The PS Vita is making a strong case for why I never need to play sports games on a home console ever again. I mean, why would I when I can take that full experience on the go instead? Granted, I'm not like a lot of sport gamers out there that grumble over minor statistical changes to their favorite players and need the best possible representation of their favorite sport in order to achieve maximum stimulation. Consider me a more casual sports genre gamer, then. And having seen how the PS Vita handles one of my favorite pastimes, I've become a firm supporter of Sony's latest handheld being my one-stop destination for all sporting affairs in the future. That's as long as they're handled as well as Sony San Diego's MLB 12: The Show.
But before I dive into what The Show on Vita has to offer (and what it doesn't), let me first paint a picture. A package arrived earlier this week from our friends at Sony that contained both versions of MLB 12: The Show, one for the PlayStation 3 and one for the PS Vita. My intentions were to extensively play both iterations and do a pretty elaborate compare and contrast here. That was going to be my coverage of MLB 12: The Show, and I was going to be happy with that. Then a funny thing happened — I couldn't put down the Vita version, leaving the graphically superior, feature-full PS3 version to collect dust on my desk. To date, I still haven't played much of the PS3 version of The Show. Maybe 30 minutes. Tops.
And that's the beauty of the Vita version of the game: it's essentially the exact same product as the PS3 edition, only with optional touch controls and easier portability, which is more my style for sports games evidently. When you first boot up The Show on Vita you'll hit the main menu and probably say "whoa." Every gameplay feature, option and mode that you've become accustomed to on the PS3 is there. You have your franchise mode, your Home Run Derby, online multiplayer and of course, Road to the Show. The only mode missing from the Vita version that makes its debut in the PS3 edition this year is "Diamond Dynasty," a fully-customizable franchise mode where you build a dream team with a deck of trading cards. Personally, its omission in the Vita edition doesn't bother me in the slightest. If that's your thing, however, then take note of its absence here.
Otherwise, the Vita version of The Show is stocked with modes to keep you busy. If you're anything like me, I always head right into Road to the Show (RTTS) when I first fire up the latest version of The Show. This year was no different. Road to the Show, for the uneducated out there, lets you create a player from scratch and work your way up through the minors to the big leagues with hopes of winning some World Series and leaving your mark on the MLB to earn yourself a spot in the Hall of Fame. RTTS has always been the best single player mode in this series, but it's also always lacked a spine that makes you care about not only your created player but also the team your playing for. As I've said in year's past, baseball is a tough sport to translate into a "superstar" mode where you play as only one person on a field of nine plus. Unless you're a pitcher, there's a lot of picking daisies while you wait for a play that actually involves you. This is a problem Sony San Diego has never been able to dodge, and that continues with MLB 12: The Show.
With that said, however, the Vita version makes simulating plays not directly involving your specific player tolerable simply because the system is made for quick play sessions. Sure, you might feel a complete disconnect between you and the team you represent, but who really cares when you can play through a full game in less than 10 minutes? It's a sacrifice that makes a lot more sense on a handheld system and one of the reasons why I turn to my Vita instead of the PS3 whenever I want to continue the turbulent adventures of Erik Norris, center fielder for the San Antonio Missions (currently).
But if I wanted to bounce between the Vita and PS3 version of The Show with RTTS mode, I could totally do that. The two games are linked so you can save your progress to the "cloud" and then continue on whichever system is more convenient at any given time. So if I'm playing on my Vita, I can save my game and then continue that same save file on my PS3, and vice versa. This applies to all game modes that the two version of The Show share. Basically, everything but Diamond Dynasty. The only downside to this cool feature is that you'll have to buy both versions of the game to take advantage of it. I had that luxury because we were sent both versions of the game, but a lot of people aren't in my position.
One area I've yet to touch on is the graphics of the PS Vita version of The Show. Having seen both versions running side by side, it's clear that Sony San Diego cut some corners in order to get the full game running on Sony's handheld. The crowd in the second row and beyond looks like 8-bit sprites and players and stadiums don't feature nearly as much detail as can be found in the PS3 version. The game also chugs when a batter steps up to the plate, and presentation is sorely lacking between pitches (there's no home run animation, for instance). But it's the price we have to play to have the full Show experience on the go — at least for now. As Sony San Diego gets more comfortable developing for the Vita, odds are we'll see these issues ironed out in future models. For a rookie effort, though, the corners cut and sacrifices made are understandable, because when push comes to shove, the Vita version of MLB 12: The Show still delivers where it counts: the gameplay is an authentic representation of the summer's greatest pastime.
The question still remains: will I ever get around to rigorously testing out the PS3 version of MLB 12: The Show? Honest answer: doubtful. Whenever I feel that itch for some baseball goodness, nine times out of ten I'm choosing the Vita edition simply because I can further my progress in RTTS or play someone online while simultaneously watching TV. That's a luxury I've grown to love and can't see myself going back on. It's a game changer, as Sony's marketing department would put it. The Vita version of MLB 12: The Show has its problems, no doubt, but having an authentic baseball experience on the go surely outweighs those faults. If this is the ground floor, I can't wait to see where things go with this series on Sony's latest portable platform.
Full Disclosure: We received review copies of both the PlayStation 3 and PS Vita versions of MLB 12: The Show. Clearly, we spent the vast majority of our time with the Vita model, only dabbling in the PS3 iteration to test out cross-platform cloud storage.