Baseball purists may cringe every time they hear the "ping" of an aluminum bat, but for people who don't mind using words like "liquidmetal," "plasma," and "carbon fiber" when talking about their favorite player's bat, college baseball is every bit as exciting as professional baseball. EA hoped to reach these fans when it decided to release MVP 06 as a college baseball game after losing the MLB license. MVP 06 found an audience, and now the series is back for another go around with MVP 07 NCAA Baseball. Besides the outstanding new "rock and fire" analog pitching system, not a lot has changed since last year, which means MVP 07 is a very good game that succeeds in spite of its low-profile license.
MVP 07 features a standard number of gameplay modes: exhibition, dynasty mode, minigames, tournament, online play, coach mode, and a scenario editor. Like every other college sports game, MVP 07 puts you in the driver's seat of the school of your choice, and it's your job to play the games, manage your roster, and recruit new players. The recruiting system is bland, but it is interesting that you'll occasionally compete with professional teams for the attention of blue-chip players. The scenario editor lets you set up different game situations so that you can practice certain strategies or, if you're really hardcore, relive great college baseball games of yore. It's a chore getting online with any EA PlayStation 2 game, but once you're online and adjust to the slight bit of lag, the game plays well. The minigames aren't anything revolutionary, but they are entertaining; particularly the hitting game.
The minigames are fun, and like the game's in-depth training videos, they're a great tool for getting to know MVP's unique controls. You can use more traditional timing- and button-based controls if you so desire, but MVP's default controls make heavy use of the analog sticks. As the pitcher gets ready to deliver the ball, you pull down on the right analog to "load" your swing. As the pitch nears the plate, you push up to swing. Depending on your timing and at what angle you move the analog stick upward, you can pull the ball, hit it up the middle, or go the opposite way. If you don't push up on the stick, you're able to take the pitch. And if you're able to stop short of pushing the right analog stick all the way up, you can check your swing. This method of hitting is an accurate way of replicating the timing required to hit a baseball. There's a small learning curve, so it might be a little while before you're spraying the ball all over the field with power, but you'll be making contact in no time. When the pitcher releases the ball, it flashes a color that corresponds with a pitch type. This is supposed to replicate a hitter's ability to tell what kind of pitch is coming by the pitcher's release point and the spin on the ball. You've got enough to worry about when it comes to hitting the ball, but some people may find this tool handy. Base running isn't as intuitive as the rest of the game's controls, and the paltry manual does little to explain things. But you can have the CPU run the bases for you.
Hitting with the right analog stick worked so well last year that EA added a similar control scheme for pitching this year called "rock and fire." After you select a pitch type, you pick a location with the left analog stick and begin your delivery by pulling down on the right stick. This causes the pitching meter to fill, and when it's in the green area, you push the analog stick forward, moving the stick slightly to the left or right based on the pitch location. The rock-and-fire pitching mechanic is sublime. It's easy to learn, it feels great, and it's so intuitive that it's mind-boggling it hasn't been in baseball games for years.
Fielding is also performed almost exclusively with the analog sticks. You move your player with the left analog stick and throw the ball by moving the right stick in the direction of the base you want to throw to. This works reasonably well, though players will sometimes throw to the wrong base, which is a killer in close games. Because college players' skills aren't as refined as big leaguers' skills, you'll sometimes see them struggle to scoop up routine grounders and make basic throws. Errant throws to first base are particularly common in MVP 07. You'll generally still throw the runner out, but it's frustrating to watch your first baseman lunge toward right field every time he has to catch a throw. It's relatively easy to move your infielders around to scoop up grounders and catch pop-ups, but it's a whole other story in the outfield. Routine fly balls that are hit in the immediate vicinity of an outfielder aren't much of a problem, but anything that is hit in the gaps is trouble because it's hard to switch from one player to the other.