Posted: Tuesday March 8, 2005 12:25PM; Updated: Tuesday March 8, 2005 12:30PM
By Jacob Luft, SI.com
What is it about baseball that makes it so tough to emulate correctly in a video game?
Every year, new games come out with more bells and whistles than their predecessors. What they often forget to add is what makes baseball such a wonderful sport in the first place -- fun.
Recently I was bemoaning the fact that I have yet to find a hardball video game that was as much of a riot to play as RBI Baseball for the original Nintendo -- you know, the system with just two buttons on the controllers. Who needs lifelike graphics when you can put Bruce Hurst on the mound and throw the wackiest flutter-ball this side of Hoyt Wilhelm? There's something about making a pitch go completely around a fully extended bat and come back into the strike zone that gets a roomful of junior high schoolers rolling.
Better yet, how about the "disappearing ball" trick from 1990's Baseball Simulator 1.000? If you ever used the "earthquake" ball on your best friend, odds are he still hasn't forgiven you.
Fast forward to 2005. I'm happy to report there are two titles to choose from that fill this pixelated pine-tar void in my life: EA's MVP Baseball 2005 and Take-Two Interactive's Major League Baseball 2K5. Here are five observations on each game to help you decide which one is right for you.
MVP Baseball 2005
Hey, Yankees fans, here's a sneak preview of Randy Johnson at the Stadium.
Courtesy EA Sports
(Manny Ramirez on the cover, all consoles, PC, $30)
1. If you are a fan of the dynasty mode in EA's annual college-football game, then you will love MVP's new "Owner Mode." You start with almost nothing -- a 20,000-seat stadium (that you get to design) with no concession stands or merchandise booths -- and take an organization on a 120-year journey. Once you get on your feet financially -- some deep postseason runs can bring in crucial extra revenue -- you can expand your stadium and even start selling hot dogs. You can still play the games, too, but it's more fun to sign free agents, make trades and tinker with the ticket prices. The best part is, there is nothing to stop you from naming your stadium after your favorite character on Aqua Teen Hunger Force.
2. Oh, the actual game. Yeah, it's pretty good. The learning curve on hitting is pretty steep, though. In fact, you might want to start on "Rookie" mode and figure out the intuitive batting system that lets you hit to all fields. If you watch closely, you can pick up the type of pitch that is coming by the color of the baseball as it comes out of the pitcher's hand. Pitching and fielding are very smooth and the base-running AI is top-notch. You even can get tossed for arguing balls and strikes with the ump.
3. For the most part, current players' skills are properly portrayed. Some weird things can happen, though. For example, slap-hitting center fielder Juan Pierre belted 19 home runs for me one season. That's 12 more than he's hit in his career. Maybe EA needs to add a drug-test mode for next year's game.
4. On a more realistic note, MVP does an amazing job of incorporating the catchall intangible of "chemistry" into the game. You don't have to be a fan of Gary Sheffield's latest team to know ballplayers can get grumpy about their contracts. And the guys on your bench will grumble to the newspaper boys if they don't get their at-bats. If too many of your players are unhappy, your ball club can nosedive in a hurry.
5. I didn't experience any lag in the online play. It was seamless. But purists might balk on the five-inning restriction for ranked games. If you want to play the whole nine innings, the result won't count toward the online standings.