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Following up a smashing success is a tall task – just ask an Oscar or Grammy winner. Fans will demand the impossible, clamoring for innovation and fresh perspective without straying too far from the successful formula. The makers of MLB 09 The Show surely feel similar pressure, having achieved a spectacular success with last season’s edition. Is it possible to top a seminal touchstone without trying to do too much or, even worse, overreach and take a step (or two) backwards?
The answer is a resounding “Yes.” MLB 09 The Show is baseball poetry in motion, a gorgeous ode to America’s pastime that celebrates the game at a time when baseball fans need it the most. We savored just about everything from first pitch to last out, including the riotously smooth visuals and rock-solid gameplay. While there’s an admittedly substantial learning curve, we’re more than willing to spend lots of time inside The Show’s world. It’s just that good.
One thing’s for sure – hitting the ball consistently is a serious challenge. Mastering the mechanics around timing and location will take time on all but the easiest level, but the payoff is worth it.
Pitching is also tricky, as the three-tap meter seems more sensitive this season. We found ourselves missing the strike zone a lot more than we used to, which adds significantly to the realism but can be confounding at times.
Game modes and options are bountiful too, including the very welcome split of franchise and season modes; we appreciate the ability to simply play a full 162-game slate without a ton of overhead. The best single-player sports campaign ever invented, Road To The Show, makes another triumphant return. Some may complain that it’s virtually the same as last season, and that’s pretty accurate. Other than a few tweaks, there’s not much that’s different this time, and if you dedicated a ton of time to it in 2008 it may not strike your fancy as much. After all, it’s a major challenge to take your rag-tag Spring Training invitee out of the minors and up to the big leagues; doing it all over again might not be so appealing.
A handful of middling problems crop up now and again, including players sometimes passing through each other on the basepaths (a holdover bug from last season). We also hate baserunning in Road To The Show, which prompted us to turn it off after a half-dozen botched misadventures. In addition, our early online games had loads of lag, which hurt gameplay substantially. Hopefully these online kinks are quickly ironed out, as there’s nothing more frustrating than a choppy experience.
Any way you slice it, though, MLB 09 The Show is tight, gorgeous and virtually bursting at the seams. It’s the crown jewel of this generation’s baseball games, proving that follow-ups can indeed meet (or beat) their superstar predecessors.
Mar 6, 2009
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