Baseball isn't Star Wars - when the bad guys win, no one walks away happy. And in a crappy twist of fate in this new exclusive-license world, the second-rate baseball game won the right to lock out its better competitor. That leaves EA Sports' MVP series trying to soldier on with the NCAA license for college baseball - in other words, praying fans will care about a flavor of their sport that no one watches. So the $30 question is "Does MVP 06 NCAA Baseball serve enough purely delicious baseball to make that inherent obstacle vanish?"
The short answer: not really. But that doesn't mean MVP 06 fields a weak team - in fact, it makes a remarkably intelligent stab at both representing the college ballgame and trying to reel in its former MLB-lovin' fanbase. Once you stop being surprised by the ping of aluminum bats, nameless players, and unfamiliar uniforms, you'll start feeling the love that made MVP the star of the past few seasons. Good AI and great small-picture details like quick-pick menus for warming up pitchers mesh nicely with the new Dynasty Mode, which involves an engaging quest to recruit better players and build up your school's team to College World Series caliber. There's even a live, real-life sports ticker that updates scores every 20 minutes from ESPN.com and a deep "creation zone" for crafting your own ballparks, teams, and players.
Two key missteps cool off what could have been a whole lot of baseball hotness. As part of its admirable drive to innovate, MVP 06 seems determined to make every small moment of gameplay a mini-game, which gets awfully tiresome when you'd rather just play ball, not three different mini-games involving a funky array of meters. Pitching remains fantastic, but throwing to a base now involves filling a meter by aiming the right thumbstick at the corresponding base, while batting now uses the right analog stick to charge up and release your swing. Once mastered - an effort that takes a lot of work - the batting can be pretty cool because it almost actually feels like you're swinging; if you don't take to it, you can just switch it off.