sandlot Sluggers, Roland Lesterlin.

The first thing you notice about Sandlot Sluggers is how great looking this game is, especially for the Xbox 360. The graphics are bright and colorful and the cut scenes for the story mode (more on that in a second) are done in stylized outlines and shadows that give it a unique and pleasing visual presence. There are a couple of glitches when you’re playing sometimes, but other than that the game is just plain pretty.

The audio is also very solid and rounds out the peripherals nicely. With cute commentary from the local old men who serve as the announcers for your games to the simple menu instrumentals, the game isn’t an audio revolution, but it works and is probably what you would expect from a game geared more towards teaching kids about sports and sportsmanship.

The biggest improvement to the series though comes with the brand new story mode (told you I’d get to it) that helps to deviate this game from your normal baseball sim. Playing the role of the new kid after fully customizing your look from the color of your glove to your head shape, it is up to you to unite the local kids into a team of superstars to take down Jimmy Knuckles and his squad of bullies who have pummeled all other teams into submission. Only by beating the teams of the eight other good kids can you recruit them onto your squad and gain access to Knuckles’ diamond behind the local school. Coupled with mini-games after every couple of victories to improve your squad’s equipment, the story mode is a great way to give life to the characters as well as to teach your little one the ins and outs of the game of baseball.

The gameplay is solid baseball action mixed in with the classic power-ups and special abilities you’ve come to expect from the Backyard Sports series. From booger balls that cover the screen and make it impossible to see the ball to icicle bats that freeze the first fielder to touch the ball, the new power-ups add a great element of randomness and a true sense of “it ain’t over till it’s over” to the game. And they might just help mom or dad keep them even with their little slugger.

Each field you play in also has its own unique qualities that add to the gameplay. From Pablo’s dog grabbing balls that go near his doghouse for ground rule doubles to balls bouncing into the playground’s sandbox for automatic triples, the field you play in adds to the unique strategies that can come into play.

There were a couple of negatives I saw to the gameplay as well though. The most obvious negative is the fact that a run doesn’t count if the final out is made on the base paths. The baseball rule is that if the run scores before the third out, the run counts. It was very irritating to get into rundowns trying to stretch a single into a double and then find out that the runner from third crossed home, but it never counted because I made the third out.

Speaking of running blunders, another glitch that drove me nuts was if I got caught stealing for the third out of an inning, the batter at the plate would be skipped over instead of leading off the next inning. This glitch baffled me and really made me think twice about when and whom I would run with. These glitches took away from the experience some and made me a little hesitant when it came to showing little kids this as a tool to teach them about baseball.

Another positive for the game though is the replay value. Along with the story mode, there are your typical season and playoff modes to continue taking on the local teams, and access to the mini-games including a baseball themed version of hot potato and a Simon-esque game of throwing the right pitch when it is called for. This should keep your little one popping this game back into their system for a while.

For what it is, Backyard Sports: Sandlot Sluggers is probably the best game yet released by the folks behind the Backyard Sports franchise. It probably won’t hold the attention of an older and more hardcore baseball fan for very long, but is perfect as an introduction into baseball and baseball video games for younger kids and for parents to relate to their children. Include simpler one-button modes for even younger kids and this game will definitely appeal to every pre-pubescent little leaguer out there.

Backyard Sports: Sandlot Sluggers is available now for Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, and Nintendo DS.

Ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the best.

Graphics: 9.0: Bright colors, stylized graphics for cut scenes, and a minimal of glitches make this a beautiful looking game for kids.

Audio: 7.5: Nothing groundbreaking in the audio department, but nothing sub-par either. The announcers end up repeating themselves like in every other sport game ever, but aside from that the audio is solid.

Plot/Plot Development: 7.5: Predictable, but perfect for children as the story mode touts lessons of teamwork and understanding. Jimmy Knuckles never saw it coming.

Gameplay: 7.0: Good for the most part, but running glitches will really take away from the baseball experience for people who really know the game. The power-ups and unique stadiums though help to cover up some of those shortcomings with the unpredictability they inject into the game.

Replay Value: 8.0: Average replay value for a sports game gets bumped up due to the inclusion of a story mode. Coupled with mini-games and a season and playoffs mode and this game will keep your youngster entertained for a while.

Overall (not an average): 8.0: Due to some glitches and a lack of true mass appeal, I can’t give this game a perfect score, but for what it is and the audience it is targeted at, Backyard Sports: Sandlot Sluggers is a sure fire home run. Your little ones will love the characters and swinging for the fences in this family friendly baseball sim.

-Ray Carsillo