‘The Show’ slides in to home plate

Not all baseball games are created equal. Each year, it’s a guess as to which baseball game franchise is going to totally reinvent itself — improving some bits, but devaluing others too much — and which game will stick to the tried and true system it relied on the year before.

This season is no different. “Major League Baseball 2K9” created a new pitching system, basically from scratch, and is worse off. But “MLB ’09: The Show” has revamped a few things (new salary arbitration and a revamped base-stealing system), without destroying what made last year’s “Show” a popular baseball simulator.

Let’s start with “The Show,” the better choice. If you’ve ever played a baseball game, you quickly will understand how to make “The Show” work. When you’re pitching, a graphical arc of a meter pops up on the screen. You pick your pitch, you pick the exact spot you want to throw it to, then press buttons.

Batting is a little more difficult. It takes practice to get your swing down, because you must time your swing almost perfectly to connect with the ball. But in relatively little time, you get the hang of batting, pitching, running bases and fielding, whether you play solo, against a friend, or in online multiplayer.

It’s easy to learn. It can be a challenge to win. Perfect. And that’s that, as far as “The Show” goes. There are good, notable bells and whistles, like being able to upload songs onto your PS 3, to spin during games. But Sony got the main thing right, the game play. That’s all you really need.

On the other hand, the problem with “Major League Baseball 2K9” is it gets three out of four elements right: batting, running bases and fielding. But the pitching is laborious and limited.

Most of the game works swell. The artistry of “2K9” is great. Every virtual player moves like the real MLB millionaire it’s based on. Batting is pretty easy to figure out. Running bases is a no-brainer. And the designed dynamics of fielding are just OK enough to throw batters out.

But the pitching — while not a total disaster — is frustrating. In previous “2K9” baseballers, you could choose whatever pitch you want: fastball, curve, slider, etc. But in “2K9,” the catcher picks your pitches. If you shake your head “no,” the catcher still won’t let you choose from all your pitch options. What?!

Even worse, you can’t predetermine exactly where to toss your pitch. For years, I have won baseball games by throwing trash balls right off the plate, at different speeds, off different corners. But “2K9’s” stupid catcher keeps putting his mitt behind the strike zone. He wants me to throw a home run ball?

If I shake my head “no” enough, while pointing the catcher to a spot, he eventually might move his mitt there (while still not necessarily letting me pick which style of pitch I want). But this takes forever. And if I throw the ball where I want, but his mitt isn’t nearby, my ball soars behind him, an error.

“MLB 2K9,” which also offers online multiplayer, squanders what could have been a righteous little game. Instead, it is this year’s second-place in baseball, while “The Show” steals the show.

(“Major League Baseball 2K9” retails for $60 for Xbox 360 and PS 3; $50 for Wii; $30 for PSP and $20 for PS 2 — Plays mostly fun but the pitching is too limited and laborious. Looks great. Challenging. Rated “E.” Three stars out of four.)

(“MLB ’09: The Show” retails for $60 for PS 3; $30 for PSP; $20 for PS 2 — Plays quite fun, as a simulator. Looks great. Challenging. Rated “E.” Four stars.)

What do you think? Tell me at delfman@reviewjournal.com, or post your reviews and rants at reviewjournal.com/elfman. My column appears Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays.

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