Baseball season opens with your shot at The Show

Long-running franchises in sports video games have hit the wall, creatively speaking. Madden, FIFA, NBA and The Show still offer great action, but you don’t turn to them for innovation.

MLB 11: The Show

Platform: PlayStation 3

Genre: Sports; Publisher: Sony

ESRB Rating: E, for Everyone

Grade: 3.5 stars (out of 5)

Long-running franchises in sports video games have hit the wall, creatively speaking. Madden, FIFA, NBA and The Show still offer great action, but you don’t turn to them for innovation.

Case in point: MLB 11: The Show. This year’s release offers only minor fine-tuning. The story mode — creating a player and taking him from the minors to the big leagues — is more realistic and forgiving. And the pitching controls have been improved.

Overall, you’ll get what you pay for — a superbly crafted baseball game. The graphics are smooth and the player animations when fielding, batting and pitching mimic their real-life counterparts as accurately as ever. Baseball fans looking for the best simulation game need look no further.

MLB 2K11

Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3

Genre: Sports; Publisher: 2K Sports

ESRB Rating: E, for Everyone

Grade: 2.5 stars

Base hits aren’t going to get it done. The MLB 2K series needs to come to the plate with substantial upgrades to compete with Sony’s MLB: The Show franchise. This season, MLB2K’s upgrades are nice, but incremental, and nothing you can’t get from the competition.

The batting mechanics have been improved, so you don’t feel like a tee-ball player with no chance of making contact. Pitching is still king in this game, but at least you won’t be putting up soccer scores each outing.

This franchise has improved with each version, but until developers throw in a game changer, it will continue to come in second to The Show.

The 3rd Birthday

Platform: PSP

Genre: Shooter; Publisher: Square Enix

ESRB Rating: M, for Mature

Grade: 2 stars

Basing a title on a reluctant hero is a popular archetype for developers, but in The 3rd Birthday they trap you into controlling a heroine who seriously seems to want to escape the game.

Technically, this release is an offshoot of the Parasite Eve franchise that is more than a decade old, but its connections to that series are loose and will barely register with even veteran gamers.

You play as Aya, who must defend and save the human race — and New York City, naturally — from an alien invasion of The Twisted.

The gameplay includes shootouts with various creatures, and your ability to fend them off is, frankly, a simple matter of holding down the trigger button.

When Aya nears death, you port her psyche into a nearby soldier and continue the fight. The tactic, you might recall, was used effectively in Mindjack.

The cutscenes set up a pretty story that never develops into anything meaningful. Same goes for the weapon, costume and ability upgrades you earn throughout the brief campaign.

All the pieces of a good game are here, but they don’t fit together particularly well, which is disappointing. Sort of like candles that go out before the birthday song is over.

Follow Chris Campbell at twitter.com/campbler or e-mail him at game—on—games(at)mac.com.

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