Lose the Kid Gloves.
Lacking noses, ears, and mouths, the super-deformed characters on the cover of MLB Power Pros 2008 look more like the poster boys for a free-to-play Korean MMORPG. Stare for one more minute and you’ll recognize the caricatures of superstar MLB players like Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Howard. Don’t be fooled, though. The cutesy art style is the first of many deceptive elements: Power Pros is a difficult game and another entry in 2K Sports’ annals of feature-heavy super simulation games.
Difficulty and lots of features, though, don’t always make the best games. Power Pros may upset the casual player who sees it as a carefree arcade-style sports game, as well as hardcore fans who expect that the dozens of options and items will allow them to do something interesting.
Power Pros is a pint-sized re-imagining of a national pastime, a mash-up of sports simulators and The Sims. When you aren’t swinging bats and stealing bases, you’re keeping athletes healthy and happy. Power Pros packs a full nine-inning game in single or tournament formats, a standard league mode, and two RPG modes starring a single Major League star or player-created rookie.
If you can get past Power Pros’ sugary sweet appearance, its super-deformed visual style is a pleasant success. The bright colors and large, prominent models paint a vibrant picture, set in your favorite American ballparks. The colors and rounded shapes also act as a friendly guide, helping you take in the massive amount of information on every screen. Sadly, character models have a very limited variety of animations; it’s a meager collection but fairly unnoticeable as you swing at pitch after pitch.
Sporty, peppy anime music fits the bill without going overboard. Commentator Jack Merluzzi talks a fairly good game, naming most of the MLB players. The references to team standings are pretty neat but overused, and you don’t hear too many colorful phrases. Just like the graphics, there are just enough voiceover clips and sound effects to capture a game of baseball with little room for embellishment.
Has your interest survived this far into this strange anime game, this sports game, this review even? If so, maybe you do have what it takes to earn the All-Star trophy, survive the playoffs, and win the World Series... but do you really have the patience? Because though the sports and lifestyle segments of Power Pros show a lot of potential, the overbearing RPG elements suck the fun and oomph out of the game’s hundred-kajillion options.
Take, for example, the simple dotted-line indicators that show where the pitcher will throw and where the batter will swing. It looks like very simple arcade fare, except a player’s statistics factor heavily into how far a batter can hit, so even if you line up a perfect homer, the ball is still more likely to land right into the mitt of the center fielder. I disliked every other aspect of the field gameplay, from hopeless base-stealing to the easily confused one-touch fielding and the hyper-sensitive, unreliable pitching.
I hoped that Power Pros’ RPG elements would take a page from Korean MMOs and save the day, with collectible equipment to boost my Strength and Charisma and Orc-Killing skills, but it didn’t happen. There was maybe one item in the whole RPG mode that increased your Power stat? By one point? The only relief came in the minor-league Success Mode, where you invent a character and earn buckets of practice points and power-ups to train however you like.
As I said, though, Power Pros is The Sims, not Diablo. You’ll spend most of the headlining Success and MLB Life modes collecting hobbies and girlfriends, taking up chess or golf, buying mansions, and paying mortgages - it’s all there. But there are so many items and rules that their significance becomes lost and empty, and your success meters for hobbies are just as slow to grind as stats like Arm Strength.
A Fatigue Meter ticks down after every game and then you're supposed to have a hobby to keep you from running around town like A-Rod on angel dust. It’s a reasonable idea but the balance is all wrong: You spend five nights a week sleeping just to stay off the Disabled List. So much for collecting all this RPG junk.
There are a few other snarky spots where if you don’t review every one of your eighty progress meters, you’ll get a sudden Game Over screen. I’ve won games, won the championship, trained like hell during summer, written my novel, and lost five pounds. Then I got fired. What?! Why?! Either Power Pros doesn’t inform the player very well or I should have been losing games….
Stat-hounds will at least enjoy the avalanche of MLB information in Power Pros. The game tracks the most arcane facts of your player performance. Players can also rack up points and buy baseball cards, complete with color photos and written descriptions of hundreds of MLB players.
MLB Power Pros 2008 sits and stares you down from the television like a catcher who gives his pitcher bad signals. It looks cute but it’s coldly statistical; it looks layered but it’s full of aimless red herrings; and then you lose. These poor players don’t have arms or noses: Aren’t their lives hard enough?