Most sports genres have a clear winner, usually published by EA, and a clear loser, usually published by 989 Sports. But not so with baseball. It seems like every studio in the world is capable of making a great baseball video game (hell, 3DO even made one or two and they never published good games).
This year, Sony, EA and 2K Games all released quality baseball titles for the various consoles. So when we heard that both MLB and MVP would be making appearances on the PSP, we prepared for the worst: two baseball games of such equal quality that we'd never be able to make up our minds which was better.
Lucky for you, the disparity between the PSP versions of MLB and MVP Baseball is obvious - one has online play, a complex batting system and performs smoothly, and the other is MVP.
This rare misfire from EA features a minimalist selection of modes, to say the least: standard Season mode complete with the ability to trade players, Exhibition mode, and Home Run Showdown. The Showdown arguably doesn't count, since it has more in common with a test than a game. After a minute or two of missing every pitch, you'll inevitably try swinging right as the ball is about to leave the pitcher's hand and hit a home run. Then you will discover that this works every single time.
While the Showdown is easy to pass, the overall selection of modes is a bit of a failure, mainly due to a lack of any online content. You can't download updated rosters, which is irritating since the defaults are out of date, nor can you go online to compete against other players. Even though MLB's online feature was stripped-down and halfway broken, it was theoretically possible to find good, online matches. In MVP, it is not. You can, of course, play wirelessly against another PSP owner with the Ad-Hoc feature.
Since the modes aren't going to sell any copies of MVP, the pressure lies squarely on the gameplay. But where Sony's game actually managed to improve upon its console-based predecessor, MVP disappoints due to the absence of the Hitter's Eye. This feature improved batting in the console game by having the ball flash a certain color during delivery, indicating the type of incoming pitch.
But in the PSP version, every pitch looks the same until it's halfway to the plate. You have to decide whether or not you're going to swing before the ball leaves the pitcher's hand, which makes hitting an extremely simple prospect against CPU opponents. You know that at least one in three pitches is going to be a strike, so you aim for the left field bleachers and you swing at every one. I hit four home runs in a row this way against Randy Johnson and generally rack up a football score in every game. Compared to the involved guessing game at the heart of MLB, MVP's scheme feels more like T-ball than baseball.
Aside from the minor-league batting system, pretty much every other aspect of gameplay is the same or comparable to what was found in the console version. Fielding maneuvers used to be mapped to the R-stick, and now they're all functions of the R-button. Players still don't actually reach for balls or try to catch them. Their moves are static; you have to hope they dive in just the right way to make a catch. Since players under your control exhibit zero A.I., you'll sometimes dive for a ball and think you've caught it only to see it sitting there at your player's feet when he stands up. It can also be really tough to figure out which player the game has decided you should control in time to make a play.
Pitching is the same, with the chargeable meter moving faster after hits and walks are given up. The system is still very rational and intuitive and certainly one of the smartest in the genre. The only difference between the PS2 and PSP versions is that the latter requires pitches to be placed with the thumb-nub, which is not a precise device.
Base running has received the same treatment as fielding. You can still send individual runners to whichever base you choose, as well as send or retreat all runners. Sliding commands can be given via a combination of the thumb-nub and the R-button, which works just as well as the R-stick system did in MVP 2005.
Even though most of the gameplay mechanics are the same, playing MVP for the PSP is a much worse experience due to the terrible framerate and universally lower level of detail. Where MLB looks sharp and moves swiftly, MVP looks crusty and moves lethargically – it definitely could have been released in better shape.
While it doesn't sound as bad as it looks, the ambient crowd noise repeats on a three-second loop and includes a weird high-pitched, metallic squeal. If such regular, repeating noises drive you as crazy as they do me, you'll definitely want to play with the volume off. Besides, all you really miss is the crack of the bat and some bad play-by-play.
Though it may be tough to choose between MLB and MVP on the consoles, it's simply tough to choose MVP for the PSP, period. Franchise and online options have been left out, the batting system is mindless and the graphics are really choppy. In a way, this game's poor performance actually benefits you, the consumer, because you should know without any doubt that this is not the baseball game you want for your PSP.