Last spring, I was tasked with the duty of reviewing MLB 13: The Show for the PlayStation Vita. I thoroughly enjoyed the game and gave it a lot of commendations in my review, but some readers weren’t happy with what I had to say. Although I was up front about my lack of experience with both the franchise’s previous entry and the console versions that had laid the groundwork before, many vocal readers felt that I needed to take the time and familiarize myself with both in order to be able to give a more valid opinion. Well, it is a year later and guess what, I now have a little bit of that experience.
Now that I have familiarized myself with the incredible experience that is the PS3 version of the franchise, I can sort of see what all of the flack that I received was about. It doesn’t change the fact that this is a still a quality game on the Vita, because it is, but it really falls drastically short of the experience found on the home consoles. This is really a sad fact considering all of the potential that exists in this mobile version of the game.
Feature-wise, the Vita version pretty much keeps up with the bigger version(s), sans online play and everything associated with that. You have the full lineup of MLB teams and players, all of the great stadiums, and, most importantly, the game’s primary draw, the Road to the Show, is here and completely intact. Not only are you able to create your own player and take them all the way from the minor leagues to the pros, but there is full cross save capabilities so you can bounce back and forth between the portable and home versions as you wish.
Despite the depth of options and the experience, it is an addicting and incredibly streamlined mode, given what most players are used to in a baseball simulation. As before, you don’t spend your time sitting through downtime during the early parts of your career as you have in other games because you just head into plays and moments that directly involve your player. I love this feature, and I always have, because it shines a light on what you are there to experience (gameplay) while still giving you the full-time simulation feel of a career.
Of course, you still have the standard franchise, or quick-play post season options, as well as the fast-paced homerun derby. These are all great options to keep you entertained while you are on the road with your Vita. It is the lack of online functionality that I mentioned that makes the experience feel gimped, however. Gone are all of the great features that added an unmeasurable sense of replay to the PS3 version, like the online challenges, running online franchises with your friends, and the beloved Diamond Dynasty mode.
As a result, this really feels more like a companion app than anything else if you are familiar with the more robust verion(s). That isn't necessarily a bad thing, but considering the possibilities given the incredible foundation that exists here, I can't help but feel shorted. The Vita is more than capable of handling these things and I just don’t understand why the elimination of the online functionality would ever be considered in development.
In terms of the more aesthetic aspects of the game, the visuals still look really good for a portable game. Granted, there are occasional awkward textures (especially the crowds) and some slight clipping and slowdown, but it still looks phenomenal on the Vita's gorgeous little screen. The animations in particular are as smooth as silk 99 percent of the time, and it really brings the experience to life when you are in the heat of the moment of a big game. Some of the Vita-specific features, such as the new Windows 8-esque menu screens and the general touch integration for things such as pausing the game, are all welcome additions. They’re simple and effective and go a long way toward enhancing the mobile experience in terms of making it very easy to navigate around and get things done.
The one area that I have to criticize more than any other, especially after experiencing the console version(s), is the controls. The Vita version of the game doesn’t lack any control options compared to the PS3, but its effectiveness in them pales in comparison. If you have ever played the console version, you know just how great the analog control options feel and perform. They are far and away the best means to experience the game. While those options exist here, the short and super-sensitive nature of the Vita’s analog nubs really detract from the effectiveness of any sort of analog control.
You don’t get anywhere near the accuracy you do with the wide range of analog movement found on the Dualshock controllers. As a result, the button options end up becoming the better choice for your controls. There isn’t anything wrong with these choices, such as the classic and metered control schemes, but it feels antiquated knowing the potential that is there. On a side note, I am curious to see how something like the FPS Freek, if a Vita version were created, would benefit this experience. The range of motion in the nubs seems to be the real issue here, so it is hard to say if the flaw lies in the design of the game or in the Vita itself.
Criticisms aside, the Vita version does feel better and better each year, however the glaring omissions of any and all online functionality and sub-par analog stick options really hold the experience back. If you don’t have the option of picking up the console version(s) of the game, this is still the best option you have in terms of video game baseball. If you can go with the console port(s), then those are, without a doubt, a much better option to take.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
If you have been here before, you know the basics: lifelong gamer, father, and of course, certified news monkey. I have been blogging on the industry for close to a decade now, in some form or another. It wasn't until I landed here at Gaming Nexus that I really dove in head first. Now, writing about games has become what I do for fun (and sometimes work) and something I intend on doing until the day I die.
I'm a huge fan of just about everything you can interact with using a controller, no matter how old or new. If you put it in front of me, I will play it... end of story.