|System: PS Vita, PS3|
|Dev: SCE San Diego Studio|
|Release: March 6, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 544p|
by Shelby Reiches
Baseball. America's pastime. The sport of Wheaties champions, enjoyed nine innings at a time in packed stadiums, the diamond-like lanes and vast expanses of greenery hosting a sport that, to this day, is distinctly and almost exclusively the purview of the United States. There are clubs in other countries, yes, with the game having risen to particular popularity in Japan, but the oddly named World Series doesn't include them.
This sport's fans are some of the most devoted in the world, though. When I was in college in Philadelphia, and the Phillies made it to the World Series, it seemed like the entire campus turned out to march down Market Street, with an impromptu police escort, the nearly twenty blocks to City Hall. Cars were overturned (in joy, not in anger) and raucous cheering was to be heard long into the night.
A game like MLB 12: The Show, then, has the unenviable task of both being true to the sport it represents and catering to fans' power fantasies (something the game's ad clearly draws upon with its simulation of a Cubs pennant). As someone with, at best, a casual interest in the sport the game represents (I was on my fraternity's softball team, for what that's worth), I was coming into it hoping as much for a primer on baseball as a whole, and this simulation in particular, as an accurate, digital representation of the sport.
I am happy to report that MLB 12: The Show on the Vita does not pare back the simulation elements of its PlayStation 3 counterpart. The new mechanics, from Pulse Pitching to Bullpen Management are all here. The game plays like its console release, which is important since it's possible to transfer saves through the cloud directly from one version to the other, should a player own both. The issue becomes, though, that this feels very much like a companion piece to its full-sized sibling on Sony's home console.
The first things one will notice upon entering a game on the Vita are the stadiums, all of which are lovingly rendered to scale, with accurate layouts. The players come next, as they, too, are extremely detailed, from height and build down to their facial features. Many seem to have oddly chubby cheeks, and the shadows create some awkwardly pock-marked appearances for stars that don't suffer from such obvious blemishes, but the players look and animate, by and large, well. Less compelling are the crowds, which drop into low-resolution models a few rows out. Additionally, the dugouts are empty, and the game suffers from odd patches of slowdown.
The slowdown generally isn't debilitating, but the game does tend to hitch when one first selects a pitch. Since the expanding and contracting circle that represents one's accuracy in pulse-pitching is in constant motion, it's easy to tell when there's a hiccup or two and the circle skips a few frames. This hitching becomes full-blown slowdown, though, on the bullpen menu (also in character creation for Road to the Show, making creating a player a more laborious task than it needs to be). This is in no way game-breaking, but it does highlight a general lack of polish and attention to detail that haunts the Vita version of The Show.
Most tellingly, many of the game's presentation elements have been removed. While hitting a homerun provides the proper score increases, one does not actually see the players walk the bases. Transitions between pitches are quick, accomplished with fades, as is the case with each fielding play. Once there is, ostensibly, nothing more to be done by the defense, the game fades immediately back to the pitch/at-bat display. I hesitate to call this "lazy," but it definitely takes away from the overall experience of the game, from the illusion that one is managing a baseball franchise, guiding a player from the double-A league up to the Majors, or running an exhibition match between the Yankees and the Red Sox to see who's really on top in the Northeast. In the end, though, these elements of the games visuals and presentation, while disappointing, are hardly game-breaking or offensive. Leave that, instead, to the game's near-complete lack of tools for easing a newbie into the game.
While The Show has a tremendous wealth of play options to increase or decrease the complexity of how one goes about pitching, batting, and fielding, and an equally impressive array of sliders for controlling how stacked the odds are for or against a human player, it lacks the kind of context that makes these meaningful to someone who hasn't already immersed themselves in the series. As a "The Show" virgin, and newbie to simulation baseball games in general, I found myself completely overwhelmed by the number of stats being thrown around in Road to the Show, the options I had for team management in Franchise, and even the heads-up display.
Let's look at that last for a second: the heads-up display, designed to offer crucial, pertinent information without getting in the way of the gameplay, is visually clean and appealing. Important elements of it, however, are not self-explanatory, but the game does not explain them. The digital (and only) manual lacks even an annotated still image of the HUD, instead devoting its pages to awkward attempts to explain analog controls with descriptive language such as "move the left stick" and brief descriptions of the new features in this year's edition of the game.