College baseball. It’s not as popular as the Major Leagues. It’s often eclipsed by college football. In fact, many have never seen a NCAA baseball game. With that in mind, should it have its own videogame? EA thinks so. Not only have they given college baseball its first ever videogame, but they have released one of the most innovative and intuitive baseball game ever created.
EA SPORTS’ MVP 06 NCAA Baseball is all about control, and a new throwing and batting system adds an element of finesse found in no other baseball game. Precision Throw Control allows fielders to make measured and accurate throws all around the diamond. Moving the right analog stick in the direction of the wanted base – right for first, up for second, etc. – will activate a power bar, with a green sweet spot, that surrounds the throwing player. If the right analog stick is released too early the throw will be high, and if it’s released to late it will be in the dirt. Precision is also key. If the throw is to second the right analog stick must be pushed directly up. A little to either side, and the basemen may have to step off base to catch it, which can lose the team an easy out. If done correctly the new throwing system is quick, accurate, and natural.
Load and Fire Batting is a new hitting system that really excels. Moving the right analog stick down “Loads” the players batting position, and then a quick, but smooth, up motion on the stick “Fires” the swing. Not all pitches will be right down the pipe. If during the up motion the stick is pushed a little to either side, the player will either choke up on the swing, to better hit inside pitches, or extend the swing, to better hit outside pitches. On top of all this, timing is very important. Swing a little early and the ball will head to right field. Swing a little late and it will be stretching for left. Players can also hold down L1 for more powerful swings that are harder to connect with, and R1 for softer swings that hit consistently.
These new controls are complicated and touchy. They are also unforgiving at any difficulty level. Beginners and baseball game pros alike will need to spend some time with the various mini-games provided for practice. Of course, players can just turn off the new control systems and opt for the “classic” mode, where everything is done by a touch of a button. But unfortunately the game is so geared to the new systems that the classic mode is too clunky to play a game without a lot of frustration. The sharp learning curve may have this game sitting on the bench for many casual gamers.
MVP 06 NCAA Baseball features a huge 128 teams from around the nation. The NCAA does not allow player’s names to appear in the game. Their real world numbers identify the players, but the names are randomly generated. Each player has a set of stats that characterize their strengths and weaknesses on the field, but their current stamina rating is what gamers need to keep their eye on. If a player’s stamina gets too low they wont be able to play in top form; pitches are harder to throw, batting becomes less precise, and errors abound on the field.
Managing a team is one of the most difficult aspects of the game. The extensive Dynasty mode lets players take their favorite team down the road to glory, or make them the laughing stock of the league. Players will need to watch team stats between games, team ranking over years, scouting ability, interest level of upcoming freshman, proper coaching, award eligibility, and completion of sponsor challenges. Those that are dedicated can spend an almost infinite amount of time in Dynasty mode. The casual gamer will probably stick to exhibition games or shorter tournament mode.
EA has given players a huge selection of real world teams along with 19 authentic stadiums from around the country. But why should anyone be satisfied with that? Three Create-a-modes allow gamers to build players, teams, and ballparks. The Create-a-Team mode is fairly deep, but in the end does not add anything to the already massive selection of teams built into the game. Create-a-Park comes off as lackluster. Gamers can choose a background, grass pattern, and manipulate back wall distances and heights, but all of these are limited to a list of presets. Created ballparks lack originality, and most gamers wont even touch this mode. Create-a-Player does a much better job than its two partners. Every stat is customizable. This allows gamers to create a giant number of realistic players, or go all out and create a baseball god. Gamers can also manipulate every facial and body characteristic imaginable to make their creations look truly unique.
There is nothing technically wrong with the graphics in MVP 06 NCAA Baseball, but they nothing to write home about. Players will find it hard to tell what field they are playing on, because if the backdrop was taken away they would all be the same park. The players look clean and move very fluidly. Every dive, turn, throw and stumble look realistic, but every player, like their ballparks, tend to look the same. But those that can get past all this sameness will appreciate how good this game looks.
Sound is a problem. The sounds of the game – ping of the metal bats, smack of a caught ball, scratch of a slide into home – are great. The music is a problem. Enough with the here today and gone tomorrow, Pop-Punk and Emo-Rock, cookie cutter music that EA loves to put in their sports games. Even if you like that genre of music – and believe it or not I do – there are only 10 songs, and they get boring real fast. As part of a partnership with ESPN the game announcers are actually broadcast announcers from real college games. But they obviously recorded all of their comments in an hour and a half, because the repetition is unstoppable. Sound is a problem, but turning off the music and announcers leaves the game feeling hollow, so it’s a trade off.
MVP 06 NCAA Baseball has its share of problems on the surface. Much of the game is geared to the hardcore crowd, and this may alienate some more casual gamers. The graphics are no improvement over everything else in the genre. And some modes were not fleshed out to there potential. But all these surface problems are just that, on the surface. The gameplay is utterly fantastic. Once players get through the steep learning curve, the brand new and intuitive control systems will win them over – hands down. Gameplay is addictive and, most importantly, a hell of a lot of fun. It won’t get a perfect 10, but if baseball games are your thing you’ll want to get your hands on this one.