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8/21/2008 01:54:00 PM
MLB Power Pros 2008 (Wii)
MLB Power Pros 2008 (Wii)
Reviewed By Bryan Armen Graham
Image Credit: 2K Sports
Things We Like
And Now For Something Completely Different: If you're new to the series, you've never played a game quite like MLB Power Pros 2008. Melding the playful presentation of RBI Baseball with the hyper-realistic detail of a Strat-O-Matic game, Pros is the most creative take on a sports game since Midway's NBA Jam introduced "boomshakalaka" to the cultural lexicon 15 years ago. So how exactly does the love child of an NES title from the '80s and an obsolete card game from the '60s equate to a postmodern masterpiece in 2008? By playing up the eccentric qualities which have made its overseas predecessor the highest-rated and top-selling baseball title in Japanese history.
Big in Japan: As mentioned, Power Pros is the Americanized version of Jikkyo Powerful Pro Yakyu, the wildly popular Japanese series which has spawned 70 different titles across 10 different platforms since its 1994 debut for the Super Famicom. The Pawapuro games, as they're called, are best known for the anime-inspired depiction of real-life baseball stars. Players are rendered without mouths, noses or ears, distinguishable only by excessively wide heads and eyeballs. (They actually look a lot like Miis, though the character design predates the standard Wii avatar by a decade-and-a-half.) The agreeable, arcade-style gameplay is easy to pick up and the brisk pacing enables the time-pressed user to finish a nine-inning game in about 20 minutes, but it's the off-the-diamond features where Pros really sets itself apart.
Depth, depth, depth: I spent five hours with Power Pros this week but could have spent 50 or more. From a pure depth standpoint, Madden NFL 2009 is a kiddie pool by comparison. It's almost discouraging to realize, as an adult with a full-time job, I'll barely be able to scratch the surface of this game's offerings. Pros is packed to the gills with 10 considerably deep game modes. Act as your team's general manager in "Season" mode and trade players, sign free agents, coordinate the practice schedule, purchase new equipment and -- of course -- play games. In the story-based "Success" mode, guide a player from Double-A to Triple-A to the majors by impressing the scouts on the diamond while balancing various and frequently humorous personal situations off it. The impeccably detailed "MLB Life" mode enables players to simulate the on- and off-field career of a major leaguer over the course of 20 years -- from contract negotiations to house and automobile shopping, to making charitable donations, to picking up hobbies to fostering relationships with teammates and coaches. Even without the game's core activity -- the actual playing of games -- MLB Power Pros 2008 could stand on its own as an RPG.
I'm talking deep: Like last year's U.S. debut, the depth of any single game mode is truly mind-boggling. Take "Practice" mode. What's merely a tack-on feature in the vast majority of sports games is wrought here with incredible detail. Get lost for hours fine-tuning the vast options in the batting, pitching or fielding practice modes. Tweak more than 50 attributes for any individual player, including intangibles like improved speed out of the batter's box or the ability to affect an entire team's morale based on positive or negative performance. It doesn't take long before you realize this game takes customization to another level completely.
An O.C.D. approach to details: Underwritten by global sports statistics provider STATS, Inc., Pros includes the 40-man rosters from every major league team -- complete with more statistical information you'd know what to do with. So if Adam Eaton isn't cutting it for your team, bring up J.A. Happ from Double-A. Also, despite the ostensibly simplistic graphical presentation, every major league ballpark is recreated in excellent detail.
The official trailer:
Things We'd Change
No online play: Given the numerous worldwide online communities devoted to Power Pros -- particularly to the easy-to-learn/difficult-to-master "Success" mode -- it's surprising there's no mode supported for competing against other players online. We've killed the Wii's sports titles for this before, most recently with NCAA Football 09. There's really no excuse.
Staying the course: It seems like Konami followed the "if-it-ain't-broke" line of thought while developing the sophomore American edition of Power Pros. Sure, last year's U.S. debut is just as addictive, just as deep, just as fun. But that's the thing: Aside from a few extra options in the create-a-player mode and improved play-by-play commentary, it's essentially the same game as a year ago. It's almost as if they simply updated the stats and adjusted the player attributes to reflect the current season.
More action play: Ninety-nine percent of MLB Power Pros 2008 is played like a traditional controller-based video game. The only time you're physically swinging the Wiimote is "Home Run Derby" mode, one of the game's least interesting areas. While I'm a huge fan of the classic-style gameplay -- and the throwback feel of the game in general -- it would be nice if more than one of the game modes made use of the action-based play for which the Wii is best known. If pressing buttons instead of physically swinging the controller is too outmoded for your tastes, Pros isn't for you.
I haven't been addicted to a baseball game quite like this since ... well ... ever. While I stuck with the Triple Play series for years out of blind faith, I found those games got stale quickly. I have no idea whether MLB Power Pros 2008 will stick with the American audience over time. Maybe the story-based game modes are too overwhelming for the casual player. Maybe the modern gamer requires an online mode in a sports game. Maybe the players just look too weird. Anytime a game strays this far outside the box, it seems destined for a cult following and nothing more. But Pros has achieved a Madden-type permanence in Japan, so there must be something to it. Consider me converted.