Electronic Arts/EA Canada
PlayStation 2, Xbox
Sometimes, exclusivity can be a magical thing — like when the brainy supermodel says she wants to stop dating other guys and move to Hawaii contigo. Other times, like when your favorite pub gives Miller Lite sole run of the taps, exclusivity can bite harder than a Rottweiler on a tofu diet.
And sometimes, exclusivity cuts both ways. Consider Exhibit A: Electronic Arts, the gaming industry's 600-pound gorilla. Last year, EA and the NFL smooched on an exclusive licensing agreement that made EA's Madden series the only NFL game in town.
The fallout was a textbook case of good news/bad news: the loss of the NFL license spurred rival Midway to tee up Blitz: The League, an edgy game that sacked Madden — in the visceral football thrill department, at least. 2K Games, EA's other sports-game competitor, promptly turned around and snapped up the Major League Baseball license, effectively freezing out EA's long-running MVP baseball series.
Rather than pack up their gloves and go home — when have they ever done that? — EA has opted to drop down a level, dressing up this year's MVP game in college trappings. So instead of Yankee Stadium, Curt Schilling, and the Philly Phanatic, we're left with Cal-State Fullerton, ESPN announcers, and aluminum bats.
Can you say "ping!"?
Whether MVP: The College Edition will score with baseball diehards is an iffy squeeze play. For one thing, it's appearing at a time when sports fans' minds are on the recent Super Bowl and college hoops, not the fate of the Florida Gator nine. Lack of access to the MLBPA roster also means there's a huge anonymity factor: even when you're pitching with two men on in the eighth in game five of the College World Series, the sense of drama just isn't as feverish as Mariano Rivera versus David Ortiz. MVP '06 tries valiantly to address the issue by including an optional random-name generator, but it still feels limp.
That's unfortunate, because, like last year's pro-based edition, this is a deep and entertaining baseball sim. It's the latest in a growing line of sports games to conscript the right analog stick: now, instead of mashing a button to send a liner to right, you use the stick to cock the bat and swing through the pitch. Grumpy purists can opt for the old way, but seriously, why bother? The new method feels more realistic and infinitely more satisfying, and you can hone it in the game's ramp-tastically addictive batting minigame.
In the field, the stick gimmick is a rookie bust. A throw meter is supposed to gauge the timing and strength of your relay tosses, but it's awfully hard to read on the fly. Simple throws from short can easily pull your first baseman off the bag — hello, frustrating error — double-plays are rare as hell, and unless you're fond of turning opponents' singles into doubles, don't even try to gun down runners from the outfield.
If EA can tweak the throwing feature — and find a college-crazed audience for baseball in February — they've got a great foundation on which to build a new baseball dynasty. Maybe the NCAA's interested in an exclusivity clause?
After enduring a miserable losing season in MVP '06, Aaron R. Conklin has just one question: Gamecocks, where art thy ping? Conklin writes about games for the City Paper.