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Nicktoons MLB - DS Review

Game Info
Nicktoons MLB

DS | 2K Play / Black Lantern Studios | 1-2 Players (local multiplayer) | Out Now
Related Game: Nicktoons MLB 3D
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6th October 2011; By KnucklesSonic8

"For the first time, an all-star roster from Nickelodeon's Nicktoons series will take on the best of the best from the MLB, delivering an unforgettable baseball gaming experience!" That there is one of the first lines found inside the game manual, and it just so happens that in that one line, the developers of 
Nicktoons MLB have given themselves a little too much credit. Not only is the character roster not that strong, but more importantly, the game itself is anything but unforgettable.

    Take the traditional MLB video game mechanics and throw in a bunch of Nicktoons characters and you'll basically have Nicktoons MLB. If you're a fan of baseball simulations, then you'll already know what to expect. From the Main Menu, you can select Single Game to setup a three-, six-, or nine-inning game; begin a Season; participate in a step-by-step Tournament with your progress saved as each match passes; or engage in a 10-round homerun contest called Distance Derby. This is more or less a throwaway addition to the game that won't see much use. Nicktoons MLB also comes packed in with a wireless multiplayer function where two people who own the game can duel it out, as well as a Quick Play option for when you just want to start a game right away.

    In the way of characters, 23 players have been chosen from various Nickelodeon properties. I don't think they could have pleased everyone with the character selection, but most of them should be familiar to those who grew up on shows like SpongeBob SquarePants, Ren & Stimpy, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Planet Sheen, and Danny Phantom. Each player featured in the game has their own character card with a profile picture and a little factoid that appears when they go up to a bat. Patrick's card, for example, reads that he "considers himself an expert on head injuries". How fitting.

Aside from the playable characters, other shows have been represented through images displayed on the Touch Screen. These appear along with the scoreboard on the top screen whenever there is a break in gameplay. You'll spot at least one character taken from the following shows: Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, Rocko's Modern Life, Catdog, The Mighty B!, Rugrats, and even Back to the Barnyard. Oh and more SpongeBob characters appear too. Personally, I would have appreciated a more varied character selection. In my opinion, shows like Avatar and SpongeBob have been given too much attention. Also, I'm surprised they used characters from Planet Sheen and not Jimmy Neutron. It's a shame to see older shows like Hey Arnold! aren't represented in the game, but that may be due to some licensing restraints. Even still, some of the characters they've shown in image format would have been much more welcome additions to the roster.

    All games are hosted by announcers Perch Perkins from SpongeBob (again!) and GIR from Invader ZIM. I initially liked having them present, but they quickly overstayed their welcome. The dialogue between these two gets very, very repetitive; I got so sick of hearing Perch say "Silly GIR". I find it hilarious that they even described GIR as "unpredictable" on the back of the box. This is a realization you can quickly come to after a few short minutes with the game.

    Moving onto the gameplay component, the mechanics are pretty standard for a baseball game. When pitching to the other team, you have four different throws you can execute: a slider (A Button), fastball (B Button), changeup (X Button) and curveball (Y Button). You must hold the buttons to bring up a power meter and release when the bar has reached the red area. Prior to pitching, players will determine the direction the ball will travel by using the +Control Pad to control a small cursor inside a bounding box. If you notice someone trying to steal a base, you can press L to target them and instead direct your pitch their way.

When it comes to batting, there are three different types of swings you can make: a power swing for greater distance (A Button), a contact swing for more accuracy (B Button), or a bunt for a guaranteed hit (Y Button). To command one of your runners to get a head start right before the pitch, press the L Button. Once the hit has been made, the screen layout will switch, with the view of the bases placed on the Touch Screen and the view of the fielders on the top. Runners have button icons underneath so you can tell individual players to retreat or continue running. 

    If you're out in the outfield, the buttons you press determine which base you throw the ball to. In a logical format, the A, X and Y Buttons are used for the first, second and third bases respectively, while the B Button will direct passes to the player manning the home plate. When close calls occur between runners and fielders, a four-second tug-of-war event takes place. Both players must press A rapidly so a needle will be pointing on their side of the division when time expires. Nothing big.

    For every action where a button press is required, an equivalent icon is found on the Touch Screen. This is true in all of the phases just mentioned. Players can alternate between using buttons and using the stylus, but I found button play to be more responsive. Although kids will surely fumble with them at the beginning, the controls in this game work just fine. 

    If you were thinking (like I was) Nicktoons MLB would feature special abilities and whatnot, you'll be quite disappointed. The characters in this game do have different stats in terms of pitching, batting, catching, and running, but there's nothing else about them that makes you feel excited to use them. Additionally, all 12 stadiums featured in the game are run-of-the-mill, with no gameplay influences at all. Although the fact sheet would have you think otherwise, this so-called "home field advantage" is an empty promise that doesn't mean anything. I found these points especially difficult to accept.

    What they do have, though, is a turbo-building system where good plays will add energy to a gauge. Also, when pitching, a small area inside the bounding box called the Hot Zone will award you with more than the usual amount of energy in return for a greater chance of the rival scoring a hit. This turbo can then be used in increments or in full, either to increase running speed or add more strength to your hits and pitches. If you choose to use it in full while you're up to bat, this will result in a guaranteed homerun for your team. This system does improve the situation with the gameplay lacking special features, but the fact that you need to rely on this for the game to demonstrate even a fraction of the authentic pace baseball actually offers means that all other moments feel very underwhelming.

Even if you were okay with the mediocre gameplay, the actions of characters will surely bring down your enthusiasm for the game. First off, the movement on the field is quite sluggish, which already presents a problem in trying to have fun with the game. Second, the runners don't always respond the way they're supposed to. Sometimes when there are multiple players on base, one of them will just stand there as if waiting for the coach to tell him to move when he should move automatically.

    On a similar note, I found the presentation in this game to be lacking in multiple respects. Some of the character models look okay, but others have been lazily programmed. The Flying Dutchman looks like he's crawling as he moves on the playing field, while Powdered Toastman looks a bit out of place as he flies really slowly to and from bases. With the announcers mentioned earlier, their mouths move while their voice clips are played, but they don't exactly match what they're saying. There's no music during gameplay, the background environments seem flat and lifeless and I even encountered a glitch where the ball froze in the air. All in all, not impressive at all.

    Nicktoons MLB does not have enough energy for it to be something families will want to return to later on down the road. Longevity is a bit of a concern for this game, insomuch as the motivation to continue isn't really there. There are collectible cards to unlock by performing various tasks in the game, but these simple images aren't enough to keep you playing. The All-Star difficulty does help matters a bit since there are some difficult pitchers on this setting, but other than that, I found myself getting a bit bored with the game early on. Nicktoons MLB is just not as enjoyable as it could have been.

    Even though I had faith in the console version, by extension I had hoped the handheld version would still provide some amount of fun, even for younger audiences who may not enjoy other baseball games. Sadly, the license usage here is quite minimal and does little to enhance the gameplay -- which also could use some work. The developers played it safe here and it definitely shows. For these and other reasons, it can be said that Nicktoons MLB is a disappointing turnout.

16/30 - Below Average

Gameplay 6/10 - Controls work just fine, sluggish, players don't always respond the way they should, standard mechanics, nothing special about it
Presentation 5/10 - Repetitive voice clips, character models and animations are lacking at times, no music during gameplay, lifeless environments
Enjoyment 2/5 - The approach to the Nicktoons element doesn't make the game more enjoyable to play, the game can get surprisingly boring
Extra Content 3/5 - Collectible cards through completion of tasks, Season games, Distance Derby, wireless multiplayer, not worth $30

Equivalent to a score of 53% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating)

Review by KnucklesSonic8

Nicktoons MLB
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