MVP 07 NCAA Baseball Review

While the rest of the gaming community is downright infatuated with the Wii’s new control style and the possibilities it opens up, Electronic Arts just isn’t biting. Over the past few years, EA has consistently innovated with its long-running sports franchises on conventional controllers, and the results are almost universally positive. This year will be the second in which EA is without MLB and MLBPA licenses, and has to migrate the MVP franchise to institutions of higher learning. MVP 07 NCAA Baseball introduces all-new analog controls, and although somewhat bland in presentation, turns out to be one of the more enjoyable baseball sims out there.

The game has been updated from last year’s edition, and now includes 152 teams from around the country and 23 licensed stadiums. It also features in-depth create-a -player, -team and -ballpark modes, minigames, tournaments, and EA’s familiar Dynasty Mode. The biggest update, however, is the new "Rock and Fire" pitching that has been implemented. Rather than simply pressing a button to shoot one in, players now use the right analog stick, much in the same fashion as last year’s "Load and Fire" batting.

At first, pitching seems the same as always. A pitch is selected via the PS2’s (MVP 07 is ONLY for PS2 this time around) face buttons, and then directed at a certain spot within the strike zone using the left analog stick. At this point, Rock and Fire pitching comes into play. A small v-shaped meter appears on screen, with a baseball icon along the top portion, at a point determined by the left analog’s pitch placement. The player must ease the right analog stick down, until the meter’s cursor reaches the optimal green area near the bottom, and then move it back up, toward the aforementioned ball icon. The nearer the player gets to the ball’s position on the meter, the nearer the pitcher throws to his target in the strike zone. It is very intuitive, and players will become acclimated to this new method of hurling in no time. After playing MVP 07, it’s strange to think other baseball games DON’T play this way. Pitching has always been one of the most boring aspects of baseball sims, but Rock and Fire has just changed that.

One gripe that some may have with Rock and Fire is that it tips pitches in multiplayer games. The developers considered this problem, and added the ability to remove the pitching target altogether, simply by holding R2 during a wind-up. Now a player has to know where his own pitch will be going and still hit his spot, but at least his opponent wont be given a sneak preview of pitch location.

Also tweaked for 07 is the returning Load and Fire batting system. The same down-up motion is required to make the hitter load and then swing, with pulling or slapping the ball governed by the angle of the upstroke. Unfortunately, there is no real control over the height of the swing, or more importantly, the deliberate attempt for a grounder or fly ball. This omission is particularly annoying to small-ball players trying to execute a textbook hit-and-run or sac fly. Also, there is a definite learning curve to Load and Fire, and beginners will find themselves off-balance and on the wrong end of a few Ks before figuring it out. Once you get used to the motion, though, it feels just as natural as batting practice. The batting minigames are a big help, too.

Other parts of the game that have been shifted to the analog sticks are fielding and baserunning. These are less refined, but work well most of the time. Throwing to a particular base is done by pointing in that direction on the right analog stick, and holding it to increase the strength of the throw. The problem here is that diving to make a play is also mapped to the right stick, so players will have to wait until a ball is fielded cleanly before directing the throw, or else dive purposelessly. This makes the whole process a bit choppier than old systems that allowed player to anticipate their throw and direct it before even fielding the ball. On the upside, mapping both pitching and fielding to the stick leaves a player’s thumb poised perfectly after the pitcher’s delivery.

Beyond the impressive controls, MVP 07 offers a myriad of customization options. Rules of the game can be changed from the default NCAA book, removing the 10-run rule, metal bats, and the like, as well as shortening innings and leaving bad umps in or out of the game. Of course, game times, locations and conditions are adjustable, and the game even has a situation editor where players can set up a bottom-of-the-9th, down-by-one situation, or any other imaginable. Also included are player, park and team creation modes, which offer very detailed control over just about every aspect of each item. You can even designate the type of bats your selected team uses, or the focus of the team’s lineup. Batting order adjustments include official NCAA, power, small ball and all-around, so the player can effectively carry out the strategy of his choosing.

The game includes the EA Sports mainstay, Dynasty Mode, now with some college-specific updates. The most notable addition is draft buzz, which keeps players on the lookout for big league scouts in search of top talent. It’s now possible to lose a team’s star player, even after having spent considerable time and energy grooming him. Throughout the season, part of the coach’s job is to actively recruit new players for his squad. This is done by spending recruiting points on all the typical scouting procedures. This, in conjunction with the new draft buzz element, makes team management a more tactical affair than before, and a bit more authentic.

Graphically, realism is difficult to come by. While animations are decent, character models are disappointing. Not only are they lacking detail, but almost everybody looks the same. They all maintain dumb, blank stares, and in times of excitement appear to be molded out of crudely formed stone with clay smeared on top. Stadiums aren’t very impressive, either, and lack detail and texture. The game has an all-around "flat" look to it as a result of all the plainly adorned polygons, and when it comes to the crowds, well…I’ve seen more enthusiasm from hermit crabs.

The sound department is, for the most part, as bland as the visuals. Games have little crowd buzz, leaving *pings* and other generic baseball sounds to break the silence. Announcers are okay, but offer nothing more than what has been available for years now, and although the game features 65 fight songs they’re only played during rivalry games. The most interesting sounds actually come from the dugout, where chatter from teammates really adds to the atmosphere. I found myself reminiscing about my high school and college ball-playing days as I listened to shouts of, "BAAAACK!" on pickoffs, and "get ready to roll 2" before a pitch. I expect others will feel the same way.

MVP 07 NCAA Baseball suffers from a case of bipolar disorder. While its controls, customization and overall gameplay is excellent, its shortcomings are evident in its bland presentation and lack of key content. Not all Division 1 schools are represented, and of the 152 that are only 65 have fight songs, and many fewer have accurate stadiums. Fans of the sport will likely love this game based solely on the way it plays, but for those who seek a more polished presentation and genuine NCAA feel (or an MLB game) will probably find it to be just an average baseball sim.


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Author: Eddie Inzauto View all posts by
Eddie has been writing about games on the interwebz for over ten years. You can find him Editor-in-Chiefing around these parts, or talking nonsense on Twitter @eddieinzauto.

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