by Marty Demarest

After a respectful moment of silence, we move on to baseball. Each year, game companies glut stores with "updated" versions of the sports games they offered the year before. These updates aren't always improvements; often, they amount to little more than an incorporation of current statistics and some cosmetic changes. But a good game is a good game, regardless of appearances or age. So even though I'll pull out NHL 2004 when I'm in the mood for hockey -- it lets you fight other players! -- I'll dig back into the ancient Dreamcast pile for Virtua Tennis instead of this year's Top Spin for the Xbox when I want tennis action. With baseball, I'm even worse. I still believe that, though it doesn't have nearly the number of features that a current release has, All Star Baseball 2001 for the Nintendo 64 still has fewer flaws -- and is therefore a more solid game -- than most recent baseball titles. All the bells and whistles in the world can't make up for a rickety gameplay experience.

But MVP Baseball 2004 convinced me that it was time to upgrade. The EA Sports line of MVP Baseball games has always been good, but the features they added to the game never seemed to solidify into a perfectly smooth game. But with MVP Baseball 2004, EA Sports elected to adapt for baseball some of the better features they've incorporated into their other sports games over the last few years. Baseball gamers can now take charge of their player's behavior, putting them in the zone for things like running over the catcher and sliding around the bag. They've beefed up their franchise mode, allowing players to manage a team for 120 consecutive seasons. It's even possible to enter any information you want from the history of the sport and play a simulated game based on those conditions.

These features are implemented beautifully and deeply. And even though the core of the game isn't anything too far beyond what other baseball games offer, it's solid and very advanced. Each aspect of play is controlled by the player to a fine degree -- not just the pitches and the hit power, but sliding style, and the strength of the fielder's throws. This makes for a steep learning curve, but when the intricacies are mastered, it's stunning to control.

Buy it now and you won't need to upgrade for a while.

Publication date: 03/25/04

Art, Nature and the Voice of the River @ People's Park

Sun., June 13, 11 a.m.
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