Groundbreaking achievements don’t happen very often. For years, sports gamers have been tied to a specific console or handheld, their particular universe held captive inside plastic and wire. Franchises on consoles languish while the owner is away from home, while virtual careers are oft ignored on the small screen when a high-definition experience beckons. More often than not, the lack of cohesion means neither gets taken as far as you’d like. There were a handful of exceptions during the PSP era, but sadly, far too few. Thanks to Sony’s San Diego team, that doesn’t have to happen anymore – at least from a baseball perspective, with MLB 12: The Show’s debut on PlayStation Vita. Groundbreaking, indeed.
The ability to play seasons, franchises, or the Road To The Show and effortlessly share them between the Vita and PS3 is spectacular. What’s more is that it works beautifully – after the painful initial setup on both devices, that is. A simple “save to cloud” or “load to cloud” option had us moving from handheld to console all the time, taking our teams with us when we hit the road. It’s a great feature that should be the standard for all PS3/Vita combos moving forward, and instantly justifies having the game on both platforms. On its own, however, MLB 12 The Show on the Vita doesn’t pack quite the punch we were hoping for.
The drawback of switching devices is that it’s clear how unimpressive the Vita version looks compared to its gorgeous PS3 cousin. Frankly, The Show is far from a visual killer. It feels more like an update of a PSP title than something uniquely created for the super-powered new handheld. While certain things have a nice appearance (especially the major league stadiums, which have some lovely details), for the most part The Show is rather aesthetically bland. From an overall lack of crispness to pixilated crowds to slowdown during at-bats and in the bullpen, The Show compares poorly to other Vita launch titles from a graphical perspective.
The guts of The Show are superb, though. Long known as the best baseball sim on the market (for good reason), you’d be hard-pressed to find fault with much of the core gameplay. Players move across the field with fluidity, ranging for fly balls and sliding into bases in exceedingly lifelike manners. Special care was obviously taken by the development team to incorporate individual pitcher and hitter characteristics, like Neftali Feliz’ fastball follow-through and Ryan Howard’s pre-pitch point of the bat. An embarrassment of statistical riches awaits you in-game, from individual breakdowns to hitter tendencies. Batters get immediate feedback on every swing, which is especially crucial for a game with such a high degree of difficulty. In some ways, it’s not a stretch to call it the best handheld baseball game we’ve ever seen.
Problems abound, however. The new Pulse Pitching mechanic is lacking, and we quickly went back to the old-school meter. A hyper-sensitive left analog stick renders it impossible to accurately use on a train or bus – and that’s a big deal for handheld gaming. Long load times feel like a leftover from the old PSP series, and empty dugouts have replaced missing umpires as the “thing that makes you painfully aware that you’re playing on a portable device.”