Preview: MLB Power Pros 2008

Now that we’re well into the second half of the Major League Baseball campaign for 2008, 2K Sports is ready to release its second iteration of MLB Power Pros, called MLB Power Pros 2008, for the Wii and the Playstation 2. This year’s edition of Power Pros is set to deliver new modes, updated rosters, and a more accessible game for video gaming baseball fans of all kinds, from the casual player to the hardcore stat freak.

If you missed last year’s effort, the game of baseball is brought to life in a cartoon-style setting, as opposed to the photo-realistic looks that other games, like Sony’s MLB: The Show franchise and 2K’s own Major League Baseball 2K series, have presented. The on-screen players are essentially super-deformed versions of their real-life counterparts. You’ll notice subtle things about each player that will identify them even though they may look a bit different at first, such as signature swings or certain facial hair styles. This type of visual representation may turn off some prospective buyers who may be looking for a true TV-style presentation, but MLB Power Pros 2008 has a lot more under the hood to offer than just quirky-looking ball players.

In a recent conference call with members of the gaming press, Power Pros producer Rob Nelson took some time to shed some light on the two modes of play that really set this game apart from its competition: the Success Mode and the MLB Life Mode.

Success Mode is a carryover from last year’s game, but has been completely reworked this time around. In Success Mode, you can create a player and then, via gameplay on the field and interactions off of the field, you try to help your player along the challenging path from the AA level of minor league play all the way up to every minor leaguer’s ultimate goal: a spot on a Major League Baseball team roster. While there is a fair amount of baseball to be played in this mode, there’s also a certain relationship to RPGs in that you control your character’s development. Should he practice more to hone his skills, or should he work on his social skills to be an all-around better person—and more attractive to agents and scouts alike?

New to the Power Pros franchise this year is MLB Life Mode, which is similar to Success Mode in that there are RPG elements intertwined with baseball gameplay. In essence, MLB Life Mode is the follow-up to Success Mode. MLB Life takes your created player—or Success Mode player, if you desire—through a 20-year career which involves a lot more than just playing through long seasons. You’ll also have to fight for playing time on the field, negotiate contracts, assume the development of your social life, buy your house, and much more as you try to become the next Hall of Fame inductee. Nelson said in the conference call that MLB Life is his favorite thing about MLB Power Pros 2008; if the game delivers as much as he says for MLB Life mode, then it’s pretty easy to see why he is so high on it. Playing through 20 seasons certainly means lots of playing time—and lots of replay value.

The new modes of play certainly hold a ton of potential, but they can’t be much fun if there’s not a solid baseball game at the core of MLB Power Pros 2008. Last year’s game was a great base to work from, as it was easy enough to pick up and play with only a few nagging complaints which were more annoying than debilitating. The control scheme is easy enough to learn, and is basically the same for both the Wii and the PS2. The Wii’s motion-sensing functionality is again limited to Exhibition play and Home Run Derby action, which may be a letdown for some. Despite this, the basics of offense and defense are simple enough (I recommend the Classic Controller for the Wii). One major change in the gameplay this year is the ability to shift your defensive alignment, which can help when pitching against players like David Ortiz and Jason Giambi. The cursor-based hitting is still a bit dated and can be frustrating, but there are customization options to make this easier if you struggle for long enough.

Aside from the option to use the Wii remote’s motion-sensing controls, the other big thing with the Wii is the ability to take your freshly-created characters on the road with you in order to import them onto friends’ systems. Unfortunately, there isn’t an online option this time around, but the ability to literally bring your character with you is a big plus instead of having to create another player from scratch or having to use the same old rosters. Nelson was rather cryptic in terms of how the Wiimote will be able to transport these characters, but we’re sure to find out when the full game hits retail later this week.

Nelson also dropped word that a Nintendo DS iteration of MLB Power Pros was on the way, and he also dropped hints that there may be versions of the games in the works for the Xbox 360 and/or the PlayStation 3. He did not go into specifics, and instead only mentioned that 2K is “in discussions” and that they “haven’t announced anything.” The DS version of Power Pros, meanwhile, is set for release in a few weeks.

With MLB 08: The Show and Major League Baseball 2K8 already having been available for some time, the release of MLB Power Pros 2008 may be a shot in the arm for fans of video game baseball everywhere. The game looks to be attractive in terms of pricing, with the PS2 version retailing for a mere $20 and the Wii version at $40, a full $10 less than most other new Wii titles. If you can get by the super-deformed (and almost RBI Baseball-like) player visuals, Power Pros 2008 seems to have a lot to offer fans of the series and fans of baseball, in general. Look for a full TGR review soon, but in the meantime, keep an eye out for the game when it drops onto retail shelves on July 30th.

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