Sporting games in general, and baseball in particular, seems like a perfect fit for the Nintendo Wii. The Wii's motion sensing controls allow for replication of the arm movements that allow pitchers to throw and batters to swing. Nothing, save virtual reality or a rapid increase in skills, could better place a player within a game.
Enter 2K Sports's Major League Baseball 2K8, the first full baseball sim game for the Wii (there are arcade titles and more niche stuff currently available too). MLB 2K8 is, sadly, one of those games that promises much more fun than it actually delivers. The basic elements are all there, and the game provides a decent amount of enjoyment, but there are a myriad of issues with the title that make it no better than adequate. There is no single element in the game that one can look at without seeing problems accompanying it.
The majority of the gameplay centers on the "Franchise" mode, where the player selects a team and manages the team, including trades, contracts, and accompanying paraphernalia, over the course of several seasons. However, without the addition of minor leagues (farm teams do exist but are not playable), and having to truly struggle with a budget and fan base, it really isn't that deep at all. It is, however, the one mode in which you can select which team you wish to play as and follow the team for an extended period.
Even something that should be as simple as batting isn't not as clean as it needs to be. Swinging the Wii remote (either righty or lefty) swings the batter's bat, and the harder the Wii remote is swung the harder, allegedly, the ball is hit. Yet, all too often the game registers a full swing as a checked one, leaving the player shocked in dismay as their cleanup hitter allows strike three to pass by down the middle of the plate with the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth.
Worse than that however is the fact that it is nearly impossible to load the bases. Despite being a simulator- and not arcade-style game, it is far, far easier to hit a homerun than it is to string together a series of smaller hits to advance runners. Even without trying the ball flies out of the park with ease. That is, it flies out with ease except for numerable miraculous over-the-wall catches the computer makes on a regular basis. Rarely do 9 innings pass where five or more homeruns are not hit and two or three wall climbs do not stop more. It is true that I played as the near and dear to my heart New York Yankees, but expecting Jeter, Rodriguez, Abreu, Matsui, and Giambi to all hit more than 50 home runs in a season (with a bunch more players sitting at around 30) stretches the bounds of credibility… if only slightly.
Base running is confusing at best, with a myriad of different buttons to push and places to point the Wii remote in order to advance single or multiple runners. The manual included with the game is incredibly brief and does not delve into important points, like how to slide, leaving the player with no choice but to attempt to find the controls out for themselves or hunt through the tips and tricks available in-game.
Defense is somewhat more straightforward and less frustrating. The pitching mechanism is easy to understand and requires relatively little time to perfect. The simulator does become distressing however with the incredible change of pace many pitchers have between their windup and stretch deliveries. It may be that this is accurate, but the change is certainly jarring and leads to more than a few meatballs being tossed at batters with runners on base.
This last problem would be far more forgivable if the instructions for the player to wall climb (or make a jumping catch) tended to result in a wall climb (or a jumping catch) and not one's outfielder diving head first into the wall. There are moments when the game performing the move does result in a jump, but all too often the outfielder ends up splayed out on the grass as a ball just barely gets over the wall (this is made all the more frustrating by the computer's wall-climbing to save homeruns on a regular basis).
As if those problems weren't enough, the graphics are distinctly disappointing. It would be kind to call them "previous generation-like," particularly as players' faces were far more recognizable on All-Star Baseball 2003 on the Gamecube than they are here.
Things are not helped by the camera angles here, as catchable foul pop-ups are regularly made uncatchable because the game opts to show the ball going way up into the air as opposed to showing the field. This makes it impossible to direct a defensive player to get underneath the ball because the defensive player is not visible (and there are no helpful arrows to point the way either).
As for the menus, the setup screens entering a specific game allegedly allow one to change the weather conditions and stadium, but no combination of button pushing in any combination seems to alter the conditions, or change the stadium (which the screen should do too). The anemic manual is no help here as it does not even discuss the game setup screen and the in-game help is equally useless. It also doesn't help that these game setup screens require the "+" button to advance where the rest of the game uses the "A" button. It is almost as though the game shipped without the menus being made fully functional.
Joe Morgan and Jon Miller provide pretty solid play-by-play, though they do call the wrong player's name on a fairly regular basis (maybe five percent of the time). The game also features a Homerun Derby and create-a-player section, both of which are amusing, but don't add terribly much depth to the title.
Somehow, for all its problems, and they are, as described above, legion, the game still has something going for it. There are issues galore, but picking up a Wii remote and playing the game is still, undeniably, fun. Getting a pitcher out of a jam with a well-placed curveball allowing for a 6-4-3 double play leaves the player with enough of a sense of accomplishment to put up with all problems. Smacking that walk off homerun in the 10th inning of a tied ballgame is a great feeling, no matter how many other homeruns one has already hit that day.
None of the issues the game presents are insurmountable, they are just discouraging (as is the fact that there is no downloadable roster update modifying the MLB teams to what they were at the start of this year's season). Major League Baseball 2K8 is a solid first attempt at launching the franchise on the Nintendo Wii, but a lot of work needs to be done on it prior to the 2K9 edition.
MLB 2K8 doesn't hit a homerun by any means, but it's a definite leadoff double. Hopefully next year they'll hit it out of the park.
Major League Baseball 2K8 is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB.
3 stars out of 5.