I miss baseball. I’m okay with it being gone for now, especially if it helps stave off this pandemic, but that does little to soften the sting of missing one of my favorite pasttimes. I never considered myself a “sports” guy, but when it comes to baseball, especially the Cubs, I’m a fanatic. Baseball means the promise of summer, and carefree days, so it’s very much a comfort food. And comfort is something we’re all missing a bit of during these COVID-19 days. While I expected baseball fans to rewatch old favorites, and continue their rivalries on internet forums, I didn’t expect video games to be a central part of it.
The Show is a long running series, and currently the only officially licensed MLB game. I don’t play many sports games—racing games notwithstanding. The only sports games I ever spent a great deal of time in was a Game Gear baseball game The Majors Pro Baseball that came out all the way back in 1992, and Super Mega Baseball 2. I can’t tell you what originally made me ignore the annual offering of officially licensed video game baseball, but I will shamelessly admit that The Show 20 was a must-buy for me, just for the fact that Cubs player Javier Báez was on the cover. I didn’t pick it up until recently though, when my MLB alerts reminded me that there was baseball being played by professional MLB players via all-digital meetups.
The Show 20 is a solid game. It’s hard to deny its impressive production value and features. My first impressions were that the game was great—everything from the graphics to the announcers impressed me. The Show walked me through which of the myriad of control schemes I wanted to employ for each of the major parts of the game—fielding, base running, hitting, and pitching. I was grateful for the initial handholding, and I had a huge smile on my face as I took control of my favorite players in my first game—but soon after that magical first game, I was instantly overwhelmed. There are so many game modes, and because I’m someone who doesn’t delve into annual sports games, I was completely lost.
My initial dream was to just pick up the Cubs, and play an entire season to the play-offs. And while that’s possible, it’s not something that you can just jump into—which I’m thankful for, in hindsight. Road to October is a truncated version of that, and puts you and your chosen team near the end of the games, in high pressure situations, to keep the excitement at a maximum. If you want to get into the finer details of your team, trading, injury lists, and other minutia, there’s a mode that simulates being a manager—if that’s your thing. Surprisingly, I spent most of my time with the Road to the Show, a mode which allows you to control a single player as they make their way through the farm system, and into the major leagues. Maybe it’s the roleplaying game nature of it, or just the fact that I like seeing my name on a Cubs jersey, but the mode that I initially was most weary of ended up being my favorite. And it was pretty damn satisfying the first time I walked onto the field with my favorite Cubs players.
Mechanically, The Show 20 feels like baseball—as much as it could do in a video game. Hitting is satisfying, and relies on a good eye and timing—though I swear I’ve never taken a walk in a video game in my entire life. Pitching, in my opinion, is represented extremely well—and with the game difficulty turned up, you can get into some real exciting match-ups. Getting in a bases-loaded jam, or other high pressure situation can be really intense, and giving up hits is never a good feeling. Base running feels good, and accurate to real life. And when I mean accurate to real life, I mean as I’ve seen it played on television. If you’re familiar with watching baseball on tv, and pick up The Show 20 expecting that to mirror that experience, you really won’t be disappointed.
I’d say the only thing The Show lacks mechanically is the feel of fielding. Most aspects of the game have a sort of mini-game associated with them, while fielding is a matter of getting to the proper location. There is an option to add an additional bit of timing to your throws to the bases—which I used—but that doesn’t make up for how lackluster it feels to make diving catches, or battling the sun for a pop-up. For as mechanically sound the rest of the game is, merely running to the spot where a ball will land feels almost too automatic—but it’s a minor complaint, and one I can’t even think of a solution to.
The Show 20 Player’s League is actually a pretty big deal. On top of that, it may be working as a surrogate for baseball—at least in the meantime—as its gotten some traction on actual sports reporting, and the playoffs are scheduled to be aired between May 1st through 3rd on ESPN, ESPN 2 and FS1. As it turns out, a few past and present Cubs players are in on the action too, including former Cub Carl Edwards Jr. and current second baseman and outfielder Ian Happ. I’m happy to report that the Chicago Cubs’ own Ian Happ is doing pretty well in Player’s League, too, with a win percentage of .591 as of this publication. But he’s 1.5 games behind the division leader, the Reds’ Amir Garrett. Happ still has a chance to make the playoffs, but his window is slipping away quickly.
The Show 20 is a good game of baseball. It isn’t a replacement for a nice warm breeze, the smell of hotdogs, or the feel of being at a game—but the announcers, the sounds, and the sights are (mostly) all there. The Players League is a way to live out the season, at least for now, until it’s safe to gather again.
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