Review: No Punch & Judy hitters here
The original MLB on PSP was a solid launch-era game that might have been short on big-budget features (it featured only a Season setup to go along with single games and online action), but made up for it with rock-solid gameplay, which was more important anyway. A year later, Sony has released the newest version of their baseball franchise, MLB 06, subtitled 'The Show.' Mixing in many of the missing features from its PS2 big brother, MLB 06 doesn't try very hard to reinvent the wheel, so there's a strong feeling of deja vu when you first boot the game up, as most of the tweaks lie below the surface and aren't easy to spot right away. It's still a good baseball game, but in many ways there's no reason to upgrade from last year's game unless you really need those new rosters and the ability to play multiple seasons.
Like the PS2 version, the PSP build of The Show has a dedicated Career mode where you guide a created player through the ranks of a professional career. This has been in MLB games since the PlayStation days, but the version presented in MLB 06 is much more in-depth. If that doesn't tickle your fancy, the core Season mode has been stretched into a full-fledged Franchise-style setup, though it sticks to the basics without any hot dog selling or purchasing of spas, just day-to-day roster issues, whether its revamping your rotation, adding some relievers for a pennant race, or bringing up minor leaguers when they become too good to toil in AAA. For those without the sort of dedication required to get the most out of playing season after season, MLB 06 introduces King of the Diamond that serves as a unique take on the Home Run Derby. This time though, you deal with both pitchers and hitters, and points are awarded for playing well in either position. It's pretty fun in short bursts. Of course there's also single games for single or multiplayer action and online for that audience.
Generally MLB 06 will be very familiar to anyone who played MLB last year with their shiny new launch PSPs. The basics are the exact same, from the MVP styled pitching meter to the traditional pitch and location guessing 'mini-games' when you're batting. Everything scales to your difficulty level; on the basic Rookie option, the hitting is simple, with only the pitch guessing available, and pitching is simple ? choose, aim, and fire. As you move up the line all the way to Hall of Fame, the game piles on more difficult tasks, like guessing the location of a pitch to pinpointing exact spots in a strike zone while setting up a pitch and all sorts of tweaks in-between. While everyone is getting into the analog batting now, MLB 06 sticks with the traditional button press system. And not because PSP lacks that right analog stick; it's not in the PS2 version of this game either. Pitching is momentum based ? if you get hot and start getting batters out, your accuracy and skill improves, but if the guy on the mound gets shelled it goes the other way and suddenly even the pitcher is rocking triples off you. Though basic in nature, both hitting and pitching is solid without being overly complicated.
Getting into fielding and running bases is a whole different story, and that's where MLB 06: The Show begins to fall apart. It's possible to pre-load throws if there's an upcoming play at the plate, and the buttons are pressure-sensitive, but many times the game simply won't recognize the pre-loading and the result is frustrating infield hits or screwed up double plays. In the outfield it causes chaos when trying to make plays; either it won't leave a fielder's hand fast enough or the throw will be waaaaaaay
off from its destination no matter who is playing out there. It's nigh impossible to actually make a fantastic play to save a run or throw a guy out for getting too greedy because the aim of the fielders is horrific. Running the bases is normally fine, at least if you want to advance individual runners by using the traditional methods of pointing the d-pad in the base direction and pressing a runner's corresponding direction. But if you want to advance a whole set of them by using the left shoulder button, you get unresponsive action resulting in players getting caught for an out or blowing scoring chances.
The problem is, you'll need all the help you can get because MLB 06 can be pretty challenging on the default. The difficulty level is pretty even no matter which one you select ? it has more to do with the various batting and pitching setups than the skill of your AI opponents. Even on rookie it's pretty easy to get battered unless you're very good at mastering the pitching engine. It's almost required to pitch the ball out of the zone from time to time or everything will get hammered ? fastballs most especially. In the later innings it seems like there's a bit of catchup AI, as they can suddenly go on a tear after being shut out for numerous innings no matter what you throw at them. In many ways this is disappointing, but you can adjust a set of sliders to compensate for your own abilities though you still earn most of your victories throughout the season.
MLB 06 hasn't received much of a visual upgrade from last year, but it still looks nice enough. There's plenty of player animations featuring dozens of motion captured batting stances and pitching motions. Stadiums are as authentic as possible, whether its the Brewer mascot going down his little slide after a homer to the infamous right field pool at Chase Field (formerly known as Bank One Ballpark). The fans that inhabit these stands are cardboard cutouts and would be right at home...in MLB 98 for PS1. The familiar booth from MLB returns with one new member, the annoying Rex 'Wonderdog' Hudler, who practices his craft as color man for the Los Angeles Angels of Anahiem of Orange County of California of United States of America of Earth of the Milky Way. There's a lot of recycled stuff from the last game, but plenty of new stuff too, mostly coming from Hudler. The crack of the bat, umpires calling the pitches, and roaring crowds round out solid, if again recycled, sound effects. But then it's hard to 'innovate' these sorts of things.