Nicktoons MLB Review

Nickelodeon has invaded Major League Baseball, bringing with it some zany characters who are bent on defeating the league’s human all-stars. That’s pretty much all that we’re given in the new cross-over sports game, Nicktoons MLB; at least in terms of story. There really isn’t one, nor is a drawn out reason needed for such a weird combination.

What’s necessary is the knowledge that this is a joint effort from two established brands, who are hoping to appeal to children and families with accessible baseball action through the use of the XBOX 360 and its Kinect motion-sensing peripheral. After all, the ability to play baseball with SpongeBob, Ren, Stimpy, Invader Zim and the like would surely pique a younger gamer’s interest.

Developed by High Voltage Software and published by 2K Play, Nicktoons MLB is a sports game which bends the laws of physics and human ability just a tad. Running on the engine used for The Bigs, the arcade baseball series from Blue Castle Games, it allows for thunderous home runs, outrageous catches and some lax laws of physics.

Turbo earned for strikeouts and great performances can be used to alter the path of a game through a single super pitch or an almost guaranteed home run. This can also be utilized to help get to fly balls and potential home runs a lot faster, allowing for the outfielder to jump into the air for a great catch, sometimes bouncing off of the wall and into oblivion in order to do so.

If you’ve played one of the two games in the aforementioned series, then you surely know what to expect, as the included Nicktoons aspect really doesn’t change things much. They add a bunch of colourful characters to the roster which was previously only filled with exaggerated versions of Major League Baseball players, but play very similar with unique animations and effects being the only major differences on the field.

Our new roster additions also bring with them several new ballparks from popular shows such as SpongeBob SquarePants, Avatar and Invader Zim. These complement the six present real-life stadiums which includes Dodger Stadium, Fenway Park and Yankees Stadium. Epic home runs in the unique parks will create interesting effectual animations such as spinning eggs or a gushing fountain, while the real-life ones tend to feature cracked video screens or fireworks.

Most game modes let fans choose an assortment of their favourite cartoon characters to complement their favourite team’s roster of superstars. Think of it as picking a team at the schoolyard ballpark or something along those lines, as each player has his or her own benefits and detractions. Contact, power and speed are the three main statistical abilities which are kept track of. It’s somewhat important to choose the best team possible, especially on harder difficulties. Three different challenge options and customizable inning selections present added choice.

Having spent a lot of time playing The Bigs in the past, I was looking forward to seeing what High Voltage was able to do in terms of engine and gameplay enhancements. Unfortunately, this interest was met with some disappointment as the game really plays almost identical to its several year-old predecessor. Nicktoons MLB actually feels like a stripped down version of the popular arcade title, as opposed to a new and superior day at the ballpark. There’s less gameplay content to be found, including a complete lack of multiplayer and a stripped down amount of playable stadiums. Kids won’t notice these things as being much of an issue, but members of the older crowd will, especially if they’ve ventured into this territory before.

The inclusion of Kinect controls does add a new component to the campaign, though I found that it lacked a bit of imprecision in all departments. Batting is arguably the most noticeable area where the simulated movement idea falters, as there’s an obvious delay which must always be accounted for. In order to get a hit, players must swing almost as soon as the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand. Doing so will usually guarantee contact, whereas waiting will almost always result in a miss. This removes some of the immersive illusion necessary in sports games.

Pitching is completed through a physical throwing motion, with arm location judged to select the type of thrown ball. Holding the ball to your chest with an imaginary glove creates the opportunity to start your toss towards home plate. This involved mechanic does a pretty commendable job of simulating real-life pitching, though it can occasionally be difficult to get the game to select your ideal pitch. It’s also very formulaic, meaning that the glove motion must be completed after the previous pitch animation concludes. If you do it prematurely, then your attempt may not be registered or put into effect.

Fielding is a streamlined affair using motion controls, and isn’t as tight as I would’ve liked. There are some issues inherent within the mechanics, allowing for some imprecision and fielder error, but it’s okay overall. Performing a throwing movement will toss the ball to the base locked teammate necessary. As with pitching, it’s a decent affair with ideas that kids will be able to get used to pretty quickly.

The older and more seasoned crowd will most definitely prefer the ability to pick up a controller for added precision, the ability to locate pitches and generally improved controls. This is very similar to what Bigs fans are used to, with held face buttons instigating a pitch metre and three different types of swings (bunt, contact and power.)

Instead of the Road To The Bigs rookie career mode and its fun, stat-building mini games, we’re given a best two of three tournament. It makes sense that the team would go with something different considering this game is more about accessibility and less about taking one player through the roller coaster that is attempting to make a professional sports club.

However, this option is quite brief, only consisting of several best of three mini tourneys along the way to the grand finale. Players choose their favourite team of Major Leaguers (or one of a small group of created teams featuring average unknowns,) taking them through a set of real-life teams with the finale taking place against a team made up of Nicktoons players. It’s pretty fun, but can be completed in a couple of hours, with a lack of interesting reason to dive right back in.

Other than this feature gameplay mode, kids and their elders can swing the bat in pick-up exhibition games, showdown mode (MLB versus Nicktoons) and the popular distance derby, which is essentially a home run competition under a different name. Long balls are rewarded in this mode through a points system, which is only activated if targets positioned in the outfield bleachers are struck with a white ball. Certain ones dole out different amounts of points, ranging from one thousand to ten thousand. Hitting three in a row unlocks an opportunity to swing at the scoreboard, which gives thirty thousand points if it’s hit. Getting to the one hundred thousand plus plateau will see the statistical leader get a chance to swing for an outfield fountain, which erupts when hit, oozing a purple hint towards the winner.

The distance derby is pretty fun for a while, but it would have been nice if it allowed for players to actually choose its location. Instead, just one park is available, with that being Frosty Freeze Park. Some of the other Nicktoons parks could have also fit the bill, with the chance for creative finale celebrations like the overflowing fountain. Regardless, it’s a pretty good mode with the option for competitive challenge. I like that it’s included and that there are similarities to Home Run Pinball from its inspiration titles.

Doing well in each mode, whether its by beating all thirty real-life teams or pitching a perfect game, will help gamers unlock colourful baseball cards featuring Nicktoons characters. These cards don’t add any cheat-based enhancements or unique abilities into the core gameplay action, existing as collectible interests instead. Attempting to unlock all fifty plus of them will appeal to achievement addicts like myself, as one of the game’s most difficult points-based awards comes upon completion of this task. The entire list of one thousand points is pretty fun to unlock, with a lot of easy ones.

A lack of content is what Nicktoons MLB really struggles with. Though it has good bones and relatively enjoyable on-field gameplay (especially for those who are new to The Bigs,) there isn’t a lot of mode-based reason to keep coming back for hours upon hours. Families who enjoy playing the odd baseball game against each other will certainly find enjoyment here, however. It’s a pretty good game, but one that is lacking and could have been better. The Nicktoons themselves could have also factored in a bit more with game changing abilities or creative enhancements, as opposed to only colourful visual animations. I enjoyed myself, but felt like this was a missed opportunity to improve a quality series, by adding a greater infusion of creativity for a younger audience.

The on-field action tends to look a bit dark, using an older engine. There are some added colourful effects unique to each Nickelodeon character, as well as an infusion of colour presented by their character models. However, the overall look of Nicktoons MLB is very similar to The Bigs, which came out several years ago. Its exaggerated character models look pretty good, resembling their real-life counterparts quite a bit. The arcade action also runs quite well, with some thunderous effects and unrealistic fielding plays. However, the whole experience tends to look a bit dated in this year of 2011.

In-game commentary is brought to you by the animated stylings of fishy Perch Perkins and his robotic pal, GIR! Their colourful observations, quality baseball knowledge and comical one-liners add an infusion of humour to the whole affair. I was quite impressed with the duo’s work, as it complemented the on-field action quite well without many noticeable issues. They were always on-top of the action, though detours were sometimes taken in order to talk about some non-related topics. That’s where a lot of the comedy comes into play, however. Repetition does become a factor, but it’s inevitable in this genre.

Overall, Nicktoons MLB is a pretty good baseball game which does a good job of catering to different audiences. It lacks a great amount of immersive content with great length and replay value, but does provide short-burst entertainment. If you’re looking for a game to pick up in order to get a young child interested in baseball, this is certainly a pretty good choice. It may not be a game-winning home run, but it provides a pretty solid line drive to the outfield. There are quality things to like here, but a lack of length and content can hamper the experience.

This review is based on a copy of the game which we received for review purposes.

Nicktoons MLB Review

Nicktoons MLB provides a pretty entertaining time at the virtual ballpark. Its exaggerated physics and turbo-based gameplay is quite amusing and it does a good job of catering to kids with a large roster of Nickelodeon characters and comical announcers.