I want to preface this review with the fact I have not read any reviews for this game when I purchased it. The review written is one based on playing about half of a 182 game season in Franchise Mode using the Toronto Blue Jays.
MLB 2K9 for $40 appeared to be a good deal on the outside. As a fan of many a Nintendo baseball games growing up, I was hoping to enjoy “upgrading to the big leagues” so to say.
I’ll start by what I like about this game. I’ve played a few other baseball games and struggled with the unintuitive controls that they put out. I remember playing one where you had to step with the left stick and swing with the right stick. Very annoying trying to time that perfectly. However with MLB 2K9, you can keep it as simple as pulling back on the right stick and pushing forward to hit. Simple. I like simple.
Pitching is the same way. Follow the pattern on the side of the screen and time it right and the pitch goes where you want it to most of the time. You can let the catcher call the game for you or you can pitch it where you want to, trying to get the hitters out without his help.
The stadiums look spectacular. A lot of work went into those to make them look exactly like you would see them on TV. The only beef I have with them is all the blank scoreboards. It can’t be that hard to program the current game’s score onto them. If they can figure out a way to ensure I know that the Transformers movie is coming this summer, surely you can give me some current scores.
Free agents and live updates work quite well. I like the idea that the budgets are realistic, seeing Toronto with only (~!) a hundred million for payroll as compared to the US mint the Yankees and Red Sox get is how it works in real life. If you play well, and your crowds are big throughout the year, and you have a good playoff run, you end up with more money to spend the following year. That’s a nice touch.
The customizable ticker that runs on the bottom of the screen is nice to get live scores of real games being played that day. A lot of the little things that make it like a live television game have gone into this and it does show when you play it. There are even advertisements just like on television. I would like the option of turning this off however, seeing I purchased the game, and it is my system that it is running on. Either that or give me a discount on my next purchase because there is advertising in it.
The players don’t really look like they do in real life except for a few superstars. Adam Lind for the Blue Jays only needs a couple of bolts in the neck and he’d be a dead ringer for Frankenstein. They do have the players mannerisms down pretty good though.
The choice of uniforms: The Blue Jays have their “Powder Blue” uniforms and wear them on “throwback Fridays” when they play at home. That’s pretty cool.
So now we’ll move on to what I didn’t like in the game.
Fundamentals: If you are going to put out a baseball game, get the rules right. Not having the rules correct is inexcusable. The three glaring ones I found, no infield fly rule. I had the bases loaded only to pop up to the infield. The pitcher dropped the ball. This resulted in a triple play. In reality, the batter should have been out. The rule is there to prevent such a thing from happening. The second one, the runner is hit with a batted ball, the runner is out and the play is dead. Runner got hit by the ball, deflected the ball into the outfield and play went on. The third one is if the batter hits his third strike foul and the catcher does not catch it, he is not out, it’s a foul ball. But not according to the 2K9 rulebook apparently. This is the basis of the game, and there is no forgiveness to rules being incorrect.
Lack of intelligence in the AI on the game: Don’t let the AI control your runners. Seriously. I’d hit balls into the gaps and the computer controlled runners would take one base. A runner with any decent speed should be scoring from first on that kind of hit. Also if you try to steal a base and get a hit in the process, the lead runner will still slide into every single base. On a ball that is a triple, the lead runner is thrown out at home because he slid into second, took a moment to dust himself off, then broke for third, slid into third, took a moment to dust himself off AGAIN and then broke for home. Fielding wise, I have had seven inside the park homeruns hit against me because I dove for a ball and missed it, only to have the other fielder stare towards the ball but not move. The other thing that would cause screaming fits towards the television is on a hit ball, you assume the AI would pick the fielder most likely to make the play. On balls hit out to center field, you’d assume the center fielder right? Nope. The amount of times I broke the wrong way with the shortstop because he was picked to field that ball has caused the loss of no hitters and perfect games.
Really poor injury design: I know injuries are part of the game. And having injuries makes the game believable. However the first game I played with the Blue Jays ended up having Halladay get injured after THREE pitches. Then catcher Rod Barajas injured his ankle running to second in the third inning, then Scott Downs injured his elbow on his SECOND pitch, and BJ Ryan injured his back on his FIRST pitch. This was all in game number 1. So after a few more games along the same lines and pretty much having most of the AAA players in the lineup, I decided to reset my season and turn the injuries off. Not so much because of the number of injuries, but in the way you can’t manage them properly which I cover in the next point.
Unrealistic running abilities: Lyle Overbay has more stolen bases than Vernon Wells and Alex Rios COMBINED. There is something wrong with that statement. But then again, he usually gets caught going to third after he’s stolen second…
Unintuitive interfaces: Who designed this? If you try to manage in GM mode, the menus make no sense and the information you need to manage is nowhere to be found. I kept putting players on the disabled list with no idea how long they would be out for only to find they would not be out the entire 15 days. Lovely. A three day injury turns into 15 days because you can’t find out that information until you put them on the list. It’s probably there somewhere but it’s not easy to find, nor intuitive. I should be able to highlight an injured player, press the A button and it should bring up what the injury is and time to heal. That would work the way it should. Trying to make trades is an exercise in futility. I like the idea of the trading block, scrolling through seeing who is available, however the trading screen is just dumb. I can put my players in the top box however I have no access to the other team’s box in the lower half. So I offer three of my players for one of yours? Maybe I’d like to add another player from your farm team to the offer but I can’t figure out how. When you create a menu system that players can’t intuitively figure out or have to hunt for information in unrelated areas, it’s not a good menu system.
Base running fiascos: I have lost count the number of times a runner slides safely into second on a steal only to get up and take off for third base. Stop that! Surely they can set up the controller to stop advancing runners on a steal attempt especially when you use the controller to direct your slide! If I slide to the inside of the bag, he’s off to third base. Not good.
Unrealistic errors: At no time in a major league game should a short stop have nine errors, each one of them exactly the same, making a throw to first on a routine ground ball with plenty of time only to pull the first baseman off the bag. Every. Single. Time.
Clipping: In 2009, there is no excuse for a game to have a huge amount of clipping. I watched a player track down a home run ball through a wall. That’s unacceptable. Players walk through other players. I picked up a ground ball with the first baseman and tagged the runner. He went right through me and was safe.
Bugs bugs and more bugs: There are some very annoying bugs in this game. The one that really annoyed me was the “Groundhog day” bug. I saved a game in the third inning and then finished it at a later time. I also played two more games, made a trade, called up some players and arranged some batting orders. I explicitly saved the game from the menu as well as the auto saves after doing a few roster moves. Imagine my shock the next day when I launched the game and was brought back to the third inning of the game I already finished 3 games ago. I could accept it if it was a single glitch but I played the rest of that game, played another full game, saved them, rebooted the X-box, launched the game, loaded my season and there I was in the third inning again. I played two innings, saved the game, reloaded the game and back to the third inning I was. I ended up having to auto play the remainder of that game and the next one to get it to stop happening. This has happened on three occasions now in one season. Unacceptable.
Commentary and sounds: I know it’s hard to have the commentators have original comments for an entire season. I know there will be repetition and I’m fine with that. But the play by play should make some sense. Horrible. And the umpires. I’ve never heard umpires talk that way. All they need to say is “STRIKE” or “BALL” and maybe the count after saying what the pitch was. When they call it with the count, it can be confusing as to what the pitch was.
Beanball: For fun, I decided to see how many players I could bean before I got tossed from the game. I gave up after plunking 27 straight batters, injuring six of them. They had to put in pitchers to take their places. I’ve played other baseball games where the pitcher is tossed for doing that. Also on a close play, why isn’t the manager coming out to argue with the umpire on occasion? That a big thing in baseball, and should be in the game.
I do understand a bit that the games are rushed because they have to churn one out every year. But a lot of time was spent on little things that make the game look pretty rather than fixing some of the very big flaws in the game. There is a lot of potential with this game however the bugs and unintuitiveness and the AI make it a very frustrating experience.
I’ve yet to play the game on Xbox Live or with someone on the same console but it appears you can play up to four people. I don’t know how comfortable I’d be making the statement “I’ll be the pitcher, you be the catcher” to some of my friends.
Overall I’d have to give this game a thumbs down. There is a lot of potential but there is also a lot of little things that make it way too frustrating to play. Maybe 2K10 will get some of the problems fixed and be a better game. To apologize to the purchasers of 2K9, they should get a discount on 2K10. Or at least keep the $40 price point.
-- Peter M. (OldBitterBstrd)