The Best Around (Still)
The last and best of the MVP Baseball Series, MVP 2005 represents a spit-shine of the franchise. Due to the Take-Two third-party exclusivity agreement with the MLB, EA’s brand of baseball ends with this installment. It’s a shame really. Growing out of the Triple Play series, MVP has come to represent some of the best in simulation baseball.
The main new features for this installment are Owner’s Mode, mini-games, and Hitter’s Eye. Hitter’s Eye is a system to tell what kind of pitch is being thrown before the ball actually leaves the pitcher’s hand. This is done through the ball flashing different colors corresponding to a specific pitch, as in white for fastball, red for curveball, etc. Hitter’s Eye really doesn’t have much of an effect on the gameplay, however. It can occasionally offer a good tip while on offense but I often found myself paying little to no attention to it.
Owner’s Mode is an addition that fans of the series have been clamoring for since 2003. Its absence from MVP 2004 was certainly conspicuous due to the inclusion of similar modes in other EA Sports titles, like Madden 2004. Owner’s Mode gives complete control of an organization to the player by allowing them to build their own stadium, hire/fire staff, set ticket and concession prices, run promotional giveaways, and other decisions that the suits behind baseball teams make. All of this is stacked on top of the existing Dynasty Mode framework, resulting in an exceptionally deep season mode. It’s also fun on top of being deep. Building your team and making money (even if it’s fake) becomes very satisfying and addicting. The mode can become entrenched in micro managing, however, resulting in too much time navigating menus and not enough time on the field. Also, beginning with a major league team in a minor league ballpark is just kind of weird.
The mini-games may seem, at first glance, to be a throwaway addition. In fact, they contain some of the most fun to be had in MVP 2005. The batting mini-game consists of a field with various ramps and obstructions placed on it. You receive points based on the distance of your hits. On top of that, each pitch is delegated a certain part of the field to be hit to and, sometimes, a fly ball or ground ball trajectory. The pitching mini-game is basically a baseball version of Bejeweled. The strike zone is divided into a series of rectangles, each with a color. That color corresponds to a certain pitch and the player receives points for throwing the correct pitch in the right location, with larger groups of rectangles rewarding more points. The mini-game has timed and untimed varieties, of which the timed version is superior due to its gleefully frantic nature. Both of the mini-games offer a surprising amount of fun and can also affect gameplay by being used as stat-boosting activities during Spring Training of Dynasty/Owner mode.
Gameplay-wise, MVP 2005 doesn’t stray far at all from the 2004 iteration. This is a very good thing. The unparalleled amount of control given to the player previously still remains unparalleled. Small tweaks have been made to pitching (a more forgiving pitch meter), baserunning (more difficult stolen bases), and hitting (the ability to move around in the box and the inclusion of foul tips), but the core game has remained intact. Pitching still consists of the golf swing meter used to determine pitch speed and accuracy. A small tweak has been made this year, however, by making the sweet spot of the meter slightly wider in order to be more forgiving. Hitting remains based on timing and the direction the analog stick is pushed. Fielding and baserunning keep the diamond-based button layout with throwing using a simplified swing meter. Everything adds up to result in some of the best gameplay conventions in the business.
Graphically, MVP 2005 looks excellent. The many player models look authentic. Star players each have individually modeled life-like faces with a number of generic, but still well done, faces filling in for everyone else. Player bodies, thankfully, look in line with reality with no players looking so pumped full of ‘roids they could explode. Stadiums, as well, look authentic with notable landmarks like the fountains of Kaufmann Stadium looking lovely. But animations are the star of the show when it comes to MVP 2005’s graphics. Everything benefits from the inclusion of thousands of new animations, particularly hitting and fielding. Hitters react realistically in the batter’s box following swings and foul tips. Instead of returning right back to their stances like some kind of batting robot, hitters will get mad at themselves after bad swings and mosey about after foul tips. Strikeouts are another showpiece for the animation, with appropriately dejected or angered reactions. Fielders have a wide range of ways to make plays on the diamond because of the variety of animations. Diving stops and leaping grabs? Yep. I’ll-get-to-it-when-I-feel-like-it plays? Yes’m. Sunday hops to infielders? Uh-huh. Each of these plays is then followed by an assortment of throwing animations. Game after game, you can still see new plays happening in the field. In short, the players move like baseball players are supposed to move.
In the audio department, all the sounds of baseball are present. EA Sports has done a wonderful job of capturing the atmosphere of the ballpark with everything from the hecklers to the hot dog vendors. On the field, the crack of the bat and the smack of the ball in the glove sound very genuine. The main knock against the audio presentation is the commentary. The duo of Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow do a passable job of play-by-play commentary but it’s nothing to write home about. Kupier reacts similarly to most plays, be it a single through the hole or an inside-the-parker. He remains relatively flat and unenthusiastic throughout. Krukow provides much needed contrast to Kuiper by offering some animated color commentary. Often he’ll get so excited that his voice even seems to break. Another gripe against the commentary, aside from Kuiper, is the repetition of phrases like “this guy” or “that player” instead of using player names. It begins to stick out like sore thumb after awhile.
MVP 2005 supports online play, as well, save for the GameCube version. There isn’t really much to say about it other than it’s online baseball. If that’s what you’re looking for, that’s what you’ll get; though, it does boast some nice features like custom rosters and tourneys. The quality of the online play really depends on the quality of your and your opponent’s connections. Bad connections can lead to borderline unplayable games and certainly not enjoyable ones.
MVP Baseball 2005 is one of the best baseball simulations around, even still to this day. Games since its time have looked prettier and flashier; none have played better.