Spring has officially arrived that means two things; a brand new season of Major League Baseball, and the release of MLB 15 The Show. Going on its 4th season on the PlayStation Vita, the question remains… is this yearly update worth the price of admission?
As a whole, Sony boasts that MLB 15: The Show is the most feature packed game in the history of the franchise. With modes and features such as Diamond Dynasty, Road To The Show (RTTS), Inverse Kinematics, and directional hitting, fans of the series will be happy to hear that it’s constantly improving year after year.
For Vita fans however, (with the exception of directional hitting) MLB 15 The Show is more or less the same game as last year’s release; but unlike FIFA who has taken to this practice before, more of the same might not be such a bad thing this time ’round.
The fundamental gameplay elements of The Show have not changed since the series’ debut in 2006; hitting and pitching are done with the face and shoulder buttons, and you use the analog sticks to aim where you want to hit or throw the ball. It’s fitting that people say that hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in sports, because it’s certainly no different here – as you’ll find out if you play the game I’m sure.
For the beginner or new to the series player, Sony was kind enough to include a beginner mode where timing isn’t essential and will ease a player into the art of hitting a baseball. Eventually however, this becomes a bit too easy and games will likely resemble football scores rather than the low scoring affairs baseball can be famous for.
On the flip side, playing on Legend will give you an authentic experience where timing, reflexes, and having a sharp eye will rule the diamond. Granted, this mode will more likely frustrate newcomers and impatient hitters who will want to swing at every pitch thrown – so it’s best to come back to this mode once you’re a seasoned veteran or when you’re not looking to relax with some easy gaming.
New for 2015 though, Sony has added directional hitting in all modes. This mode gives you control over where you want to hit the ball. Are you facing a pitcher who likes to throw low junk? Aim towards the plate and make him pay. Are you a left handed hitter that wants to hit a homer at the short right field fence? Aim towards the short right field fence and give him what he wants. This directional hitting ability gives you a ton of flexibility in your offensive strategy, and much more control over the ball than past versions offered.
Defensively, the game is as good as ever with pitching options such as classic, pure analog, pulse pitching, and the always dependable meter pitching making their return as expected. While every other option works relatively well on the console, I cannot recommend using pulse and/or pure analog pitching on the Vita because the analog sticks seem a bit too sensitive for this precise style of pitching. Attempting them will likely lead to frustration that’s out of your (lack of) control to remedy.
Once the ball is in play however, you have the option of having full AI control of your fielders or taking control of them yourself – the latter making throwing to the bases a simple task as the Vita’s face buttons are programmed to correspond to each base on the diamond.
In All-Star difficulty, you’ll also have to be wary about how you throw the ball. If you hold the base button too long, you’re likely to over-throw the baseman; and if you don’t hold it long enough, it’ll be a slow and short pass – the kind likely to let the hitter on base with an infield hit. With enough practice, all of this will be second nature and won’t be difficult to pull off… but again, it’s a mode not really geared towards beginners.
Unfortunately, MLB 15 The Show is fundamentally the same as last years version when it comes to game modes. Where as the PlayStation 4 version boasts Diamond Dynasty mode (think FIFA’s FUT mode) and an improved online mode, the Vita version includes none of this. While RTTS, Franchise Mode and Homerun Derby (the only cross-play multiplayer mode available on the Vita) make their return, it feels the lack of proper online play brings down the replay value of the title some.
For those who do not know what Road To The Show is, it’s a game mode that lets you groom a user-created player from the minor leagues all the way to “The Show” (the famous nickname for making into Major League Baseball). You pick a position and work through the season to prove your worth at the high level. By meeting several game generated goals, your points increase – the points able to be applied to your player’s stats. Think of RTTS as the RPG of baseball; the more you succeed, the better your player will become. It’s the one mode that has the most (and best) replay value, and an invaluable part of the game… especially now that the online modes have been cut back.
One cool feature that the game brings is The Show Live. This mode lets you play the current day’s game with the same roster that the actual teams will bring out on the field, giving you that extra sense of realism and “being there” that’s missing from most sports games.
Along for the ride in the feature department is also the cross-save that’s been a staple on the Vita for a few years now. Cross-save (for the uninitiated) means that you can start a franchise or RTTS player at home on your console of choice, and then transfer it over to your Vita to take on the road (or off the TV). This makes the Vita version a wonderful companion if the console versions are your cup of tea, and a great way to continue a game on the go.
Looking to the graphics, not much has changed from MLB 14. Every MLBPA player and MLB stadium is represented in their full glory and still looks like their real life counterpart. The game looks good, but it doesn’t stand out compared to other games – an example of an issue being where parts of the stadium and scoreboard can look blurry (as well as the first and third base windows). MLB 15 is also obviously not at native resolution, and it’s still fair to say there are those same frame rate issues that’ve been plaguing the Vita entry since 2012 – but other than those quibbles we’ve already been dealing with, the game does well to stay true to its roots on the console as the best baseball game out there.
Also a familiar sight (so to speak) is Matt Vasgersian, who is back on the mic with the play by play, trivia and stats for the game. While the commentary is great, playing through 162 games you will hear a lot of phrases that will be repeated. That’s the nature of the beast with video game announcing however, no matter which sport you’re playing. The rest of the gameplay audio is well done with cheers and boos coming from the crowd depending if you are playing home or away, and the stadium PA helpfully announcing the upcoming batter and relief pitchers.
Stepping back to look at the game as a whole, it certainly seems like Sony has successfully refined The Show on PlayStation Vita. This year’s iteration feels more fluid and closer to its console counterparts gameplay-wise than previous releases – and while the lack of true exhibition online play in ’15 is disappointing, it’s not a surprise to see it go since San Diego Studios just couldn’t get it right in previous versions. What we’ve been given this year is a good baseball game that works well on Vita, and for $19.99 US I’d say it’s not a bad deal at all.