MVP Baseball 2003
Like many other baseball fans, I had written off EA Sports Triple Play series after a number of lackluster seasons. Apparently the upper brass at EA Sports agreed and they have written the series off as well, at least in namesake. In one of the most significant videogame u-turns I've seen, MVP Baseball 2003 washes away all of the bad memories of the Triple Play series and has changed the way I will look at pitching, fielding and batting in baseball games going forward - this game is that innovative.
When I hear the term 'innovative'? or 'evolutionary,'? I always take it with a grain of salt. One minor change in the way something was done in the past and the marketing department stands up and screams 'INNOVATIVE NEW' (fill in the blank with whatever comes to mind)....'? For once, this claim cannot be dismissed because I can honestly say this game has created a new pitching and fielding system and it is nothing like you have seen in a baseball game previously. If you have ever played a golf game, you will feel right at home. Pitching uses a similar meter found in golf games when used for the swing. Select the pitch location, select the pitch type and start the meter. Once the meter fills, press the pitch button to select the power. As the meter goes back down, press the pitch button to select the location (there is a small area that you aim to hit). If you do things correctly, you will throw your pitch in the correct location. If you miss on the power side, your pitch will go slower or, if a breaking ball was selected, will not break as much. If you miss on the location, you will either throw a ball or throw the ball in a location easier for the batter to hit. Normally, I would not dedicate this much detail to how a specific function of a game works but I feel this system is so different from anything seen in a baseball game that it warrants the detailed explanation.
Now that you know how the pitching meter works, the biggest question is how it feels when playing. The answer is a resounding 'awesome.'? I have always looked at pitching in baseball games as boring and fairly non-interactive. Select your pitch and location and push a button and then sit back and watch. I actually found this new pitching system more interactive than batting and fielding. Where I used to go into auto pilot, I now have to sit up and increase my attention to ensure I throw good pitches. This system has also finally found a tangible, visible way to convey pitcher fatigue. As your pitcher tires, the location area on the pitching gauge shrinks, making it more difficult to throw a strike. For once, a game that actually makes you feel like you are in control of all aspects of the pitching game.
The rest of the game is easy enough to play and also includes a few 'innovative'? aspects, although not on the same level as the pitching. For one, the fielding uses a similar gauge to pitching except you only focus on the speed, not the accuracy. The longer you hold the throw button, the harder the fielder will throw the ball. The advantage is the ball will get there quicker but accuracy is compromised. Batting is simple enough relying on timing rather than a batting cursor. Base running is handled in a picture-in-picture type window that works surprisingly well. Finally, the games are much more realistic and true to baseball. Gone are the 22-18 games with 11 homeruns - games are low scoring and homeruns are few and far between.
Considering this game has been completely redesigned, I think it is fair to call this a rookie season and there are some rookie mistakes. For one, the fielders make a number of plays with their backs to the ball, which looks strange. Computer AI does not always move to the base and on occasion just seems to have a brain dump and stand there with the ball in hand while the runner scoots past. Bullpen management, player controlled diving, and on-line play are all absent.
Minor gripes aside, I must admit this game blew away my expectations. If they build on this version by fixing the minor issues and adding on-line play (please reconsider your 'no Live'? stance EA), MVP will be my top choice for baseball next year.
Download MVP Baseball 2003
With the rather unimpressive release of Triple Play 2002 last year, EA Sports has caned the veteran franchise and gone with a rookie. Gone are the days of ten to fifteen runs per inning as MVP Baseball 2003 gives an entirely different performance, drastically improving almost every area. As with most rookies however there are still maturity issues to work through and MVP Baseball 2003 has its share of those as well.
After throwing away anything that remotely resembled Triple Play, a new pitching and batting interface was developed that's different from the most of the other baseball games currently on the market. Timing is the key now for both pitching and batting with the concept for each case used differently. When pitching for instance, a meter is used similar to the way field goals are kicked in most football games. Once the pitch type and location are selected, a bar swings from one side of the meter to the other as you hit the pitch button once for effectiveness and once for accuracy (see screenshot). Gone are the days where pitching was almost boring with placement and control lacking any appreciable skill to execute. Now pitching, like batting is significantly more challenging and increases the game's appeal especially for multiplayer games.
The batting has also been improved as much as the pitching with the timing theme used effectively here as well. Missing are the hitting zone markers, since estimating the arrival of the pitch and swinging the bat at the right time is all that's required. There is more to hitting however as now you can control the direction you want to hit the ball which allows you to take advantage of pitch location. Even pop ups to advance base runners are easily executed, giving an entirely new ability to strategize while at the plate.
There are a few areas that are less then impressive with some obvious fielder control issues in addition to a small options list. MVP definitely gets the job done however, with an excellent franchise mode helping to make up for the fluff inserted in other games. The graphics and audio capabilities also help sweep under the rug many of the small issues that crop up from time to time and visuals in particular look amazing with most players being easily recognizable and well detailed.
Overall, MVP Baseball 2003 is a great effort that baseball fans will be able to play for some time. It's a remarkable start to a new franchise that should only get better next year.