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Platform

Playstation 2

 

Genre

Sports

 

Publisher

Electronic Arts

 

Developer

EA Canada

 

ESRB

E (Everyone)

 

Released

Q1 2003

 

 

- Great new pitching engine

- Timing-based batting is easy to pick up

- Stellar replays and great visuals all around

- Franchise goals keep you playing

- Ability to avert disaster in simulated games is a definite plus

 

 

- No pitcher warm-ups will annoy purists

- Accumulated stats donít include career numbers

- Commentary can be a bit vague at times

- Fielding needs to be given a bit more manual control

 

 

Review: MLB 2004 (PS2)

Review: All-Star Baseball 2004 (GC)

Review: World Series Baseball 2K3 (PS2)

 

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MVP Baseball 2003

Score: 8.9 / 10

 

Since the late days of the Sega Genesis era, Electronic Arts (EA) has stood behind its Triple Play Baseball franchise. The series really didnít gain steam until Triple Play í97 (for the PlayStation) really opened eyes with stadium fly-ins, credible commentary, and an arcade-style gameplay that was relatively easy to pick up. The trouble was that as the series progressed from year to year, there was a definite imbalance between offense and defense which easily favored hitting. Even as Triple Play consistently delivered the best overall presentation style from year to year, competing titles, such as 989ís MLB series on the PlayStation and 3DOís High Heat Baseball series on the PlayStation 2, delivered better gameplay and a better balance between pitching and hitting. The Triple Play series had gone from fan favorite to cellar-dweller, and it was in desperate need of some changes. MVP Baseball 2003 is the result of these changes and may help to grab the PS2 baseball pennant back to EA after back-to-back victories by 3DO.

 

mvp baseball 2003 ps2 review          mvp baseball 2003 ps2 review

 

The biggest changes in MVP Baseball lie in the gameís approach to pitching, although the hitting engine has done away with the dreaded batting cursor. Pitching is now more reliant on some arcade-style reflexes in order to get the best results. Hereís a brief idea on how it works: after selecting one of up to five pitch types and spotting where the pitch should end up, players will see a meter appear on one side of the pitcher. As players hold the corresponding pitch button down, the meter starts to fill up ó and the longer players hold down the button and fill up the meter, the more effective the pitch is. This means (potentially) more pop on a fastball, more dive on a sinker, or more break on a curve or slider. Once players let go of the button, the meter starts to descend and a green accuracy area appears. Players must press the corresponding pitch button again as the meter pointer lands in the green area in order to get the pitch to where it was aimed earlier. If players miss the green area, the pitch will miss its target and could end up outside of the strike zoneóor worse, it could wind up right over the plate like a batting practice fastball. As pitchers tire, the accuracy zone gets smaller, and it becomes more of a challenge to spot pitches. All in all, itís the best pitching engine to come down the pipe in quite some time. (There isnít a bullpen warmup option in MVP, which will annoy some purists, unfortunately.)

 

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Hitting is all timing-based, which is certainly a good thing and patterns itself after the success that this sort of hitting enjoyed in High Heat Baseball. There are definite changes of speed, and adjusting timing to hit the ball just right will take a bit of adjustment. MVP Baseball utilizes the left analog stick to let players either pull an inside pitch or to shoot for the opposite field with an outside offering, as well as hit fly balls for sacrifice fly situations and ground balls for hit-and-run situations. 

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Using the analog stick is optional; however, itís possible to get results with good timing and knowing what each playerís preferences are, as well as paying attention to each playerís hot and cold zones, which are depicted as red and blue squares inside the strike zone. If the hot zones are up around the letters, and you see a curveball coming that way, making good contact could mean a gap shot or even a home run, whereas poor contact in a cold zone will more often than out result in an out. EA Canada hasnít done much with the hitting, but itís still enjoyable and the option to go with or against a pitch can make things a bit more interesting.

 

Base running is another solid aspect of MVP Baseball 2003. Although the CPU does a decent job of base running for you if you decide not to manually control your runners, the engine is easy to pick up. As runners reach base, a picture-in-picture display is shown in the middle of the score overlay. Each runner is assigned a face button on the controller, and pressing that face button gives you direct control of that runner. In order to make a runner advance to a base, you just have to press the D-pad in the in the direction of the corresponding base. Letís say that you have a speedy runner on first and the batter hits a gapper that looks like itíll be a double. Itís conceivable to send the base runner all the way to home plate, so by pressing down on the D-pad, the base runner will head for home without hesitation. By pressing the X button, base runners will slide to avoid tags during close plays. It all works out pretty well, and there are even designated buttons to advance or retreat all runners for sticky situations.

 

Fielding is an area of some disappointment, especially since players donít have the ability to manually dive or jump for balls, meaning that the CPU makes those calls Ė and doesnít always do so when it should. Basic fielding is pretty simple, but there are plays that will make you squirm in your seat as plays that you should have made. When throwing to a base, thereís a meter that appears similar to the pitching meter. The longer you hold the button down, the harder the throw isÖ and if you hold it down too long (if the meter goes into the red zone), the throw could be offline or wild. The meter can cause a slight delay in throwing, especially for bang-bang plays, although I personally have not noticed any ill effects from this delay yet.

 

There are multiple play options in MVP Baseball 2003, including single exhibition games and single season play. The home run derby that MVP Baseball offers is a split-screen affair and the winner is determined by total distance instead of actual home runs. Bonus distances are awarded for homers and penalties are deducted from the total distance for strikes and foul balls. There are even money balls (similar to NBA three-point shooting contests) which serve as multipliers for certain pitches. Itís a fun two-player experience, especially since both players can go at once instead of alternating.

 

MVP Baseball 2003ís Franchise mode isnít quite as in-depth as the ones seen in World Series 2K3 or High Heat 2004, but there are a few wrinkles which still make it formidable. For starters, thereís a momentum meter which increases or decreases, depending on your gameplay results and a few other factors, such as where the game is played and whether youíre playing against a rival team. This momentum meter affects how well your team plays in simulated games. If your team is not doing well in a simulated game, itís possible to stop the simulation and take control of the game, therefore trying to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Thatís a feature that more baseball sims should implement. As your team progresses from season to season in Franchise mode, thereís a list of team goals that can affect your overall team budget (for signing and/or keeping players), based on whether you can meet these goals. Many of these goals need multiple seasons to accomplish, which drives up the replay value for MVP Baseball 2003. There are a good number of statistics kept for players to review, but career stats arenít kept in MVP like they are in World Series 2K3, and this can be a point of contention for stat freaks.

 

So, now that weíve covered the gameplay, what about the aesthetics? Well, MVP Baseball 2003 is easily one of the best-looking PS2 baseball games available this year, led by the fact that the animation is silky-smooth. Unlike previous Triple Play games, which have been bogged down by choppy frame rates, MVP is rock-solid all the way through. Uniform details, such as lettering and dirty patches after slides or diving catches, look great. The uniform numbers look a little small, but thatís more of a nitpick than anything. Players will protest after called third strikes, pump their fists, and make other facial expressions. The facial mapping isnít as accurate as MLB 2004ís, but itís easily better than World Series 2K3. The cinematic replays are unbelievable to see, too, and look almost convincingly like television broadcasts. There are a few other minor problems with rare clipping and texture breaks, but overall, MVP is solid in the graphics area.

 

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The sounds are also impressive, led by the two-man team of Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow. Kuiper delivers just the right amount of enthusiasm during his calls, and occasionally makes some timely observations. Krukow delivers blunt analysis in his own unique style. Heíll let players have it for bad decisions and applaud players for big plays. One thing that EA Canada needs to improve is the occasional vague nature of the commentary, as exact scores arenít always given as often as they should be (ŗ la MLB Slugfest) and there are few facts given about each player and his performance. EA Sports TRAX delivers another winner in this reviewerís eyes, although the rock selections wonít enamor those who donít like that kind of music. Still, groups like Taproot and Sum 41 make appearances alongside newer acts like Shinedown. The game is encoded in Dolby Pro Logic II, so the sweet sounds of cheering crowds and the crack of the bat sound that much better if you have a higher-end sound system.

 

MVP Baseball 2003 took me by surprise. Itís easy to say that the graphics are great or that EA delivered another game with impeccable presentation style, but the pitching and batting engines really thrive here and the game is fun to play. The pacing isnít too slow, the games are usually exciting, and thereís just enough intricacy here to attract both novices and baseball diehards alike. Sure, thereís room for improvement, but if this is the start of a new franchise for EA, the future is certainly bright and could equate to another sporting dynasty for EA, alongside their Madden and NHL series.

 

- Peter J. Skerritt, Jr.

(April 12, 2003)

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