As a baseball simulator, MLB The Show 23 is barely different to last year’s iteration. Even by the standards of annual sporting franchises, this one comes across as having the lightest of touches to improve the experience. The commentary cut in with the same comments at the same moments that I expected them to, having spent dozens and dozens of hours in The Show 22. If you were to really push me I might say that the fielding is slightly snappier and the AI a little more nuanced. But that might also be my brain trying to trick me into thinking I was playing something new.
Related reading: Unless you’re desperate for current rosters and the Negro Leagues feature, MLB The Show 22 is almost exactly the same game, and also a lot cheaper. Our review.
MLB The Show 22 was already a good game, of course. Technically, a mild iteration was all The Show 23 needed to also be a really entertaining game. But with the on-field action so similar, we need to look off-field for reasons to break out the wallet again. Two new features in The Show 23 aim to provide that incentive. One is excellent. The other is offensively cynical.
The good feature is the Negro Leagues feature. This is a major effort at historical storytelling from Sony’s perspective, with the developers going out of their way to capture the authenticity of these historical leagues. There are new, authentically modelled stadiums, uniforms, crowds, and players, complete with their unique mannerisms animated. There is also plenty of archival footage and commentary by the president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum that gives the entire mode a documentary aesthetic. It should probably come as no surprise that here in Australia most of us – even those that enjoy baseball – have never really had a good resource to learn about the Negro Leagues, and so MLB The Show 23 acts as a very strong introduction.
The other big new feature that was touted, however, is implemented appallingly badly. MLB The Show 23’s store listing and press materials proudly proclaimed that it was the first game in the series to feature world teams, via a partnership with the World Baseball Classic. For those that don’t follow baseball that closely, the World Baseball Classic is essentially baseball’s World Cup. It only recently wrapped up this year, in what proved to be excellent competition. In one match, Australia actually beat South Korea, the world’s #1 team, Taiwan, surprised everyone by struggling, and Japan managed to pull out a win over the US to take the cup. It was an excellent competition that offered all the drama of the FIFA World Cup, and would have made an excellent additional mode in MLB The Show 23. It didn’t need to be much, either. A simple tournament mode recreation of the international pools, players and teams would have been sufficient (and perhaps some other nations that didn’t quite make it to add to the global flavour).
I was so excited about this. For years I’ve been asking Sony to recognise that baseball really is a global sport, with global appeal, and the international competition is more relevant to most of us than the MLB itself. I understand the value of the MLB license, of course. However, given that The Show continues to have silly little modes like Home Run Darby and “Retro Mode,” year after year, an International Competition mode wouldn’t have hurt.
Instead, almost all the World Baseball Classic integration is found in the card-based, microtransaction-filled, reason that this game will be adults-only rated in Australia soon, Diamond Dynasty. I loathe Diamond Dynasty. It’s not that I single it out – I hate EA and 2K’s equivalents for their own sports games too, but these glorified slot machine/fantasy sports grifts are an inexcusable stain on the entire sports genre. I refuse to spend any time in Diamond Dynasty, and I find it insulting that Sony cynically used an event that brought the world’s elite baseballers together to sell more of those fake “card” packs.
In lieu of a World Baseball Classic mode, I fell into the exact same habits playing MLB The Show 23 as I did its predecessor. Once I was done with the Negro Leagues mode, I then dropped into the Road To The Show mode, created a player, and then kicked off the same career that took me through the minor leagues and, eventually, became a hero for my favourite Major League side (the Mariners, BTW). There’s a roster update, of course, so all teams and stats are current. But the tweaks to that mode are otherwise so minor that they’re negligible.
Related reading: For a more cartoony take on your Nintendo Switch, Konami’s WBSC eBaseball: Power Pros is a delight. Our review.
The same goes for all the other modes that aren’t Diamond Dynasty and Negro League. You can still manage a team through seasons (exactly the same as with previous years), play online, and toy around with that aforementioned Retro Mode, which is fun for exactly one-half of one game, and then you’ll never touch it again. Everything good about MLB The Show is still here, from the dozens of different ways to bat and pitch, allowing everyone to play the game according to their comfort zone. Meanwhile, the bad also persists. I still find it somewhat more difficult to properly gauge the movement of a pitch when compared to something like Super Mega Baseball, for example. I think the perspective is slightly flatter, meaning it’s more difficult to get a 3D sense of the ball. Not impossible, or even unenjoyable, but it makes MLB The Show a game I need to really concentrate on while playing and can’t enjoy with beers. I also don’t think they’ve done anything to improve the graphics engine this year. Realistically, this is the last year Sony will get away with that before it annoys players looking for broadcast-quality aesthetics.
Fundamentally, though, MLB the Show 23 is a good game. MLB the Show 22 was a good game. Adding the Negro Leagues mode was noble from Sony (and no doubt the kind of goodwill-generating progressive addition that will keep the licensor happy with how Sony is treating the IP). However, the misstep with the World Baseball League and a complete unwillingness to build on any mode but the awful Diamond Dynasty also make this year’s The Show unacceptable. If you missed last year’s iteration, then you can add a couple of stars to this score, because for you, it won’t be one of the most cynical annual iterations that we’ve seen in sports games for quite some time. For the rest of us, though. No. Not good enough.