MLB 2006 Review


MLB 2006 is Sony’s and 989 Sports’ entry into this year’s baseball game pennant chase and it turns out to be a worthy competitor. All drives to the title begin with the first pitch, so let’s begin by looking at the way the game models the all-important pitcher/batter battle. When pitching you’ll first select from the pitcher’s arsenal of pitches and then pick the spot in or out of the zone that you’ll try to hit. The game lets you know how you should try to pitch to the hitters by dividing the strike zone into a grid of nine squares and color-coding them. Red zones are where the batter likes to see the ball thrown and blue are the spots he has trouble hitting. In addition, the red and blue colors are shaded to differentiate the degree to which a spot is “hot” or “cold”. Once the wind-up begins a power meter appears that is similar to the type used by golf games – as the cursor moves along the meter you press the button once to determine the power of the throw and then as it moves back you try to hit the button again while the cursor is in the meter’s sweet zone. This gives you a good degree of control over the pitch while still maintaining the element of randomness that is inherent in throwing the ball. The speed of the cursor and size of the sweet zone will vary based on the pitcher’s skills, the type of wind-up used, and the pitcher’s fatigue level. In a nice touch the meter is reversed between right and left handed pitchers, making the pitching experience a little different for each. It also may mean that some players will be better playing right-handed pitchers or vice-versa.

Screenshots
The pitch meter.

At the plate you control the batter by using either the swing or bunt buttons. These are the only controls that you need, and the game will use the timing of your swing, the pitch location, and the batter’s skill ratings to determine if the ball is hit and how. If you want a greater degree of control, you can use the analog stick to bias your swing location so that you can reach for pitches or try to put the ball into the air or onto the ground. You can increase your odds of getting a hit by trying to guess the pitch type or location before the pitch is made. Guess right and the game will show you right where the ball is coming with a red circle at the pitch location and will increase your chances of getting a solid hit. Guess wrong and you’ll make it harder for yourself to make contact.

When the ball is in play, the ball’s location is indicated by a shadow on the field and its destination by a dark circle. The size of this circle is determined by the nearest fielder’s skill – better fielders will have a more precise idea of where the ball is headed. When the ball approaches a ball marker appears to help you make the final adjustments for making a play on the ball. Making a throw is as simple as pressing the face button corresponding to the desired base.

MLB 2006 does a great job of simulating the action of a baseball in the field and the play of the fielders. Cut a play too close and the player may try to make a last second adjustment to catch it at his shoelaces or watch it bounce off of the tip of his glove. The ball physics is well-implemented, and the ball behaves realistically in the field to the point where it will take the occasional funny hop or carom. It is also always a welcome surprise to watch the ball bounce off of the top of the fence and into the stands for a homer. The player animations also drive home the feeling of realism. There are a large variety of animations and they are always appropriate for the play. You get the feeling that you’re watching actual players rather than seeing the same stock animations over and over again.