MLB: The Show
A professor in Britain is trying to make video games smell.
Bob Stone, the professor in question, is working with his country's military to create ever more realistic wartime simulators, and he says that various battlefield scents will one day be a critical part of them. In 20-30 years, Stone believes, the technology could move to video game platforms.
Our vote for the first "smelly" video game? Sony's Major League Baseball franchise The Show. It's already so fantastically realistic that, really, the only thing missing is the odor of freshly cut grass in the outfield and freshly roasted peanuts in the stands. From the sweep and beauty of the parks to the jaw-dropping ball dynamics to the lifelike player representations to the hundreds of unique scratch-hitch-twist-and-swing animations that look just like the real thing you might see on TV.
You can jump into the game in any number of ways. Pick your favorite team and play through a full season (and the playoffs, should you be so lucky). Play an exhibition game with a team made up of yesteryear greats (Honus Wagner, anyone?). Or create your own player from scratch and push him through the bush leagues and into the Bigs.
Rivals can be sitting in your living room or half-way around the world. (Note: Online play supplies the thrill of real competition, but it can also introduce trash talking or worse. So heads-up on that score.) And play can be as involved as you can stand it. Batters have the option of "guessing" pitch type and location. Pitchers can master 17 different pitch styles. Base runners can choose to slide feet-first, with a hook-left flourish or a head-first rumble.
These are games about a game that are almost better than the real thing. OK, maybe not, but they are seriously well-made button-crunchers if you're into the sport of inches, diamonds and home runs blasts.
MLB 12: The Show
Here are the new twists: Along with a standard place-your-pitch-and-flick-a-thumbstick analog pitch meter, MLB 12 offers something called "pulse pitching." This is more of a timing control scheme that centers on a pulsating circle that shrinks and grows around the spot you pick over the plate. After picking your pitch, the key is to catch the circle at its smallest circumference for the most accurate and powerful throw. It's a fun addition that really speeds up the pace of the game.
Naturally, those muscle-flexing sluggers will want some new features too. And they get something called "zone analog" batting. This new system allows the batter to pick out and highlight a specific part of the strike zone. If the ball is thrown in that spot by one of those oh-so-predictable pitchers, then your guy will definitely get the best possible contact with that little speeding pill.
With Diamond Dynasty you can build a team from scratch using what amounts to digital baseball cards that pull together everyone from recognizable pros to completely customizable new stars. It's a franchise mode that gives you absolute control over every little stat-packed detail of your team's roster and player development.
MLB 12 can be played with PlayStation Move controllers, too, which pull you off your couch and force you to really get into the pitching and swinging. And if you have a new handheld PlayStation Vita (with its own copy of the game), you can transfer a save file from your PS3 and keep playing while out waiting in line at the bank or jetting off on vacation. Which brings up the game's only foul ball: Do you really want to be playing a game about a game all the time? Everywhere? Should I really want to be playing MLB 12 while waiting in line to see the Rockies? Should I skip a game of catch in the backyard with my son so I can fine-tune my virtual stats?
MLB 09: The Show
For all its potential depth and complexity, MLB 09 doesn't necessarily intimidate minor leaguers like me. The game will take over pesky complications like fielding and base running if you ask it to, and it only took me a couple of innings to learn the bare basics of pitching and hitting and throwing. I was still pretty lousy after a 90-minute game—but significantly better than I am in real life.
MLB 09: The Show is rated E, and for good reason. Though I didn't tackle an entire season while writing this review, the most egregious problem I saw was a player "adjusting" himself at the plate—as real major leaguers are wont to do.
But before I leave that glowing praise completely unqualified—and at the risk of raining out the fun of a late-fall doubleheader—there's one more thought I want to put into words: Baseball, in real life, is a grueling sport that requires patience, dedication and tons of practice for those who hope to excel. MLB 09 precisely duplicates that aspect of the sport as well. Virtual players, particularly those you create yourself, get better with every pitch and every at bat. They struggle. They learn. They improve. And that means you've got to put in a whole bunch of nights and weekends to get all the way to the top. I've read of gamers "practicing" with their sluggers for hours at a time, knowing that the more energy they expend in batting cages, the better they'll be in games.
The payoff for such perseverance in real life can be a major league contract. In this game it's … more late hours in front of a glowing screen. So play your hardest. Have fun. Run. Hit. Throw. Slide. Breathe in the sights (and smells!) all around you in the realistic world of MLB 09. But don't take your eyes off the real ball while you're at it.