MVP Baseball 2005 – XB – Review

Having fallen
deeply in love with EASports’ Madden NFL 2004, I must confess that I’ve
had a long and meaningful affair with MVP Baseball 2004 since it was
first introduced to me. Make no mistakes, I still love Madden NFL very
much but when I need some baseball in my life it’s MVP Baseball that I
turn to to get some baseball loving. The franchise never failed to put a smile
on my face, that is until a newer model named MVP Baseball 2005 stepped
into my life and now I can’t wipe that bigger smile off my face. Yes, this is a
very good year for baseball seeing as how Visual Concepts has its own sexy siren
named Major League Baseball 2K5. Who wins this year? Find out below.

Forget the fact
that last year MVP Baseball 2004 offered tighter controls, great modes
and a really pretty face. The game looked like a no-nonsense baseball simulator
but felt fun enough that you really didn’t want to stop playing it. Now the
game was a sleek and sexy game with all the fixings to give the MVP
game a run for its money (2K4 having the advantage price-wise since it
retailed at twenty bucks), but like Madden NFL 2005 it lacked the little
things that make the sport so amazing. It’s a close race, but there’s a clear
winner and this year it’s MVP Baseball 2005. Let’s get to the reasons why
it wins. 

First off,
Dynasty Mode was a blast to play last year, but this year it just feels more
complete. Maybe it’s the fact that you can chose from major and minor league
teams (the AA and AAA teams are available from the start) or maybe it’s the full
control over your team and the realities of the sport (like injuries and player
chemistry). Secondly, the Home Run Showdown still provides some split-screened
action as you attempt to out swing your rival. If that wasn’t enough Manager
Mode has you playing the role of manager, taking charge of your team and manage
the rosters as you see fit. You can even come up with your own scenarios to put
yourself in some really tight situations of your own design. If that weren’t
enough you can unlock vintage uniforms, bring out the legends or design your own
fantasy ballpark. 

New to this
year’s game is the Mini-Games mode that acts as Spring Training for your boys of
summer, selecting either a few batting or pitching challenges. The challenges
serve to improve your favorite team’s hitting and pitching skills so each game
goes from easy to harder challenges. The batting mini-games, for example, have
you hitting a few balls out into the field filled with ramps and other obstacles
for points. Meanwhile the pitching game has you tossing some fastballs into the
strike zone to knock down colored squares stacked in a grid. Do well and you
increase a player’s stats so chose who you want to send through the training
process. It’s just a fun way of improving your favorite players.

Also new to the
franchise is Owner Mode, a game mode that has you neck deep in your
organization’s dealings with your team, staff and your very own ballpark you
design from scratch. The design tools might not offer an incredible number of
options but you can design everything from the seat colors to the overall
appearance of the diamond. As owner you’re in charge of ticket prices, deciding
on what kind of snacks you’d like in the concession stands (pizza or hotdogs)
and even decide on your teams schedule. While it sounds like a theme park-styled
simulator where you attempt to keep fans happy, it’s gives you insight of what
goes on in a MLB organization.


As for the
gameplay, last year had more strengths than weaknesses but what few sore spots
there were are fixed in this year’s game. For one thing, fielding feels a lot
better and you can now perform a number of cool moves like dive/stretches for
the ball, make sliding catches and or throw to the cut-off man. You can even
attempt to steal a homer if you have a fielder close to the wall – then you can
have him climb the wall and attempt to catch it. Pitching is a nice challenge
again and with the Pitching Meter you can take control of your fastballs as long
as you stay in the green.

Hitting is still
great and thanks to a picture-in-picture view of the mounds you know what
everyone is up to so if you want your man on second to steal third just keep
your eyes open. The new Hitter’s Eye give you a heads-up before the windup to
see what type of pitch is headed your way. The ball flashes a certain color for
a split second and judging by the color you can tell if a sinking pitch or
knuckleball is coming up. You can also move in the batter’s box with the hot and
cold zone moving along with you. That ought to keep the likes of Nomo off
balance a little. The coolest feature of all, though, comes when you’re given
the opportunity to send out your manager to dispute a call from the umpire. Go
ahead and give him guff but make sure the pressure you put on the ump doesn’t
get you tossed out of the game or the computer will make all managerial
decisions. This is a great way to give your team an attribute boost.

I still thank
the Gaming Gods for EA Sports finally striking up that deal with Microsoft to
finally include Xbox Live support and as much as I, as well as thousands of
sports gaming fans out there, appreciate this inclusion of online multiplayer
action it just isn’t executed as beautifully as MLB 2K5. For starters,
the game runs into a few framerate issues so you can expect some stutters and
slowdowns especially during pitches and often during baserunning. This could
have been tolerated but it pops up too often and that becomes a tad, well,
annoying. I’ve seen the same problems in the PS2 version using a Dial-Up
connection but this is Broadband we’re talking about. Still, there’s
downloadable content to look forward to and its still fun playing this game
against others.

As for the
game’s visuals, the Xbox gets tighter graphics and sharper detail than both the
PS2 and GameCube … yet not by very much. This is really one attractive-looking
game with sharp details in everything from the stadiums and the neatly rendered
fans to the hundreds of players with their uniforms that crinkle when they move
or flex a muscle. The faces, last year’s biggest graphical complaint, has been
done to perfection this year so everyone looks exactly like they’re suppose to
and that’s quite a feat. The player animations now offer more realistic
movements and you just have to love the picture-in-picture base coverage or the
neat effects like the replays of your best pitches. In short, you might want to
wear a bib because you’ll be drooling over these graphics. 

All the sounds
you’d expect from a baseball game are present and accounted for, and they’re
done just right again this year. The stadiums feel as though they’re bursting to
life with fans and the music that comes from the PA system just screams live
baseball. You’ll hear other players in the dugout and even the umpire bark out
“Yer out!” When A-Rod slams one to first you’ll hear that satisfying pop of the
ball and his bat hitting the dirt as he sprints for first base. Even the
play-by-play and color commentary from the likes of Duane Kuiper and the always
insightful Mike Krukow are really good and never gets old or repetitive. Just
about the only thing you can toss out is the soundtrack from unknown artists
like The Donots or The Bravery. I really don’t mind listening to breakthrough
artists, but the rock is so run of the mill it just seems like it rolled off an
assembly line. It’s too bad the Custom Soundtrack feature wasn’t included.

MVP Baseball
is yet
another reason Xbox gamers will not get to see the outside world for quite
awhile. As far as baseball simulator’s go, this one is deep and there are enough
modes to keep players busy but it’s also one of the most enjoyable sports games
you’ll play this year. Really, this one outshines MLB 2K5 in every aspect
except for the Xbox Live multiplayer mode so if you can only buy one ballgame
this year make it MVP Baseball 2005.

Scoring Details for MVP BASEBALL 2005

Gameplay: 9.5
The game still
feels right at home on the Xbox and with some new additions to the gameplay, as
well as tightening up of some of last year’s very few weak spots, there’s no
denying that this is the deepest game and most entertaining franchise out there.
Play ball indeed.

Graphics: 9.5
One of the
most visually pleasing baseball games, MVP Baseball 2005 won’t fail to
make jaws drop. The stadiums are just so accurate that it’ll feel like you’re
watching a game on television. This year the player’s faces are a bit more
animated and a lot more precise so Manny Ramirez looks like the real Manny
Ramirez. There is even more player animations.

Sound: 8.7
The stadium
sounds are amazing this year and you’ll love the cheering fans, the PA
announcements and the vendors shouting out “Hotdogs!” It’s all that we’ve come
to expect from an actual ballgame and to top it all off the color and
play-by-play are really excellent. My only gripe is with the soundtrack that’s
just a bit disappointing. Too bad you can’t use your own tunes.

The difficulty
level will give you enough challenge in the game’s Pro setting so expect the
computer-controlled opponents to really hustle out there on the field and rob
your homeruns by climbing the fence. Play the All-Star difficulty level and
watch the opposing team come up with some brilliant plays.

Concept: 9.5

Dynasty Mode
is now a dream come true and Owner Mode is just too cool for school. Add the
Mini Games mode and this becomes a baseball game with a lot to do. There are
also plenty of teams, from the major to the minor leagues plus retro uniforms
and legendary players of the golden age of baseball. MVP Baseball 2005,
you complete me.

Three cheers
for EA Sports finally going online with Microsoft’s blessings and three more for
the content download that’s always appreciated. Jeers, though, for the stutter
during pitching or baserunning that just gets too annoying when it happens too
often in one inning. MLB 2K5 is the clear-cut winner in the online
multiplayer department.

Overall: 9.3
Grab some
snacks and your favorite beverage because MVP Baseball 2005 will keep you
glued to your couch for a very long time. With great modes, gorgeous graphics
and near perfect controls this one will no doubt be the franchise we turn to
when we want a baseball game true to the sport itself.