Nickelodeon was an integral part of my childhood. If a product had the “Nick” logo on it, I wanted it. Where my parents grew up watching Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, I laughed at the antics of Rocko, Doug and a rugrat named Tommy Pickels. Though I’ve grown quite a bit, I still consider myself to be a Nick Kid at heart. The network’s programming was an integral part of my childhood and it makes me happy that Nickelodeon still exists and continues to put out excellent products. Say what you want about cartoons being better “back in your day,” but Spongebob Squarepants is brilliant.
I’m a huge fan of baseball as well and, encouraged by my nostalgia, I recently came into Nicktoons MLB. The offering puts Nickelodeon characters from past and present onto the field alongside the superstars of Major League Baseball. I liked the idea of the game – an easy, pick-up-and-play sort of baseball game paired with antics that only Nickelodeon can bring to the table. It seemed like a great pairing. And I think it still could be, even though I wasn’t particularly impressed with Nicktoons MLB. I rightly acknowledge that I’m not part of the target demographic and have tried to scale my expectations down since the last baseball game I played was MLB ’11: The Show, but I think there were a lot of missed opportunities for this rather barebones package.
The biggest grievance is that it just doesn’t know what it wants to be. It isn’t over-the-top or uproarious and fails to take real advantage of the license. If we’re going to play a game of baseball where pitchers never get fatigued and where outs are decided not based on properly positioning yourself, but rather button-mashing minigames, why not go for the gusto and get really silly? How about earning power-ups that give you oversized bats, or let you toss really crazy, impossible pitch types? Why not silly, between inning minigames?
Instead, Nicktoons MLB tries to straddle the line between authentic and silly that never quite works. Basically, we’re left with a game that has Nicktoons stars playing alongside MLB’s stars and neither of them quite fit. There are no on-field hijinx that the cartoon characters offer and fans who have even a passing understanding of the game will find the execution lacking. The game offers a season mode, but how much variation am I going to find if I only have ten players on my roster (you can choose between a Nicktoon pitcher and a pro)? There’s not really anything to invest players into the package beyond a few games. There are no bullpens to deal with, not even a closer, and basic league rules are ignored like the DH in AL stadiums. There are only twelve stadiums offered, and only six are big-league fields.
A couple of announcers provide commentary, but again, it seems too little. By the second game I was hearing them repeat the same lines. The on-field introductions that they offer for players coming to the plate are repetitive after just one run through a lineup. Minigames are included to make fielding a little more interesting; you have to rapidly press the ‘A’ button when you catch a fly ball or make a close play at a base in a sort of ‘tug of war’ against your rival. I suppose these keep players awake, but they don’t really make much sense. Several times, I felt I scored runs that I didn’t deserve.
The actual on-field play isn’t anything special. Players seem to move glacially across the field and there’s no challenge to pitching or hitting, even on the highest difficulty settings. Pitching is simply a matter of aiming where you want and holding a button until a slow-moving meter fills. Hitting requires waiting until the ball is remotely close to the plate and swinging. I understand the desire to keep the mechanics simple, but these are too simple.
Nicktoons MLB could have done some good things. It could have served as an introduction to the sport that educated, through familiar, well-loved characters, the finer details of the sport. Instead of doing away with relief pitchers, the game could have taught kids how and why they’re used. Instead of doing away with the DH, the game could have brought up league differences. The creators of Nicktoons MLB don’t know what they want the game to be and the product suffers for it. Without over-the-topic antics to keep younger players entertained, I don’t think they will like the game. Without the more serious elements of the game, I don’t think older players will enjoy the game for very long. I struggle to find an appropriate audience for the game because I can’t imagine anyone loving it.