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Wii owners have been waiting patiently for a truly great baseball sim that fully encompasses the unique features of the system. MLB Power Pros is a great series, but it lacks motion controls. Mario Super Sluggers was an enjoyable title, but it lacked hardcore sim depth, not to mention the Major League Baseball license. And let's not even bring up The Bigs, okay? Major League Baseball 2k8 was a promising-looking rookie effort from 2k Sports. Sure, it was flawed, but the core mechanics were there, as were the promises that flaws would be corrected and missing features would be added. Unfortunately, 2k Sports has failed to deliver, as Major League Baseball 2k9 is still a mildly entertaining game with a lot of problems.
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Undoubtedly, the first thing you'll notice about this game when you sit down to play it is just how pitcher friendly it is. The pitching interface used in Major League Baseball is incredible--perhaps too good. You use the Nunchuck control stick to select a pitch, then point the remote to where you want to throw (your catcher can, optionally, make pitch placement suggestions), then hold down B and lift up on the Wiimote. Then a target appears, and when it reaches the green zone, you flick the remote down to throw the pitch. It is incredibly easy to strike out batters on a regular basis, no matter how good your pitcher is. Of course, the flip side is that the hitting interface. Just making contact is hard, but eeking out base hits is immensely challenging. You can improve over time, but it'll take a lot of time and effort and require that you have a high tolerance for frustration. To illustrate, through the first five innings of my first game, I had nine strikeouts as opposed to just one base hit on offense.
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When it comes to the amount and quality of features, Major League Baseball 2k9 is quite the mixed bag. On the positive side, you have a franchise mode, a home-run derby, a tournament for up to 16 teams, and four difficulty levels. It even designates between pitchers' parks and hitters' parks! On the negative side, there is no online play and no downloadable roster updates. The franchise mode includes adaptive difficulty based on how well or poorly you're doing, the ability to call up players from the minors and have scouts find new prospects, and have the computer auto-optimize your lineups and pitching rotation. Unfortunately, though, the mode also is quite erratic and unrealistic, with contracts and statistical performance seeming completely random and not based at all on a player's actual baseball background. Ultimately, the gripes about franchise mode and the lack of any Wi-Fi support whatsoever outweigh the positive things that are here.
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Graphics and Sound
There's no two ways about it--the player models in this game are hideously ugly, and quite often look nothing like their real-life counterparts. I've seen better character graphics in PlayStation 2 and Gamecube games, back when EA Sports was still making the MVP Baseball series. The ballparks aren't bad, at least, but the crowds are wholly generic. Play-by-play and color commentary duties are handled by the ESPN tandem of Gary Thorne and former Mets GM Steve Phillips, and the duo does a pretty good job. Borrowing a page from EA, 2k Sports has gone out and gotten some licensed music, and for once, I recognize a bunch of the songs, including Europe's "The Final Countdown," "What I Like About You" by the Romantics and the Judas Preist hit "You've Got Another Thing Coming." The game also features some cool crowd effects when your team has runners in scoring position or trying to mount a rally. All in all, below average graphics and good audio quality balances this category out to an average score.
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I had high hopes for Major League Baseball 2k9, and I'm sure many other Wii-owning baseball fans did as well. We've been dying for a good sim-style game that utilizes motion controls. That wait will continue, because this latest effort from 2k Sports swings and misses. Granted, the game does do some things right, especially when it comes to the pitching interface, and there is some enjoyment to be had here. That said, the flaws in the franchise mode, the frustrating hitting, and the lack of online play for a second straight season relegates this one to the bullpen. Even without the motion controls, MLB Power Pros is a much better baseball sim.