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Play ball! A pair of baseball video games for opening day

"MLB12: The Show" offers realistic visuals and smooth controls to create a true "ballpark" feel.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "MLB12: The Show" and "Major League Baseball 2K12" arrive just in time for opening day
  • "The Show" offers realistic visuals and smooth controls for a true "ballpark" feel
  • "2K12" has superior broadcasters, but some glitches and less realism
  • The Perfect Game Challenge for "2K12" is back with a new twist

(CNN) -- The crack of the bat and a bellowed "Play ball!" are annual rites of spring.

In the video game world, "MLB12: The Show" (Sony) and "Major League Baseball 2K12" (2K Games) have also both arrived in time for opening day, ready to crack the starting line-ups of gamers everywhere.

Each franchise has been around for a while -- 8 years for "2K12" and 6 years for "The Show." And, unfortunately, one of them is starting to show its age.

The way you take to the mound is a major difference between the two titles. For pitching, "2K12" continues to use a gesture mechanic with the joystick controllers that relies on timing one circle to fit within another. The artificial intelligence has been fine-tuned so that batters will remember pitches and adjust accordingly, thus ramping up the realism level a bit.

"The Show" has added a pulse pitching mechanism that determines how accurate your pitches are within your target area. It's all about timing, but only utilizes one button as opposed to moving the joystick in a particular way. It saves a lot of wear and tear on the thumbs.

Defense is straightforward. There are animation differences that I'll get into later, but fielders move and throw with good precision. Both titles use a scale to determine how accurate the throws get -- "The Show" uses a circle; "2K12" uses a bar. Push a button to the corresponding base and fire the ball. Holding down the button longer makes for a stronger, but possibly inaccurate throw.

Zone batting is new for "The Show." That's where the right stick controller determines your stride and swing while the left allows you to move your "sweet spot" to the area where you think the ball will cross the plate. "2K12" already uses a similar style to determine how hard you are swinging -- and where. The feature also will gives you hits about the pitch as the ball is heading for the plate, much as a skilled batter would be able to recognize a curveball from a slider. "The Show" also has a simple button swing mechanic if that is more your speed.

The animations and general look of "The Show" really make it shine above "2K12". Each player has a unique look and fluid movements in everything they do. Pitching, hitting, throwing and catching the ball all appear very realistic and natural. It is a visually appealing game and looks like you are really watching an Orioles vs. Yankees matchup on television.

"2K12" looks less like a TV broadcast and more like ... well, a video game. There are hiccups and stutters in some of the animation. Most of the players don't look much different from each other. Balls hit near fielders will make sudden leaps into the glove or outfielders will jump slightly to one side before catching a fly ball. It isn't as well polished as its counterpart and looks old.

And speaking of TV broadcasts, a tip of the cap to the announcing team of Gary Thorne, Steve Philips and John Kruk on "2K12." Their banter seemed fresh and timely, referencing the right things and never sounding boring. Matt Vasgersian, Dave Campbell and Eric Karros for "The Show" sounded stale and repetitive. Some of their phrases sounded exactly the same as last year, and there were a couple of games when I wondered if Karros had gone out for a pretzel and just never came back because he was heard so infrequently.

"Franchise mode" is back for both games. You can also create your own player and work him up through the ranks. "2K12" offers an "MLB Today" mode that lets player play games at the same pace as their favorite Major League team. But that means you can only play one game a day in that mode, which doesn't allow you to play future games or make up ones from the past.

The new "Diamond Dynasty" mode for "The Show" seems geared more for a fantasy baseball fan than someone who wants to play a game. There are baseball cards, budgets, and customizable team logos and colors. If you are a stats nut or someone who likes to micromanage, this might be right for you.

The "Perfect Game Challenge" is back for "2K12" with a twist. In previous years, whoever pitched the first perfect game of the season using the title won $1 million. This year, the first eight perfect games will get the chance to head to New York City and compete in a live tournament for that top prize.

"The Show" is compatible with Sony's motion-control Move system, bringing its capabilities to every aspect of the game. They've also tied the PlayStation 3 game with the new PS Vita handheld console. Games can be saved to the cloud on one console and downloaded to another for continued playing. For die-hard video baseball games, this means never having to stop, even when you are away from home (provided you have a Vita).

The biggest drawback to "The Show" is that it is a PlayStation exclusive title. If you own anything other than a PS3 or Vita, you can only play "Major League Baseball 2K12." Fundamentally, it is a solid, enjoyable -- but visually underwhelming -- title.

If you have a choice, "The Show" brings together realistic mechanics with outstanding animation to create an "at the ballpark" feel that outshines its competitor. All I need now is a hot dog and a frosty beverage to make the experience complete.

"MLB12: The Show" is available now only on the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita. "Major League Baseball 2K12" is available now for the Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, PS2, Nintendo DS, PSP and Microsoft Windows. Both games are rated E for Everybody. This review was done playing both titles on the PS3 as well as playing "MLB12 The Show" on the Vita.

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