Not all baseball games are created equal. Each year, it's a guess as to which baseball game franchise is going to totally reinvent itself - improving some bits, but devaluing others too much - and which game will stick to the tried-and-true system it relied on the year before.
This season is no different. Major League Baseball 2K9 created a new pitching system basically from scratch, and is worse off. But MLB 09: The Show has revamped a few things (new salary arbitration and a revised base-stealing system), without destroying what made last year's Show a popular baseball simulator.
Let's start with The Show, the better choice. If you've ever played a baseball game, you'll quickly understand how to make The Show work. When you're pitching, a meter pops up on the screen. You pick your pitch, you pick the exact spot you want to throw it, then press buttons.
Batting is a little more difficult. It takes practice to get your swing down because you must time your swing almost perfectly to connect with the ball. But in relatively little time, you get the hang of batting, pitching, running bases and fielding, whether you play solo, against a friend or in online multiplayer.
It's easy to learn. It can be a challenge to win. Perfect. And that's that, as far as The Show goes. There are good, notable bells and whistles, like being able to upload songs onto your PS3, to spin during games. But Sony got the main thing right, the game play. That's all you really need.
On the other hand, the problem with Major League Baseball 2K9 is that gets three out of four elements right: batting, running bases and fielding. But the pitching is laborious and limited.
Most of the game works swell. The artistry of 2K9 is great. Every virtual player moves like the corresponding real MLB millionaire. Batting is pretty easy to figure out. Running bases is a no-brainer. And the designed dynamics of fielding are just okay enough to throw batters out.
But the pitching - while not a total disaster - is frustrating. In previous 2K baseballers, you could choose whatever pitch you want: fast, curve, slider, etc. But in 2K9, the catcher picks your pitches. If you shake your head "no," the catcher still won't let you choose from all your pitch options. What?!
Even worse, you can't predetermine exactly where to toss your pitch. For years, I have won baseball games by throwing trash balls right off the plate, at different speeds, off different corners. But 2K9's stupid catcher keeps putting his mitt behind the strike zone. He wants me to throw a homerun ball?
If I shake my head "no" enough, while pointing the catcher to a spot, he may eventually move his mitt there (while still not necessarily letting me pick which style of pitch I want). But this takes forever. And if I throw the ball where I want, but his mitt isn't nearby, my pass ball soars behind him, an error.
MLB 2K9, which also offers online multiplayer, squanders what could have been a righteous little game. Instead, it is this year's second place in baseball, while The Show steals the show.