Box Score: The Vita can revolutionize sports games but will it?

Box Score is a weekly column that offers a look at sports games and the athletic side of the industry from the perspective of veteran reviewer and sports fan Richard Grisham.

It’s a long, difficult road to the major leagues, and Leo Griffin is suffering. He’s been stuck in the minors for seven months now, and hasn’t gotten a chance to strut his stuff since early summer. By now, he should be dominating big-league hitters and making All Star teams; instead, he’s trapped in a virtual vacuum, and chances are he’ll never get out.

For years, the most compelling feature of MLB The Show has been Road To The Show, where you create a player from scratch then guide him from the bush leagues to the majors. A few years back, I probably logged 50 hours in it, but with subsequent releases I’ve been less compelled to follow through. I travel a lot for work, so time spent in front of my console is precious; with so many tremendous games hitting consoles recently I haven’t been compelled to spend the required hours building my guy. To be frank, I feel badly for Leo. The kid deserves a chance.

That’s where the Vita comes in. Glancing at the specs and the hype, it seems clear that Sony’s newest handheld offers unprecedented options for sports gamers. If the Vita truly is an extension of the PS3, I imagine that Leo can exist independently of any specific device; he’ll simply be my Sony MLB The Show guy living “in the cloud”. For big events like his major league debut or World Series games, I’ll crank up The Show at home on the big screen. When I’m traveling, he’ll join me on my Vita for quick training exercises and games in airport lounges and hotel rooms, gathering valuable experience points along the way. All his stats and attributes will exist in the PSN cloud, accessible anytime and anywhere.

It shouldn’t be limited to Leo, either. I’m currently obsessed with NBA 2K12’s Greatest Mode, and have to leave it behind every time I hit the road. By the time I get home, I have to re-learn the complex controls to get back in any groove I may have had; I’d love to stay on a roll no matter where I am. I’m also knee-deep in my 4th String Madden online franchise, and it makes perfect sense to be able to manage my team, sign free agents, make trades, or (gasp!) play the actual games from whichever device makes sense at the moment. If these all live in Sony’s cloud, it won’t matter how I get to them – just that I can.

I’m willing to pay, too. If my purchase of MLB 12 The Show next March for PS3 includes a Vita add-on for an extra $10 or $15, I’m all over that. Heck, I’d even think about forking over $90 for a combo PS3/Vita pack that lets me fully share the experience between the devices. I’d play both of them a ton, which would help justify the cost.

What I’m afraid of is the old model; I’ve got no time to invest in separate experiences on the PS3 and Vita. The games simply must be tied together – in some compelling way – to get me on board this time.

In fact, for all the hand-wringing about whether or not Vita will be successful, if it truly, seamlessly integrates with the PS3 (not like the clunky Remote Play that’s useless to me for a variety of reasons) then it’s an easy winner. The 3DS is a non-factor with sports games, and iOS titles can’t come remotely close to matching the Vita experience. Sony’s last, best chance at winning the handheld market is based on whether or not they capitalize on the opportunity to truly redefine what a mobile gaming experience is.

Of course, Sony has announced none of this sort of capability. All we know is that The Show is coming on PS3 and Vita this March. This is just a crazy wish list I have based on a combination of my dreams and Vita marketing hype. Even so, cloud computing has made huge advances in a number of industries. The PlayStation Network, PS3, and Vita can combine to be the Dream Team; here’s hoping it becomes reality.

Richard Grisham has been obesessed with sports and video games since childhood, when he'd routinely create and track MicroLeague Baseball seasons on paper. He currently lives in New Jersey with his wife and four-year old son, who he'll soon be training to be an NFL placekicker. As a freelance journalist and writer, his work has appeared in GamesRadar, NGamer, and 1UP.