Spring is in the air, the sun is shining and the boys of summer
are ready to return. “MVP Baseball 2004,” the latest
offering from EA Sports arrives on store shelves just in time to
capitalize on baseball fever. Running on an enhanced version of
last year’s installment, “MVP” hits a
homerun.

TV/New Media Reviews
Hitting another in-the-park homer … (Courtesy of EA)

The duel between pitchers and batters is an essential facet of
the sport. Each pitcher is provided with anywhere from three to
five unique pitches. Using an icon, players navigate the location
of the pitch and then select accuracy and control via a moving
cursor. The game adds to the realism by keeping track of the
pitcher’s stamina and pitch history over the course of the
game.

Hitting is nearly as complex as pitching, but novice players can
take advantage of the single-button batting interface. More
advanced gamers are able to control the direction of every swing,
choosing whether to hit a grounder or a fly ball. This added
dimension moves the game beyond simple timing. A rectangle shows
the strike zone for each batter, with hot areas and cold areas for
the pitcher to aim at, signified by red and blue boxes. If a
pitcher throws the ball into the red area, the batter is more
likely to make better contact.

Fielding is a breeze. Gamers control the players as they run
under fly balls, throw out runners or hit their cut-off man. Using
the right-thumbstick, the players dive or jump, making better moves
toward the ball. This addition enables the gamer to take risks with
fielding, leading to potential Sportscenter web gem style
plays.

Visually, “MVP Baseball” recreates the perfect
ambiance of the game. Batting stances, mound visits and pitching
motions are representative of the real sport. Nevertheless, the
roster leaves much to be desired. EA froze its rosters in
mid-January, before A-Rod got traded to the Yankees or Pudge signed
with the Tigers.

All of the standard EA Sports modes of play are present:
Exhibition, Dynasty and Skills Competitions. While exhibition games
and homerun derbys are fun, Dynasty mode provides the most
comprehensive way to play. The gamer manages every aspect of the
organization — trades, free agent signings and even
concession prices — from the Major League all the way down to
the AA level minors. The option to play through all 162 games for
not only the big league franchise, but the minor league affiliates
as well puts “MVP” in a class all its own.

“MVP Baseball 2004” is not without faults, but it is
still the best baseball game on the market. EA Sports revived this
franchise with the name change and engine overhaul last year; this
year, they refined it.

Rating:  4 out of 5 stars

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