EA Sports hits it high, deep, and gone.
MVP Baseball 2004 was a solid return to form for EA Sports and brought their baseball game up to the level of most other EA Sports games. It offered tight gameplay, solid graphics, and plenty of features. Unfortunately, it also had its fair share of bugs, most notably a Dynasty Mode bug where CPU created rookies barely improved unless a player played the majority of the games in a season. This severely limited the game’s deepest gameplay mode and made MVP 2004’s rookie year a bit of a disappointment. Now, in its sophomore season, MVP Baseball 2005 has worked out a few flaws in its delivery and added a few pitches to the repertoire. Translation; the big bugs have been fixed and some new gameplay modes have been added to the mix, making this year’s game live up to its name.
The new Owner Mode allows players to choose a team and control its entire operation. In addition to the general manager type tasks found in last year’s Dynasty Mode (i.e. negotiating player contracts, managing minor league teams, making player transactions, etc.), Owner Mode gives the player some of the responsibilities of a team president. You start off with only a basic stadium and little revenue. It is your job to decide how to draw fans, manage prices (for things like tickets, concessions, and souvenirs), negotiate media deals, upgrade the stadium, hire coaches, balance the budget and, oh yeah, you still get to play each inning of every game if you’ve got the time. With skillful management of your organization and good play on the field, you can turn any of your favorite MLB teams into the biggest, richest, most successful franchise in the majors. You won’t have forever, though, as there is a ten year timeframe in which to accomplish this goal. That might not sound long enough to players looking to spend countless hours meticulously building a team, but if you play many games and do a lot of micromanaging, Owner Mode can easily eat away months of your gaming time and should keep diehard baseball fanatics happy for a long time.
The one downside to Owner Mode is that the sheer depth of the off-the-field gameplay can be a turn off to players who aren’t willing to spend hundreds of hours on a baseball game. Fortunately, Dynasty Mode offers a more traditional approach and ignores all the front office decisions that don’t involve players. This allows players to tweak their rosters to their hearts' desire while providing more time to spend playing on the field.
The actual on-the-field baseball mechanics are mostly unchanged since last year’s edition. The only significant gameplay change is the inclusion of the Hitter’s Eye. This feature allows players to read pitches by looking for a color that corresponds to a particular pitch category. White represents non-breaking pitches, green is for off-speed pitches, yellow is for knuckleballs, red is for curveballs/sliders, and purple is for sinkers/splitters. The end result is that players can key in on pitches and get a better gauge as to how the ball will break. It’s an interesting idea and it doesn’t always guarantee success in the batter’s box, but I could never quite silence the voice in the back of my head saying that I was somehow cheating.
Fortunately, the Hitter’s Eye is one of many options that can be turned on or off, so you don’t have to use it. In fact, there are many options and gameplay sliders that can be set. This is a wonderful feature since almost every baseball fan seems to have his or her own opinion on how a baseball videogame should play. Casual players probably won’t have a problem with the game’s default settings, but more selective players may be annoyed by the number of line drives that are cut off by infielders, or they may think that strikeouts are too hard to come by. For others, outfielders may get too many outfield assists. Whatever your personal preferences, MVP Baseball 2005 has enough varying gameplay sliders and options to accommodate the most demanding baseball fans. Incidentally, I felt that the default settings made infielders a bit too quick and outfielders arms' a bit weak.
MVP Baseball 2005 also includes two new mini-games, one for hitting and one for pitching. In Dynasty Mode and Owner Mode, these mini-games can be played during spring training in an effort to help improve a player. The hitting mini-game gives the player ten pitches to earn a set number of points. For each pitch, the computer determines a location for which you must aim (i.e. down the right field line, fly ball to centerfield, ground ball to left field, etc.). Points are earned by accurately placing the ball and for the distance the ball travels. The field is also littered with various obstacles to spice things up, such as ramps that can speed up and elevate ground balls, flat cut-outs with player silhouettes to simulate real players, and even tractors that cross the outfield grass. The whole thing looks like some sort of pseudo baseball game that you might find on an MTV Rock’n’Jock special. It’s an interesting distraction, but since you always have to swing at a pitch, there’s not much strategy to the game, and scoring feels like it’s influenced by the random choices of the computer as much as it is by a player's actual skill.
The pitching mini-game is a whole different story, as it requires both skill and strategy. For this game, the strike zone is divided into a grid of up to 64 squares (8 x 8). Each square is colored to correspond with a certain pitch. Players must try to aim the right pitch to hit a corresponding square to score points. If a colored square is adjacent to another square of the same color, both squares are cleared for a greater point total. Once a square is correctly hit, any squares positioned above it will drop down and new squares are then added to the top of the grid to keep the grid full. The end result is something that plays a lot like a puzzle game in which skill and strategy are required to score high. Good players will smartly pick away at individual blocks or small chains of one or two blocks to leave larger clusters of same colored squares, which lead to massive points. It’s a really fun mini-game and, if fleshed out a bit more, could be a nice puzzle game on its own.
MVP Baseball 2004 had solid on-field gameplay mechanics, good controls, and solid presentation. MVP Baseball 2005 has taken that core foundation and refined it. while adding even more gameplay elements outside off the field. The result is a game that should satisfy baseball casual and diehard baseball fans. With the pitching mini-game and Owner Mode (or Dynasty Mode for the less hardcore), gamers will have plenty to enjoy for the rest of this baseball season and well into the off-season.