Slightly less popular than professional bull riding, college baseball has thrilled viewers of ESPN 2 (the loyal few that are awake at 4:00AM) for years. Since losing the Major League Baseball license, EA was forced to go back to school with its baseball games. While its upcoming MVP 07 NCAA Baseball lacks the pageantry of MLB, it just might have the best baseball gameplay you'll find this year.
Returning from last year's game are tight features like Load and Fire Batting and Precision Throwing. The biggest addition and change to the game is Rock and Fire Pitching. This mechanic has you selecting a pitch using the face buttons and controlling the actual pitching with the analog sticks. You'll use the left stick to spot location, while the right stick is cranked back for power and launched forward for accuracy. A cone-shaped meter helps you gauge each pitch; the bottom of the cone helps you find the sweet spot for each pitch's power, while the top measures the release point for accuracy.
From what we've seen so far, Rock and Fire Pitching is a great system that combines well with the batting and throwing mechanics. The developer's goal is to keep your hands on the analog sticks as much as possible, for a modern and seamless experience.
As expected from any EA game, there's a whole lot of "more" going on as well. The second edition of NCAA Baseball has more teams, more stadiums, authentic fight songs, and the Arkansas RBI Girls (baseball cheerleaders…who knew?). There are also six minigames that are fun for a quick fix and also useful for sharpening specific skills. The Rock and Fire Challenge mini that we played was a fun mix of pitching and puzzle fighting that also served as a great way to learn the pitching system.
Despite any innovative and solid features MVP 07 NCAA Baseball has to offer, the game is a tough sell. Going the college route liberates this game from steroid addled prima donnas (Barry Bonds), emotionally fragile underachievers that are immensely overpaid (Alex Rodriguez), and gout stricken, safari fairing gluttons (David Wells). At the same time it lacks the amazing ballparks, storied franchises, and players people actually care about. That said, if you're primarily concerned about baseball gameplay, this game is well worth a look.