There have been tons of baseball games over the last few years. There are deep baseball simulations like MLB The Show, and there are light arcade games like Backyard Baseball. But there’s never been a thoughtful combination of the two.
2K Play for Kinect/Xbox 360, Wii, DS
That’s going to change when Nicktoons MLB is released on September 13.
The recipe is this: Take the photorealistic real-life players from The Bigs series of games. Then, add a team full of humorous Nicktoons characters, everyone from SpongeBob to Danny Phantom.
If that’s not enough technical wizardry for you, there are Kinect features like Distance Derby, basically a home-run derby mode. But it’s more than that; you can bat and pitch through a full game as well.
LOTS OF CHARACTERS, PLAYERS AND MORE
Here’s the big question: Do the wacky animated characters like the hilarious Fanboy and Chum Chum work well with the real-life sports heroes like Big Papi? Or does it all seem weird and fake?
Because so much work has been put into this game, the combination never seems odd. There are 300 major league players in the game. Most of the MLB players are presented in an almost photorealistic way.
Yet it’s not the superstars who give you the most joy. It’s the Nicktoons characters. All two dozen have their own unique way of walking to the plate. For instance, SpongeBob’s cohort Patrick always seems to fall down before he gets to the strike zone.
They play at a dozen venues, everywhere from Giants Stadium to Fenway Park and strange locations like an underwater baseball coliseum called the Poseidome, inspired by SpongeBob’s Bikini Bottom. My favorites are Danny Phantom’s wraith-filled Ghost Zone and Fanboy and Chum Chum’s Frosty Freeze Field (where you can homer a ball into the mouth of an abominable snowman).
I previewed the game on Kinect, and while it’s a little strange to bat or wind up and throw a ball without holding a Louisville Slugger or a Rawlings, you get used to it. Batting is a little tough, but once you get into the groove of timing the pitches, it works well. In fact, it gets easy. (That means your dad won’t mess up.)
The most variety of movement using Kinect comes with pitching. There were at least three different pitches to choose from. Cup your hands as if you’re gripping the ball. Then, as you wind up, move your hand to the fastball or slider or curve ball area in red to your right. It’s pretty cool.
And the Kinect camera is very responsive to your movements – most of the time, though not every time.
Of course, you can play with the controller as well, when your arms get tired from batting and throwing. It’s too bad you can’t play as your Xbox Live avatar, though.
The one thing I couldn’t detect is whether or not each player has his own strengths and weaknesses. But I could see that each batter had a blue-colored batting area in the strike zone where you shouldn’t pitch to. Those were sweet spots that can result in a mammoth home run – and embarrassment on your part. That’s because GIR, one of the announcers, might call you out for your error. “You’ve got mashed potatoes for a hand!” snickers the scrappy robot.
COOL BONUS – AND VOTE!
As you play, you’ll unlock one of 54 baseball cards featuring characters from your favorite shows, some of which aren’t featured in Nicktoons MLB. All have fun facts on the back, and the occasionally funny one-liner. After loading the bases, I unlocked the Sandy Cheeks card. As I read the short nugget of information, I discovered that the perky squirrel that lives on Bikini Bottom has the world’s largest collection of acorn memorabilia.
Ultimately, there’s something uniquely imaginative about having so many different cartoon heroes on your team at the same time. You can’t hear the banter in the dugout, but you really wish you could.
Although the game won’t be released until Sept. 13, there’s a kind of All Star voting that you can participate in right now. You can choose the characters and MLB players who will compete online on the 13th in The Epic Showdown, a veritable battle of the ages. Here’s the link: www.2KPlayball.com
Nicktoons MLB will be released in plenty of time for the baseball playoffs and the World Series. If the game makers tweak it properly, it could be the coolest fantasy league you’ll find.