MLB The Show 22: Early Impressions

Image from Nintendo

Baseball is back on Nintendo hardware, and it is glorious.

Sports games were a staple of both Nintendo consoles and my childhood back in the day, but as games pushed the envelope and strove for graphical fidelity and realism, they drifted towards more powerful consoles like the Xbox and Playstation (and in truth, much of the player base migrated with them, leaving few diehard fans in the Nintendo-only camp). As the Switch started blowing up, however, my hope was that the console would become too lucrative an opportunity to ignore, and companies like EA and 2K Games would port over their annual cash cows and finally give those of us locked into the Nintendo ecosystem a chance to relive their glory days. That’s only kinda-sorta happened thus far (FIFA has been here from the start but has never achieved feature parity across consoles, and NBA 2K18 was…not a fun experience), but now a surprise combatant has entered the ring: Sony?!

Apparently Major League Baseball asked Sony to put The Show on non-Sony platforms (which would totally makes sense; MLB has been eclipsed by football and basketball and needs to find fans wherever it can), so at long last baseball has returned to Nintendo. Given the power difference between the Switch and other consoles, however, the move raised an important question: Could the Switch feasibly support a game that leaned so hard on a realistic presentation?

Honestly, I would say yes! MLB The Show 22 isn’t just playable on Switch, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable baseball experience that’s been missing on Nintendo’s hardware for quite some time. The game doesn’t quite have feature parity and the ultra-realistic graphics aren’t here, but the major modes are here (for better or worse), and the core gameplay is both solid and accessible. If you’ve been waiting for a major baseball title to return to Nintendo, the moment has arrived.

First, let’s address the elephants in the room:

  • How does it look? If you’re used to being able to count every bead of sweat dripping off the batter’s forehead, you won’t get that here (in truth, if I had one gripe about the graphics here, it’s that players look overly shiny/polished when they’re supposed to look wet). For someone like me (i.e., someone who hasn’t seen a true baseball simulation since MVP Baseball 2005, the graphics looks pretty darn good, even (especially?) when compared to the zombies we saw in NBA 2K18. The animations are fluid, the controls are smooth, and the presentation is solid enough to not break the immersion (perhaps they’re a bit too lifelike for MLB’s liking; the stadiums seem to have a lot of empty seats, just like actual baseball…).
  • How does it play? The game got a ton of bad press from its horrible tech test back in February, but things seemed to run pretty well when I played the game, at least in docked mode. Stutters in the game were rare, even when playing online matches, and while hitting proved to be a challenge, it felt like a fair one: I wasn’t missing the ball because it was teleporting, I was missing it because I couldn’t read the pitch fast enough and was swinging at a curveball in the dirt. Pitching and fielding was quick was pick up and satisfying to execute, and while load times could occasionally rival that of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, there were no noticeable breaks in the action while you were in a game.

Now let’s talk about some of the things this game does really well:

  • Sports games have changed a lot since I’ve really played one (we’ll get to microtransactions eventually), so the big new addition to me was Road To The Show, an RPG-esque mode when your created player gets drafted and works their way up to the major leagues. I absolutely loved this mode: It provided bite-sized bits of gameplay that focused only on the plays your character was a part of (starting pitchers would have to go through longer stretches of gameplay), letting you quickly bounce back from a mistake or power your way through a hot streak. Now that two-way players are a feature, you can get the hitting and pitching experience in the same playthrough, even if you’re not in the lineup every day (which helps if you struggle at one of the modes; my player might struggle to reach the Mendoza line at the plate, but he’s the best blasted closer in Double-A). There are some small minigames you can play to bump up your stats, but for the most part the action takes place on the field (there hasn’t been any drama to speak of off the field, but my character tends to stick with bland answers. I save the controversial takes for Triangle Strategy decisions). The majors haven’t come calling yet, but I’m having a blast trying to get there.
  • I like how the game opens by letting you try and choose from the various control options that are available. I’m more of a “see ball, mash button” kind of guy and prefer to focus on timing and pitch recognition in the strike zone, but if you want a bit more control to aim for where the ball is thrown specifically, you can do it. Same thing on the mound: You can either work through a couple of gauges to execute every pitch optimally, or you can just aim the ball and throw it. Giving the player this much flexibility ensures that they can play the game the way they want to, which is all we can ask for from a game.

So after all this gushing, are there things to be concerned about?

  • First of all, know that the price of this game might not just be $60 for you, even if you swear off microtransactions like I do. The game requires a whopping 17 GB download when you first start (and you’ll have to sit through more downloads as roster updates are released), so you might be forced to spring for a new SD card for the game (or in my case, dump all of your kinda-sorta cool Splatoon 2 clips from 2019 to an external hard drive to make room).
  • In a surprise twist, I kind of wish there was a bit more handholding in some of the game modes, especially Road To The Show. Things just seemed to happen in the beginning that I didn’t expect (wait, what do you mean I have to manually aim my throws to first with the R stick?!), and you’ll get caught in some sticky situations until you figure out what the hack you’re doing (and it will still happen a few times even after you find your bearings). I wish the game was a bit more upfront at time with what it expects of you.
  • As a game mode, Diamond Dynasty is a pretty fun online experience, letting you take on players all over the globe in various levels of ranked matches. However, you’ll quickly notice that everyone you play has a stacked lineup of high-ranked players, and the only way to upgrade your own roster is to earn or purchase better player cards (and you know which one the game would prefer that you do). It didn’t seem like The Show explicitly pushed the microtransactions angle too much, but instead it leans on the fact that you’re constantly overmatched if you don’t sink enough time/money into the team. I could definitely see how trying to play this game competitively could lead to frustration and/or financial ruin.

Overall, however, I found MLB The Show 22 to be exactly the kind of sports simulation I had been craving to see return to a Nintendo platform. Longtime players may find that this doesn’t measure up to the Xbox and Playstation versions, but if you’re willing to concede hyper-realistic visuals and custom stadiums, you’ll find that there’s a fun and rewarding experience waiting for you here. The highest praise I can give this game is that after a few hours with it, I found myself saying “Kirby who?” When you can outshine a first-party Nintendo title, that’s saying something.

Now if only the NHL series would come back to Nintendo…Don’t make me perform a satanic ritual to summon the ghost of Paul Laus, EA. Make it happen.