Preview: MLB 13: The Show shows off its new Beginner Mode

This March, we'll once again be able to step up to the plate with a pair of prime baseball simulators.  We already know that 2K Sports is returning to the mound with Major League Baseball 2K13, and Sony, dominating the bases with its yearly series, is making a comeback with MLB 13: The Show.  Our focus this time around is on Sony's baby, and with one feature in particular, the Beginner Mode.

Now, at first, some people might balk at the addition of such a mode, but it's being thrown in for a reason.  As realistic (and captivating) as Sony's baseball series is, it's not entirely accessible to players of all skill levels, as there has to be a sense of connection with the batting in order to feel "the vibe", if you will.  Some players get frustrated over the lack of being able to hit a grand slam, or pitching to get the most out of their team.  It's still good, don't get me wrong, but it's easy to see where some folks might get frustrated by the full-on sim aspect of the game.

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That's where The Show 13 comes in, as Sony has introduced the Beginner Mode to help ease newcomers into the rhythm of the sport.  It's really all about learning timing behind someone's pitches, then learning to adapt to changes that come from whoever's hurling them, so you feel more like a peak performer.  Think of it as a confidence booster, but not someone who's going to be an all-day sucker to lean on.  They'll grow as your skills become better.

When going hands-on with the demo, we found the pitcher to be rather kind to us, simply hurling fastballs right down the middle.  This helps introduce you to the batting rhythm, and finding that perfect timing when it comes to the nature of the swing.  What's more, you can activate "Guess Pitch" – a long-time feature in the Show series – to add some extra power, enabling you to even belt a few past the fence with the right player.

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As your pitcher sees your batting performance improve, as he did during our demo, his pitches change up.  Still over the plate, mind you, but he's able to at least throw some unpredictability, once with a slider, then with a fastball, then with a curveball coming to the outside of the plate, only to lean back in again.  Then, eventually, as your skills get even better, you'll notice throws to the outside.

The sense of progression that we felt with this Beginner Mode – which actually works both ways with hitting as well as pitching, though we didn't get to try the other end just yet – is very good, and amateur players will get a better sense of the gameplay offered here, whether they use analog controls for getting the motions with their player or the old-fashioned button presses.  (Some might even use the Move controller, which The Show once again supports.)

And this is just a small portion of what the game will offer as a whole, between Cross-Platform support for stats in the Home Run Derby (on both Vita and PS3), the "Post Season" mode, better push/pull trajectories and Road To the Show Evolution, with even more features to draw you in to season play.  We'll get to these in a later preview.

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As far as the presentation goes, Sony's San Diego studio hasn't lulled on this series yet, and it's still a winner.  The graphics represent the sport in the most realistic fashion, right down to someone kicking up dirt sliding into home plate, or the ball's seams twirling around as the pitch goes flying toward home base.  The animations are superb, especially the batting, which can change depending on what kind of swing – or bunt – you're going for.  The atmosphere surrounding our demo booth stopped us from hearing the sound effects in the game, but you can expect the same great announcing and crowd noises as before.

MLB 13: The Show hits stores on March 5th, and we'll have more hands-on impressions well before the game's arrival.  It's almost time to puhlayyyyy ball!