Full disclosure, the last sim-sports game I played was Virtua Striker 2002 on the Nintendo Gamecube. It’s not that I dislike sports but I’ve never been particularly good at any of them (tennis being the odd exception) and that lack of coordination, in reality, led to a gap in my video game vocabulary. Give me an hour with a Soulsborne and I can grasp its concepts, give me days with a baseball game and well…
It is a true testament to the passion and skill behind MLB The Show 20 then that I enjoyed it as much as I did. To these fresh eyes at least, it is an explosive celebration of the sport of baseball, finely tuned over twenty years worth of entries on Playstation hardware.
It is bombastic in its presentation, syncing banger tunes with a slick interface and a treasure trove of gameplay possibilities all into one package.
It’s all at once accessible and incomprehensible to someone whose grasp of the sport barely reaches beyond what he has seen on The Simpsons. Yet, for all its dizzying number work and roster collections, MLB The Show 20 managed to make me actually stand up and cheer when my team knocked it out of the park.
It’s a tone that permeates the whole package; MLB The Show 20 is just relentlessly cool. The user interface is crisp and clean, popping with bright colours and bold typeface that easily facilitates exploration of the game’s many modes. Overlay graphics for team information give matches a realistic televised sheen, with varying degrees of customisation available to suit your specific desires. Player statistics and team information are presented with large, but digestible spreadsheets.
Its commitment to a cool aesthetic is all-encompassing and practically faultless.
All of this is tied together with a soundtrack stacked with certified bangers and impeccable sound design. Whether you’re browsing one of the game’s extensive stats screens, designing a logo or just flipping through the built-in Jukebox function, there is always a fantastic selection of pop, rock and R’n’B tunes on loop.
Players can even import their own MP3 files to create custom soundtracks and fan edit videos of impressive plays. When creating your player for the big leagues you can also choose the type of music which will play when triggered by in match events, such as your player entering the field.
MLB The Show 20 also boasts some impressive sound design and voice work. Professional sportscasters will commentate your matches adding a degree of realism to the game that fans of the sport will undoubtedly adore. Unsurprisingly the general sounds of a game are emulated beautifully here too, from the crack of the bat against the ball to the low rumblings of a humble home crowd.
The New Kid
Fortunately, for all of MLB The Show 20’s bravado and bass drops, the game is very eager to guide newcomers through its many systems. Right off the bat, you are given the opportunity to have the game tailored to your experience level, whether you’re a novice like myself or a seasoned MLB fan. Choosing the former drops you into a practice match that will run you through the basics of batting, pitching, fielding and base running, all of which can be controlled with different input methods.
Each of these elements can also be tweaked individually for difficulty, resulting in a genuinely impressive suite of accessibility options and ways to constantly challenge yourself.
This commitment to accessibility runs deep as MLB The Show 20 was near constantly offering tutorials and hints for each new gameplay system it would introduce. Which, it turns out, is a lot more than just baseball emulation. A glance at the history of the series indicates a push toward creating a more immersive RPG-like experience with each iteration and with MLB The Show 20 the series has taken another step toward that goal.
Road to the Show mode invites you to create your own up and coming player as he works his way toward the big leagues. Player creation is delightfully extensive here, allowing you to customise your name, where in the world you come from, your personality archetype, how you look and even the type of equipment you’ll take into a match.
Small touches, like your name being read aloud by sportscasters or the colour of your gear, made for a personalised gameplay experience that never failed to charm me. Although somewhat rudimentary, the game’s RPG aspirations also have the makings of an engaging sports/character building hybrid. Depending on your personality type and the way you interact with your teammates through dialogue trees of all things, you’ll gain access to passive perks on a skill tree which can be used to improve your performance in matches.
There is no voice acting however and paired with the stiff facial animations it can be difficult to truly immerse yourself in its workings. But MLB The Show 20 is more ambitious than your average simulation game and that was a thrilling discovery for a newcomer to the series.
Less thrilling was the daunting degree of player stats and baseball nuances that the game is not particularly interested in explaining. The slick interface can only get a newbie so far as eventually you’ll be overwhelmed with spreadsheets and sports minutia that goes largely unexplained by the game outside of how to emulate its basic elements. Sure, I knew how to pitch by the end of the tutorial but I was still at a loss for how to actually score beyond a homerun.
Which is an entirely understandable flaw in the game’s design; this is a deep dive baseball game that rightfully assumes its players will know the basics of the sport. It’s just a shame that the same attention to detail in the gameplay tutorials is not given to a basic overview of the sport itself.
The game’s commitment to broadcast sports realism also gets a little dry for a casual newcomer. Matches can tend to run a little long in the tooth however and as time wears on so too do the core mechanics. Gameplay that is initially engaging can start to drag as a single match can last up to 45 mins in some modes and as much as fun as nailing the perfect pitch or swing can be, eventually, things can feel a little too mechanical.
The game does allow you to skip animations frequently which alleviates this issue somewhat but when you’re often limited to a single role in a match, tedium can creep in. Combatting this is the addition of dynamic challenges which will appear during gameplay to offer a risk/reward test of skill for players looking for something a bit more challenging.
Fortunately, my complete and utter lack of knowledge of the sport didn’t prevent me from largely enjoying the impressive collection of modes stacked into MLB The Show 20. This is a dense package of baseball goodness; create your own dream roster or online tournaments with custom rules, play through legendary moments from the history of the sport, indulge in the casual mode complete with retro aesthetics, manage the finances of a team as you take on the role of manager. MLB The Show 19 players also have the option to import their save files and continue on from last years title in many of these modes.
Looking The Part
MLB The Show 20 also encourages creativity in surprising ways. Beyond the rule tweaking of tournament modes and team management simulation is a robust logo creator and team creation suite that I lost far too much time too. Although fiddly in its execution, the logo creator allows you to craft your team’s distinct look with hundreds of combinations of shapes, colours, patterns, lettering and more. That logo can then be slapped onto a customised uniform before choosing a nice variety of options for your unique team’s name, home stadium and so on.
After an embarrassingly lengthy attempt to craft a logo akin to the Umbrella Corporation’s for my aptly named team, the Raccoon City Raccoons, I found that the online library of player uploaded creations already contained a perfect recreation of the horror series icon. Which is just one element of MLB The Show 20’s robust online community that will no doubt come alive when the game releases.
In case it wasn’t already apparent, my experience as a newcomer to MLB The Show 20 may largely differ from yours. I have no point of reference for the two decades worth of titles preceding this one and as such my metric for what works and what doesn’t will undoubtedly be different from yours. While I may not be able to explain the intricacies of the sport to you yet I can at least say with confidence that this game is the MVP.
MLB The Show 20 is a confident, sleek package of the best of baseball with systems that welcome newcomers and veterans alike. Crisp user interfaces, extensive customisation options and solid core mechanics make for a game that has even this novice keen for the places the series will go next.
MLB The Show 20 was reviewed on PS4 using a digital copy provided by PlayStation Australia.
Game Title: MLB The Show 20
Game Description: MLB The Show 20 is the latest itteration of the long running MLB game series from SIE San Diego Studios that invites players to create their own team or take control of iconic MLB teams and take them all the way to the top of the sport.