Spring is in the air so you know what that means: the start of the 2012 baseball season. It's also the time of year where two game developers are competing for your hard-earned cash. So what's the best baseball game to pick up this year?
That will all depend on which console you own. Those with a PlayStation 3 have a choice, either MLB 12: The Show or Major League Baseball 2K12. On the other hand, Xbox 360 owners are locked in to only one title to satisfy their baseball itch. Unfortunately for the latter, this year's best baseball game is exclusive to the PlayStation 3.
This year also marks the first MLB game for the Vita, which is mostly a PS3 console port of The Show. We'll be taking a look at each title in the lineup so it's crystal clear how we arrived at our conclusion.
Visual Concepts' Major League Baseball 2K12 doesn't do enough in the way of innovation, something we complained about last year. There's been a noticeable improvements in animation and commentary, but the game is still plagued by a laundry list of shortcomings that fail to create the illusion of a real baseball game.
Our favorite addition to the game has got to be MLB Today Season mode, where you'll play each game of your favorite team's season as they do in real life. If you miss a game on a scheduled day, the real team's outcome will be recorded instead.
Pitching is once again the focal point of the game, with a few minor tweaks that make it easier to understand what kind of rhythm your player is settling into. It's not enough to make it less of a frustrating experience, though, as it remains one of the most inaccessible elements of the entire game. We applaud the game's attempt to prevent those who try and use the same pitch over and over, but such focus on one side of the game leads to an imbalance overall.
There are still plenty of mindless AI mistakes in 2K12 in addition to graphical setbacks. Occasionally the AI will even prevent you from making a play, which is among the more frustrating experiences one can have with a baseball game.
For Xbox 360 owners who need to fill the baseball void this season, 2K12 can provide some moments of enjoyment. It's just upsetting to see that it still represents a lot of what we disregarded last time around.
Moving on to MLB 12: The Show, we were a bit surprised to learn that both pitching and hitting were getting updates.
The introduction of "zone batting" is smart, giving players a chance to guess the general area of the pitch -- almost betting on it. If guessed correctly, the result is better contact, which means a base hit is more likely.
New to pitching is "pulse pitching" which forces players to time a delivery in sync with an expanding and contracting aiming reticle. The smaller the circle, the more accurate the pitch.
Regardless of whether you like what's new, there's the option to revert back to previous control schemes.
On the visual side of things, The Show impresses in almost every area. The baseball acts much more naturally this year, and contact with the bat seems more genuine overall. Of course the game isn't without an awkward moment or two, but simply put, The Show is able to achieve a sense of baseball realism that the competition cannot manufacture.
So does the Vita's version of the show feel as good as its big brother on the PS3?
The Vita had a couple of impressive sports launch titles, FIFA and Virtua Tennis, and the Vita version of MLB 12: The Show joins their ranks. While Sony's stripped out some of the in-game commentary, replays, and the Diamond Dynasty mode (an online card-collecting feature), at its core the Vita version is basically the same game as what you get on the PS3 -- just shrunken down.
Stadiums and player models look great (fans aren't terribly detailed, but that's a minor gripe), and that realism translates over to both player and ball movements on the field as Sony's continued to tweak the physics engine (balls can now bounce off bases and shift directions).
Like the console version, you can raise and lower the degree of difficulty for batting (rookies can opt for a simple timing mechanic, whereas veterans can challenge themselves with Sony's total analog scheme). For pitching, all four control schemes from the console are available, including meter, classic, analog, and the new pulse pitching mode. Neither of us is a great fan of the new mode, but the Vita version does throw in a good mix of touch-screen controls for both gameplay and navigation and incorporates the back touch panel pretty well (you can, for example, perform pick offs by touching the back panel).
The PS3 version's Road to the Show and robust franchise modes also make their way into the Vita version. Sony's touting the game's cross-platform feature; you can save a game you're currently playing on the PS3 and continue it later on the Vita, which is pretty cool. Of course, you'll have to buy both versions of the game to do that.
Multiplayer? Yes, it's here, too. That said, you do have to dig around in the menus a little bit to face off against a friend remotely (setup is a little convoluted). We encountered some slight lag from time to time, but we can't complain too much about the online experience, and it's fun to talk trash over your Vita, particularly if you're playing a Yankees fan.
Bottom line: If you've already played the console version of MLB 12: The Show, the Vita version isn't going to seem all that different. But that's what's so impressive about it, anemic sound and commentary notwithstanding. In fact, if you're a video baseball junky, it's awfully tempting to buy the Vita just for this game -- it's that good.