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Games: The Show’ goes on for baseball fans

Opening day is almost a month away, but eager fans can get a jump on the action with "MLB 09: The Show."

Sony’s E-rated baseball sim lets fans live out their diamond-studded fantasies in a variety of ways:

• Jump into a quick game, solo or with a friend.

• Create a player and make a run at a big-league career in "Road to the Show." Play both offense and defense and train to improve your skills.

• Run your own franchise. Handle a 40-player roster and dabble in salary arbitration, waivers and September call-ups.

• Join an online season league, complete with drafts.

While these modes have been added or enhanced, the basic game play has also undergone some tweaks. These changes — often working in the background — make "MLB 09" more lifelike.

For example, a new fielding mechanic dials back the perfection that used to be exhibited by players in the field. As a result, some console-controlled fielders have slightly slower reactions than others, or might even bobble a ball.

But, as with other sports titles, the tweaks that delight hard-core fans are likely to end up making the game a bit too complex for casual gamers. That’s a big problem since "MLB 09" doesn’t offer an effective tutorial for beginners.

Of course, the heart of the game is the battle between pitcher and batter. A few modifications in the interface this year don’t change the basic mechanics. The pitcher selects his pitch and location — or relies on his catcher’s advice — while the batter tries to guess where and how the ball will be delivered. If the batter guesses correctly, the ball’s more likely to end up in the bleachers. If not, he might be heading to the dugout. The controls for these actions — and most others in the game — are very smooth and effective.

The graphics are very good, especially the animations of the various pitches, catches, thows, steals, pick-offs and tags.

The announcers are generally entertaining without being intrusive, and offer a decent variety of comments.

The game also offers some new frills off the field. You can add your own music or record your own fan chants — and insults. You can also watch your favorite mascot act like an idiot.

"MLB 09" offers a very realistic and satisfying baseball experience for dedicated fans. However, it would be nice if Sony offered some options that would make "MLB 10" a little more welcoming to Little Leaguers.

Platform: PlayStation 3 (tested), PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable

On the Web: www.us.playstation.com/mlb09theshow/


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