MLB 2006 Review

Developer: 989 Sports Publisher: SCEA
Release Date: March 8, 2005 Also On: None

Major League Baseball has been tainted with a steroids scandal for years now. Commissioner Bud Selig denies that a problem exists, and the Player’s Association has taken baby steps towards finding a solution. For Mr. Selig, steroids are justified with growing attendance and viewership among those baseball lost after the strike of ’94. For fans that really aren’t fans, the homerun surge is the best thing that’s happened to the game. For baseball purists like myself, the steroids scandal is the worst event to happen in the sport since the Black Sox of 1919.

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The video game industry has a form of steroids of its own. It’s called exclusive property agreements. This year saw the end to all competitors to Madden. The same is happening to baseball video games, except for 1st party offerings, like 989’s MLB line on the PlayStation 2, and now, the PSP. While Take-Two will love to see EA leave the scene next year, did they leave a door wide open by allowing 1st parties, like 989, to continue?

One noticeable difference between this year’s version and last year’s is, last year’s featured a player from the World Series Champion Florida Marlins. This year’s version features Guerrero of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, a team that not only got spanked in last year’s playoffs, but got swept 3 games to 0, and were outscored 25-12. I doubt 989 wants the same fate as the Angels’.

The answer as to if it does suffer the fate of the Angels is a quick no. Take-Two is going to find themselves more than busy defending their market share on the PS2 come next year. 989 Sports’ MLB series has improved dramatically two years running, with no signs of letting up. 989 is showing us an unrelenting commitment to improved sports titles, year after year.

MLB 2006 is your standard baseball game, in that it features a mode for quick play, exhibition, season, franchise, and even online multi-player. The micro-management in the Franchise mode is something that I personally haven’t seen in a next-generation baseball game, at least to this extent. It could have very well held up as a game on its own, with a few more features.

The Franchise mode might have worked better on a PC, but 989 issued a second helping of options to gamers with the Franchise mode. You can erect advertisements in your ballpark, sign television deals, sell concessions, etc. While you’re at it, try to balance the team’s budget, while making sure there’s enough money for training and rehabilitation. Afterall, what ballpark could go without a spa? You’ll need to factor salaries (managerial and player), signing deals, and team/fan morale.

With the Franchise mode, you’re given 4 years to reach a number of different goals, such as 300 wins in two seasons, among about nine other things. You’ll partake in a fantasy draft (if you so choose), you’ll manage your team’s finances, and you can even play in the games throughout the season. What’s so fun about having a desk job as a franchise owner without getting a little fresh air at Wrigley Field?

MLB 2006 allows you to play your team’s schedule, or even play as an AA or AAA minor league feeder team. This opens the door to playing as any number of possible teams, be it the Chicago White Sox, Baltimore Orioles, or the new Washington Nationals. Then you have a whole other level with the minor league ball clubs. Too bad A wasn’t included; I’d have liked to play as the South Bend Silver Hawks.

The dynamics of defense remain the same. A new technology known as ‘Branch Point’ gives players the ability to field the ball and pre-load a throw with textbook fielding transitions, impacted by both footwork and momentum. Other than that, an oval is displayed when a ball is hit where your fielder is expected to get underneath the ball. A baseball icon will appear precisely where the ball will land. To better your chances of a catch, the closer you are to the icon, the better off you will be.

Batting remains largely unchanged, which in my opinion, is a shame. MLB 2006 has a lot going for it, but with the lack of a hitting cursor, it feels like little skill is involved to hitting. It also gives you little opportunity to hit it a certain way. In past games, like the All-Star Baseball series on the N64, the cursor could be used to hit balls at angles. Without a cursor, that’s simply not possible. Instead, by pressing R2, you can guess a pitch. If the pitch is guessed correctly, you have an advantage over the pitcher, as an indicator will appear on the screen, showing you where the ball will end up.

MLB 2006 has a lot going for it. While it’ll still be viewed as the under-dog, MLB 2006 would likely be my personal choice for a baseball game to own on the PS2 this year. With several improvements over last year, I beg the question why a hitting cursor couldn’t have been worked out in the final version of this game. With or without a batting cursor, I highly recommend MLB 2006 to any fan of baseball. You won’t find any needles in this game.

Graphics: 8
Sound: 8.5
Gameplay: 9
Creativity: 8
Replay Value/Game Length: 10
Final: 8.7
Written by Kyle Review Guide

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