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2/09/2007 03:57:00 PM
MVP 07 NCAA Baseball Review
By Lang Whitaker
A few weeks back, EA Sports rolled into Manhattan and set up shop in a midtown high-rise in order to display and promote the games they're scheduled to drop over the next few months. Many journalists were crowded around the Nintendo Wii playing Tiger Woods Golf, while even more journalists were crowded around the open bar and the waiter carrying a tray of curried chicken puffs.
Myself, I was there for much more noble reasons: To play college baseball. Last year, after EA Sports lost the license to produce Major League Baseball video games, they went out and snapped up the rights to a collection of colleges and made their long-running MVP Baseball series a college game. There was little fanfare surrounding the release of MVP 06 NCAA Baseball, but I took it home and found myself enthralled. Finally, perhaps for the first time since RBI Baseball on the Nintendo, I'd found a baseball game that came close to approximating the soul of baseball.
For those of you who aren't gamers, you may think video games by their very definition are soulless; simple burned discs of plastic carrying an endless series of 0's and 1's which somehow translate into a series of images on our TV screens. This is understandable, though video games -- at least the really good ones -- absolutely have something there more than just images and sounds. In my opinion, this is what differentiates ultra-successful games like Grand Theft Auto, Halo and Madden from all the series that imitate them. If you play video games, you probably understand what I'm talking about.
The thing that made MVP 06 so wonderful was that it hit a perfect balance between being rough around the edges and making the gameplay technically challenging. All of the MLB games that dropped last summer were commonly glossy and shiny, the players universally sharp polygons, the stadiums all hard surfaces and polished ends. MVP, conversely, had real college stadiums, like Stanford's Sunken Diamond, which came with shaggy grass and faded foul lines. The players in MVP weren't big muscle-bound brutes but were softer and rounder. The game being available solely on the PS2 somehow added to its pragmatic feel.
Where MVP really shined, though, was in the controls. Instead of relying on the buttons like every other baseball game, MVP 06 shifted the controls to the analog stick. Swinging the bat required swinging the analog stick backward and then forward in time to connect with the pitch. Playing in the infield meant using the analog stick to throw to a base, although winding up and then throwing the ball while nailing the timing was much harder than it seemed.
Of all the video games I played in 2006, from sports games to war games, I'm pretty sure I logged more time on MVP than any other game. This is partly due to MVP's intuitive gameplay, but also because of the game's imminently replayable dynasty mode, where you takeover a college, controlling everything from your starting rotation to your recruiting. You can simulate weeks at a time, but you can also easily jump in at any point and take control of your team, making it simple to zip through a season while keeping an eye on your boys.
MVP 06 was the best baseball game released last year, and saying that it might be the best baseball video game ever made shouldn't be considered hyperbole. So when MVP 07 hit my grubby hands this week, I was stoked. I convinced my wife I was tired and would be falling asleep on the couch, and once she went off to bed I hopped up, grabbed the game from my bag and fired up my PS2. And for the next few hours, I immersed myself in a haze of peppy fight songs, junior college transfers demanding playing time, the ping of aluminum bats and Rosenblatt Stadium. MVP 07 is largely the same game as MVP 06, which makes wonderful sense: It wasn't broke, they didn't fix it. Thank goodness.
The big change this year is what EA is calling "rock-and-fire pitching." In MVP 06, the only facet of the game that required serious button mashing was the pitching. Now the pitch delivery has for the most part been transferred over to the right analog stick. It's not easy to grasp, but once you comprehend it, pitching is more fun than it was last year. In fact, the motion required with the stick to throw a successful curve ball actually feels like you're bending a pitch at the batter.
The lone strike against MVP 07 is that it's available only on the PlayStation 2, which, in this day and age of forward-thinking technology, seems a little backward, like building one of the greatest cars of all time but limiting it to 35 miles per hour. I won't complain, though. I've still got a high school senior in Texas who wants a full scholarship and a promise that he'll start as a sophomore to deal with. What is he, crazy?
Ratings System (1 to 10)
Game Play: 9.8
It's difficult to stress how much fun it is to bat using the analog stick, trying to read pitches and poke them to the appropriate fields.
By making this a PS2 game and purposely limiting their technical options, EA has set the stage for the game to be a little less than perfect, which, it turns out, is perfect.
As I wrote in the review, the dynasty mode in the game is ridiculously addictive. Just give it a shot -- you'll see what I mean.
Game Room's Jacob Luft caught up with Angels pitcher and MVP 07 cover boy Jered Weaver for a quick Q&A on his love for video games and his rapid ascent to stardom in the major leagues. Weaver went 11-2 with a 2.56 ERA as a rookie last season. In 2004, he was named the Baseball America College Player of the Year after going 15-1 for Long Beach State. Come back Monday for our review of MVP 07 NCAA Baseball, which was released this week for the PS2.
Game Room: How did you end up on the cover for MVP 07 NCAA Baseball?
Jered Weaver: I got approached about it in Oakland. They pulled me into a room and told me they were thinking about using me for the cover of the game. Obviously I wasn't going to pass up a chance like that. It was an honor to even be considered for it.
GR: Did you have any input into the development of the game itself?
JW: No, I just got a chance to play it afterward.
GR: What was your initial reaction to the game?
JW: I think it's fantastic. It's the most realistic baseball game that I've played and I've played all the MVP games ever since they have been coming out. Every year they think of something new to put in there to make it more challenging. This year they came out with the Rock and Fire Pitching technique [Editor's note: You begin your delivery and throw pitches using the right analog stick instead of simply pushing the button] which really puts the player into the mindset of going through it from a pitcher's standpoint.
GR: Are you in the game, as an unlockable player or in a throwback mode?
JW: No I'm not in this game but you can easily create yourself in the game. It wouldn't be too hard to create myself.
GR: What kind of talent attributes would you assign yourself?
JW: I'd be 99s across the board, obviously.
GR: Are you avid video game player?
JW: Yeah, I love video games. If I'm not doing anything, I'm playing video games or playing golf.
GR: What games are you into right now?
JW: I've been playing Gears of War [on the XBOX 360] a lot.
GR: Have you finished the game yet?
JW: No, not yet. I haven't really had time yet. I've been moving so I've only played it for about three or four days straight.
GR: Are you playing on the "Insane" difficulty setting?
JW: No, I'm going to do it on normal first and then go back and do it on hardcore and insane.
GR: What are your favorite games of all time?
JW: All of the Tiger Woods games. Those are my favorites. Halo is definitely a good one.
GR: Do you ever game with any of your teammates on the Angels?
JW: Not really. I didn't have enough time with the team last year to find out who plays and who doesn't. I know [catcher] Mike Napoli plays a little bit but he's a Playstation guy.
GR: Do the Angels have any video games in the clubhouse?
JW: No, not on in our clubhouse.
GR: Who do you usually game with?
JW: Just my buddies back home. Eventually when I get all moved in and get the online setup done, I'll do that.
GR: Tigers pitcher Joel Zumaya recently hurt his pitching arm because he played too much Guitar Hero II. Have you played that game or, knowing he got hurt, would you ever play that game?
JW: No, I don't play with guitars on game consoles. I like sports games.
GR: Which systems did you play growing up?
JW: I went from Nintendo to Super Nintendo to Genesis to N64 to XBOX.
GR: Incredibly, you won your first nine starts in the major leagues last season as a rookie. Is it fair to say you "went Nintendo" on the league?
JW: Not to lie but it kind of did feel like I was in a video game. You don't think it's real. You grow up playing these guys in video games and all of a sudden in real life you're playing against them, so I did picture it like it was a video game and I did take that approach. It worked out for me.
GR: You dominated in college and in the minor leagues. What did you learn during the season about what works in the majors and what doesn't?
JW: Nothing really changed from the minor leagues or anything up to the big leagues. It's just a matter of going after hitters. Obviously, now you've gotta stay down in the strike zone. If you get the ball up they will do damage. The other big difference is that all nine guys in the lineup can hurt you, so you have to keep your focus from the first pitch to last pitch. If you make one bad pitch, that could be a game-ending mistake.
GR: What did you learn from the experience your older brother, Jeff, went through as he got cut by the Angels and ended up as a World Series hero with the Cardinals?
JW: You never know what can happen you switch leagues or switch teams. If you get a little bit of confidence, you never know what that can do for a person. He got picked up by St. Louis and that gave him confidence. His story turned out be a little bit better than mine toward the end of the season.
GR: Your brother and you look so much alike. Was it easy to envision yourself being out on the mound in the World Series one day?
JW: It's always your childhood dream to pitch in a World Series and it's just a matter of being patient and being on the right team to do it myself, and I think that being on the Angels gives me a chance of doing that.
GR: You were part of an amazing rookie class last season. What was it like to be in an American League rookie race with guys like Detroit's Justin Verlander, Boston's Jonathan Papelbon and Minnesota's Francisco Liriano?
JW: It was a really good freshman class and it was fun just to be mentioned in a group of guys like that. I mean, they're throwing 100 mph and a guy like me is throwing 90-93. It was just nice to get started on the right foot like that.