MLB (Preview)

The 2005 Major League Baseball season is almost upon us, and 989 Sports is currently preparing MLB for release this spring on the new Sony PSP handheld – just as the season kicks into gear. 989 Sports is implementing plenty of features and gameplay options so that fans will be able to play ball wherever they go.

MLB’s new features include Release-Point Pitching, a pitcher confidence meter, a Playmaker Fielding Marker, and something called Branch Point Technology. The new pitching feature basically makes pitching into a bit of a mini-game as players must time button presses with pitch release points in order to be deadly accurate. Painting the corners of the plate won’t be as easy as it looks, but it isn’t easy in real life, either. The pitcher confidence meter will work in tandem with a pitcher’s ratings to determine the difficulty of timing the release point, it will also play a role in how many mistakes a pitcher will likely make during the course of his outing.

The Playmaker Fielding Marker adds a level of realism to playing defense in the field. The size of the marker is determined by the fielding ability of the player. Manny Ramirez – who is an average outfielder – will see a smaller zone to approach in order to effectively catch a fly ball than Johnny Damon would. Players’ fielding abilities also affect when the zone will appear for pop fly balls, so players with lower fielding attributes will see the zone appear later and have less time to react.

Lastly, Branch Point Technology affects both defense and baserunning, as player animations are much smoother and transitions to defensive throws or baserunning slides. Players can now pre-load their throws prior to fielding balls, which means that adept players can start turning double plays a lot sooner and subsequently attain a better success rate. This new technology takes into account a player’s footwork and momentum, and it will be interesting to see how this all plays out in the final version.

MLB will contain a variety of gameplay modes, including the ability to play a full season and the ability to play online via wireless multiplayer connectivity. The game will also include full licenses for both MLB and the MLBPA, so players will be able to play as their favorite players on their favorite teams. 989 Sports also promises another stellar TV-style presentation, including player cutscenes and full commentary.

If 989 Sports can translate its recent run of improvements from its PS2 versions of MLB to the PSP version, baseball fans could be in for a real treat. The new features seem interesting at the very least, although it remains to be seen as to how well they will mesh with the overall feel of the game. Let’s hope that MLB lives up to its potential.

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