When 2K Sports acquired the Major League Baseball license in an exclusive deal, it could’ve easily just stuck with the MLB 2K games that it produces every year. Instead, it opted to attract a different kind of crowd with a separate release, known as The Bigs. Working more on arcade-style fundamentals rather than traditional simulation play, it did all right with the two games in the series that were released – but then mysteriously vanished following that. We were left wondering what happened.
Then the answer hit our office last week with the release of Nicktoons MLB, a game that has “Bigs” written all over it when it comes to gameplay and features. All of the action you remember from those two games is included here, from being able to use turbo to lob crazy pitches across the plate and smack balls into objects around the park, to using amazing 30-foot grabs at the fence to leave a potential home run hitter grumbling to himself.
This isn’t Bigs, as the title indicates. Instead, it’s arcade baseball running smack dab into the Nickelodeon kids’ universe. 300 players from across 30 MLB teams are included, along with a variety of characters from hit Nick shows, including Spongebob Squarepants, Ren, Stimpy, Powdered Toast Man (!), Yak, and a smorgasbord of others. They mesh better than expected, with Yak getting just as much hitting power as, say, Carlos Gonzalez.
Quick Play lets you get into a randomly mixed contest with players from both sides; Showdown divides them into an interesting Nicktoons vs. MLB contest; Tournament mode has you facing various teams on the road to a championship; and then there’s the Home Run Contest, which has been reduced from smashing stuff in city settings to a dual-player contest where you automatically aim for targets in an outfield. It would’ve been nice to have some sort of story-oriented season mode (as well as online play, like previous Bigs games), but what’s here is serviceable.
One new addition to the formula is Kinect support. Players of all ages can throw pitches, swing bats, and throw balls all over the outfield using simple motions. While it is effective, it’s also way too simple for its own good. All you do is throw, swing, throw, and there isn’t much complexity to reward you for your efforts. What’s more, trying to navigate the menus is about as effective as trying to eat a Crabby Patty without ending up with greasy hands. It’s worth trying out once or twice, but you won’t get much mileage after that.
As for general gameplay (i.e. using a controller), it’s great. The turbo system has been simplified, so you don’t have to make such a demanding effort to throw insane pitches or swing for the fences, and it’s fairly balanced between all players; you won’t have your kids whining about someone having an unfair advantage. You can also unlock new characters and a variety of cards with each match you play, adding a bit to the title’s longevity. We would’ve liked to see more classic characters, like Danger Mouse, added to the fold, but it’s apparent 2K Sports wanted to stick to more popular current ones. No biggie.
As for visuals, they represent the Bigs engine very well. There are times when a large character, such as Yak, appears as if they aren’t even connecting with the ball at all, but it’s a minor issue. The rest of the game looks good for the most part, from a fly ball bouncing off an exploding scoreboard, to an awesome-looking collision at the plate between runner and catcher. The animations are smooth and the camera system keeps a close eye on what’s happening.
Also, though there aren’t a lot of them in the game (six Nicktoons-themed ones and six MLB ones), the fields are outstanding. You can bat your way through the likes of Fenway Park or Wrigley Field, or see what it’s like to play in a Nickelodeon-inspired winter wonderland. Either way, you’ll have a ball – literally – trouncing around in these fields.
Then there’s the audio. The arena music isn’t half bad, as there are more general stadium themes than licensed tunes, and the sound effects are good, including cracks of the bat and cheering crowds. However, the announcing team needs serious work. The anchor fish from Spongebob Squarepants does his job effectively, but he’s continuously interrupted by the annoying GIR from Invader Zin, who has nothing better to say outside of random screeches and demands, to which Fish responds with a “What the heck?” approach. This team would’ve been better off with a Nick favorite combined with one of the announcers from Bigs.
So, no, Nicktoons MLB isn’t quite at the potential to be considered The Bigs 3. The announcing is haphazard, the Kinect support is minimal at best, and the lack of online and season options can’t be missed. However, the game is far more fun than most licensed fare, thanks to arcade-style gameplay (with the controller) and a mostly solid visual set-up. Also, it’s fun for both kids and their parents to play. It may be coming along a little late in the season (like the previously reviewed MLB Bobbleheads Battle), but it’s still worth taking a batter up with.
Plus…Powdered Toast Man! We mentioned him, right?
[Reviewed on Xbox 360]