When gamers talk about their favorite sports video games of the current era, MLB The Show is almost always mentioned in the S-tier category for gaming. While games like Madden and FIFA have and continue to dominate their individual spaces, the year-to-year product has never had the consistency that Sony Interactive Entertainment, San Diego Studio, and 989 Studios have found with The Show franchise. Whether it’s the on-field product, the often-neglected but extremely important minutiae, or the actual gameplay itself, The Show has always been at the top of the food chain for sports games and MLB The Show ‘23 is no exception and this time, the Negro Leagues is getting its long, long, long overdue spotlight.
If you’ve never played The Show before, it’s about as good of a baseball simulation as you’ll ever find. All of the trappings of similar products can be found in The Show, including the fan favorite card mode known in this franchise as Diamond Dynasty. There’s Road to the Show, which allows you to create or select a player and then live out a career as that player. Franchise Mode is exactly what it sounds like, giving you full control of every aspect related to your organization. And for the very first time ever, MLB The Show 23 has included the World Baseball Classic, which comes on the heels of the greatest game ever played in the tournament and came down to the best two players on the planet in a one-on-one showdown.
There’s little point in touching on every aspect of every mode as most people who have played sports games for any period of time recently will be familiar with them, but I will say that it’s becoming a trend in sports video games for the card-based games to get quite literally all of the attention while the actual simulation portion gets few, if any major upgrades and outside of the Negro League Showcase, MLB The Show fell victim to this same trap. Given that this is where sports games make most of their money, it makes sense that they get the most robust changes but it’s becoming a disappointing trend where studios prefer to focus on the card modes at the expense of almost everything else.
I say almost because the Negro Leagues Showcase is one of the most powerful pieces of storytelling and playable history I’ve ever encountered in a video game. Anyone who’s seen the tremendous Ken Burns documentary “Baseball” will remember how Buck O’Neil stole the show with his passion and endless stories. There is a joy and a passion within the delivery of black baseball history that I’ve not seen replicated anywhere else. You don’t hear black baseball history, you live it and feel it through the lives, legacy, and passion that presenter Bob Kendrick exudes throughout his presentation of this mode to the players. If your opinions on some of the greatest players in baseball history hadn’t changed at the end of playing this game, you either knew all of these names and were wise enough to know better or you weren’t paying attention.
The presentation given by Bob Kendrick was so effective and powerful that it kept me playing long after my responsibilities to other areas of my day had come and gone. I found myself trying to rewind a video game just to hear some of the stories Kendrick told one more time. I also had a sudden urge to rewatch “Baseball” and relive some of Buck O’Neil’s most memorable quotes and moments. This mode was powerful enough that I truly think Sony should consider a game dedicated to the Negro Leagues and the stories within them. They have something here. I’m not smart enough to tell them what, but I firmly believe they should take this and run with it in a major way.
Whether it’s playing legends like Buck O’Neil himself or Jackie Robinson or learning about amazing talents like Martin Dihigo, this is the mode that players have been waiting for their whole lives. It’s the living, breathing history of baseball that makes it one of the greatest sports ever played and you can’t have that without some of the greatest talents ever assembled in a league most people of the time would’ve preferred didn’t even exist at all. Baseball is ugly. Baseball is cruel. But baseball is also redeeming and at the forefront of many social changes. Without embracing our past, the ugly and the beautiful, we can’t hope to understand our future. Kudos to MLB The Show ‘23 for addressing it all in an amazing and unforgettable package, don’t miss this one.
BSO Rating: 9/10 and Game of the Month