The fictional manager of the Durham Bulls (played with grit by the late Trey Wilson) said it best in the classic film "Bull Durham." Baseball, he reflected, "is a simple game. You throw the ball. You hit the ball. You catch the ball."
So why do the makers of this year's crop of baseball video games have to make it so hard?
With "total control," gamers playing MLB 2K8 use the right stick to control just about everything. It takes a long time to get comfortable enough to make the game enjoyable. Timing exactly how to push the stick around is tough enough while throwing pitches; figuring out how to do it while hitting seems impossible. (Disabling the "total control" by switching the game to the button-pushing "classic control" mode is an improvement yet still overly complex.)
2K8 is also sloppier than the pine tar smeared on Vladimir Guerrero's batting helmet. The hideously rendered players stutter and jump around in ways that are telltale signs of a game rushed to market before it was finished. The one redeeming quality is the great announcers, voiced by ESPN's Jon Miller and Joe Morgan, two of the best (besides Dodger icon Vin Scully, of course).
Luckily, the controls in MLB08 The Show are simpler, albeit far from easy. Even on the rookie setting, the simplest play required a complex combination of buttons pressed at exactly the right time.
The visuals and polish of The Show, however, help break up the double play. The players look great and move fluidly and naturally, the stadiums look good and the interfaces are well designed and natural.
There is also a story line where gamers can create a player and work to get him to the majors, a nice wrinkle. Unfortunately, making your player good enough to land the hefty contract requires a lot of time using said lousy controls.
Remember the baseball games of 20 years ago? One button to pitch and one to hit? Simple, easy-to-control fun. Unfortunately, those days have gone the way of Ebbets Field.
Grades: MLB08 The Show, B- (good visuals, bad controls); MLB2K8, D ( the Devil Rays of video games).
Details: MLB 08 The Show: PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2 and PlayStation portable platforms; $39.99-59.99; rated Everyone. MLB 2K8: All platforms; $29.99-$59.99; rated Everyone.