Nicktoons MLB (Major League Baseball) is 2KPlay’s second attempt at America’s favorite pastime,  baseball; the first being Carnival Games: Monkey See Monkey Do. For those that don’t know what Nicktoons is about, here’s a short synopsis:

Nickelodeon’s Animated All-Stars take on Baseball’s Best in Nicktoons MLB! The epic showdown that fans of America’s favorite pastime have been clamoring for is on! For the first time, an all-star roster from Nickelodeon’s Nicktoons series including SpongeBob, Dudley Puppy and Fanboy and Chum Chum, will take on players from all 30 MLB teams, delivering not only an unforgettable baseball gaming experience, but also the first to fully take advantage of Kinect for Xbox 360.

Variety of Players

I will have to mention, to put all 30 teams with all of the top players into a “toon” game, is a surprising welcome.  You have your majority of top MLB players such as A. Rod, Derek Jeter, David Ortiz, Miguel Cabrera and more, and then a handful of Nickelodeon characters, however I am surprised there were not more. There are loading screens and collectible baseball cards that include additional Nickelodeon characters, although you can not play as them, possibly they are being recruited as a DLC pack to keep some interest in the game, but that’s just a guess!

The game does offer a couple of methods to play, one method is to have a straight up showdown, with only the best MLB players against the best Nicktoons characters. This “showdown” allows you to choose each position for each player. Players are rated with a star system and are rated in batting, pitching, running, and a couple of others that I don’t recall. When someone is really good in that area, their 5 stars are green. Some players are green star’d in multiple categories as well so you can add a lot of variety to the game.

The other regular game method forces you to choose Nicktoon characters for 5 positions, which are your 1st basemen, 3rd basemen, left fielder, right fielder and pitcher. You can sub out your pitcher for a regular pitcher on your team though, however the other 4 positions you must always have a nicktoon there. All of the toons have their own abilities, for example, Yak has power, Ultralord can literally zoom around the bases and more. This is more or less where the arcade aspect starts to kick in.

Variety of ballparks…not so much

With the surprising amount of teams and players in the game, you would think a mediocre thing such as the ballparks would be the same, unfortunately that is not the case. There are only 12 fields in all, 6 belong to the toons and 6 belong to the MLB, which means if you really want that home field atmosphere, you will need to pick one of those 6 teams. There are some arcade features to the fields such as hitting the big screens, rocking some electrical panels, etc.

Reminiscence of The BIGS

The arcade aspect in this really reminded me of The BIGS. You have something called hot zones in the batter box. When pitching, getting a strike in the hot zone reduces the batters hot zone area. You can for the most part, make it so small that its useless. Also doing so, increases your turbo meter collection. By throwing strikes in a row, this also increases your turbo meter collection. On the batting side, your hot zone is a guaranteed single, sometimes leading into more. If I recall correctly, the hot zone is only included when playing with a controller. This aspect was not included in the Kinect play method. In both controller and Kinect modes, turbo is available. This is activated by raising both hands up. Once you are in turbo mode, pitching is almost a guaranteed strike, unless the batter activates turbo and a batter’s turbo is a guaranteed home run as long as you make contact with the ball.

Turbo can also be used when fielding, although there are 2 different methods, with Kinect, fielding is automatically done for you, all you get to do is throw the ball. But when you activate turbo and throw the ball in the field, it becomes a rocket and you can almost get someone out running to a base. With the controller, you can enable turbo to do some crazy catches and run to a catch spot faster.

Nicktoons MLB kinect game reviews special
One of the many crazy catches!

There’s also some physical contact in the game (not with Kinect), if you have someone on 3rd, and the batter hits anything, that 3rd base runner will go home and plow over the catcher no matter what. I tried everything to stop it, but I believe it’s just automatic.

Other modes

Some other welcoming additions are a home run derby, played a little differently using targets and the big screen as your finisher, and a card collection area in which Nick baseball cards are collected depending on different things done in the game. This ties into achievements as well, in order to obtain all of the baseball cards, you have to complete every achievement. The achievements were not very difficult to obtain, although some took longer than others (beat all American teams, beat all National teams).

The home run derby mode is the only mode I believe which is 2 player with Kinect that we played with and it worked. I did not try a game though, although I seen nothing that resembled some 2 player options, I know 2 player works fine with a regular controller. It is another Kinect title with no online support.

There’s a few options that you can set up as well. You can play 3, 6 or 9 inning games and it has 3 difficulty levels – Rookie, Pro and All-Star if I recall correctly. Unfortunately I did not play the other difficulty levels as I really didn’t think about it. It was an enjoyable experience where I did not feel a need to make it more difficult. Thankfully, you can turn off the commentator, one is a normal guy and the other is one of the Nicktoons, but they are super annoying!

Does it work?

This is probably the biggest question for us baseball fans, as we really don’t care about the content of the game, but most of us are aware that 2K has the exclusive license with the MLB, so for any future MLB2K game that will have Kinect functionality, then we want to keep an eye on these titles. For the most part, it works, but it needs to be polished. How does it work you ask?  I’ll try to explain…

With pitching, you have to start the pitching process by putting your throwing hand in your imaginary glove to set a pitch, which is the same process in the MLB during a game. On a side note, I’m looking forward to actually reading catcher signals and nodding/shaking your head to call a pitch in a real MLB game.

Nicktoons MLB kinect game reviews special
The pitching/batting mode…

The 4 pitch types shown above is what determines what kind of pitch you are throwing. For example, to throw the cutter, you would make a throw motion but follow through straight or down if that makes sense. It is quite hard to explain. To throw the slider, you would follow through at about a 45 degree angle which is pretty close to actual. Every character has some type of “special” pitch as well, in this shot, Zim has the Sinker pitch. To throw this pitch, you want to follow through sideways, although I found it easier to actually throw sidearm. Lastly, every pitcher can throw a ball. This is done in a similar manner except you follow through on a downward/outward angle. The jist of it is to try to match the area of the pie chart for pitching, that’s where you want your “release” to end up to throw that pitch.

Amazingly, this system works pretty well. Aiming is a completely different story. It more or less aims for you, but you can somewhat add a little direction. If you are looking for pin point accuracy such as the corner of the box, you will have to wait as it’s not there yet. The other item I noticed was the game was also trying to determine the amount of force you use when throwing and it calculates into a game format. I know this sounds confusing, however, if you take into account video game speed scale, most of the time it never seems realistic, whether its baseball, tennis, racing, etc. I threw a fastball as hard as possible and it registered 96mph. I threw the same fastball with no power, and it registered 82mph. I believe because it was a fastball, there is a minimum speed and maximum speed, adding turbo to the pitch increases it to 99mph, but overall, it just didn’t seem realistic. Hopefully as baseball is further progressed with Kinect, it will eventually determine our real throwing speeds and have an option that if we want to be a pro, it will automatically add 10-30mph to our real throwing speed.

With batting, this also works fairly well, but it still needs work. I may be one of the oddball people with a certain odd batting stance, but presumably when I hold a bat, it’s outside and behind my head, something like the picture below:

Nicktoons MLB kinect game reviews special

Does 2K have a cure for everyone's batting stances?

The problem I had, which others may not, is once my hands were behind my head, Kinect lost its tracking, my on-screen character would then automatically swing continuously causing me to strike out. Let’s face it, when something Kinect doesn’t work, it gets frustrating, however I did have determination to get it to work. If I took a different stance, with my hands just out to my side, it worked fine, however I wasn’t comfortable. I was also able to “chop” the ball by swinging high or like a sword to keep it in, and you can swing under the ball to pop it up. Actual ball control in a younger crowds game was somewhat exciting to me.

Overall, it worked for the most part, but it still needs to be polished as well. The only way I can see a future MLB2K title to offer Kinect functionality would be object tracking. The technology is there, it just needs to be developed and I did try to test this, I think it would work, but we need someone to develop it!

Nicktoons MLB kinect game reviews special

Yes you can see my bat, why can't I use it!?

Conclusion

You will find reviews that are comparing this to a real MLB title which, really can’t compete, but they also don’t realize what the purpose of this game is. I have 2 theories, one is the realistic theory. With toons in the game, arcade type of feel, no season play, and everything is somewhat simplified, usually means one thing, it’s for kids! I know adults really want a MLB title, but the time isn’t right for it yet. However, if you really want to get your kids into baseball, this title should really be rated an 8/10 but ONLY if you are looking at it from a kids perspective.

Most kids have a general idea of baseball (swing a bat, throw a ball) but they really don’t understand how the game is actually played out. This title introduces those eager to a more complex engagement in baseball, but still keeping it simple. Different things I noticed that would help kids are positions and their abbreviations, such as CF, LF, SS, 2B, etc. They can learn about different pitches, albeit, some don’t exist but its the concept of pitching, batting and running the bases, stealing bases, etc. It’s really a great title for kids and they don’t seem to be bored with it. My testers were 7 and 12. Kids also won’t look for flaws because they don’t care, that’s why I say it’s an 8 from a kids perspective, with a little replay value, it may be worth a buy for your kids. If you are buying this for yourself and are older it’s probably around a 6/10, you will notice the flaws, which is why I rated it at 7, it’s one of those on the fence titles. It’s by far no means a real MLB title, however it’s a step in the right direction.

Now onto my other theory, 2KPlay is a subsidiary of 2KSports, which publishes the MLB2K games and has the exclusive license. I feel 2KPlay is a small division that is doing the actual legwork on getting us a real MLB2K title to be used with Kinect. I noticed this with the very basic batting/pitching mini-games in Carnival Games, and now they have moved up to a full game, but still not detailed like we want. It takes steps to make a great game especially with new hardware, so in due time we will have our first MLB title.


This review is based on a retail copy of the Xbox 360 version of Nicktoons MLB
Scoring policy: What do these game review scores actually mean?