Spring arrived and brought baseball with it. As such, MLB The Show 23 arrived as the next official MLB video game. While the series still reuse some noticeably poor assets, and some changes are for the worse, this year’s entry takes a step in the right direction overall.
Improvements to Road to the Show (RTTS) and some UI help features from years past. Most notably, the brand new Negro Leagues mode elevates this year’s installation far above the last few years’ releases. Simultaneously, other UI changes do not work, and things that need an update still haven’t gotten it. There’s a lot to talk about, so let’s dive in.
The Negro League Stories Honors Baseball’s History
The Show‘s big new thing is the Negro League Story Mode. Mechanically, this works similarly to the game’s MLB Moments, where players recreate actual moments that happened throughout recent history. Negro Leagues goes the extra mile in a couple of ways.
First, there are eight stories, each focused on a different figure from the Negro League history. Next, each story has eight or nine episodes (dependent on the figure) where each episode operates the way the aforementioned MLB Moments do. Each episode starts with a short video from the Negro League Museum in Kansas City, narrated by the Museum’s President, Bob Kendrick. These videos talk about the player’s style, their history, and specific moments from their career.
These moments are showered in detail. Fans wear their 20’s through 40’s best, the players wear their Negro League uniforms, umpires use very old-fashioned padding, and players use their iconic pitching mechanics (see Satchel Paige, for example).
Sometimes, right before you start playing, the game will simulate what happened in the moment you’re playing. There’s a legendary story where Paige got heckled after giving up a hit. Paige got the team on the playing field (infield and out) to come in and huddle around the pitcher’s mound while he struck out the next three batters. You watch Paige ask his team to come in in the game engine, and see them sitting around you while you are pitching this Moment.
The Show knocked it out of the park. The Negro Leagues were the driving force to integrate baseball, and this mode showcases that important baseball history. Our only complaint is that the commentary both calls the game with the games two casters This showcase gives the Negro League the pedestal they deserve.
Modern Baseball also Gets Some Love
Recently, Shohei Ohtani led Japan to win the World Baseball Classic (WBC). While the WBC doesn’t get the same focus the Negro Leagues do, they do get a couple of spotlights. Like the Negro Leagues, the 16-year-old tournament has MLB Moments inspired from the WBC’s comparatively short history. Also, you can unlock WBC uniforms for your own custom team.
Including WBC and Negro League content shows that baseball is not just the MLB. Yes, the MLB is where the game started, but there’s a lot more history about baseball beyond the league. Some of that history unintentionally happened because of the MLB, both for good and bad reasons, but its history is important to the game. These two additions show that Sony San Diego doesn’t just want to impress the Majors, they want to impress the world of baseball.
MLB The Show 23 Also Makes Great Updates to Older Modes
This installation feels like the most improved follow-up since The Show went cross-platform. The UI features a different art style from past years, albeit not a different layout. RTTS has two notable upgrades regarding feedback and practices.
Whenever you play in RTTS, you get feedback from the game for your performance with each play. That feedback also came after each Dynamic Challenge on a separate screen. Dynamic Challenges are occasional moments where you choose which goal you want to shoot for (drive in a runner, hit a single, etc.) and get extra stat rewards for completing them.
Previously, normal feedback would be an icon indicating the affected stat or Dynamic Challenges would pull up a different screen. Now, you see the feedback in the top right corner with a concise description of what you did, including the Dynamic Challenges. Much like the pitch clock, this speeds up the game, but unlike the ghost runner, it’s smart.
Off-day practices also have a great new addition. In older games, off-day practices were always some sort of mini-game related to the stats you wanted to improve. Now, players can also run actual baseball drills for practice. Batters can practice ball placement, plate discipline, and more which improve more stats than other drills.
These ballfield practices are the most practical addition for RTTS. Instead of playing a minigame similar to live game situations, we can simulate the live game in a variety of ways. It doesn’t hurt that they generally seem to give more generous rewards but this is an excellent addition regardless.
Presentation in MLB The Show 23 Tells a Tale of Two Stories
Change is not inherently good. Overall, Sony San Diego really updated the presentation for MLB The Show this year with different color schemes, box score displays, and the previously highlighted RTTS updates. Bat hits sound much crisper and more realistic. Crowd and dugout shouts don’t feel as prevalent, but that seems due more to the batting upgrades instead of a scaling-back issue.
These changes don’t detract from The Show’s capabilities to simulate a real Major or Minor League game. The only reason you shouldn’t feel like you’re watching a game is because you changed the camera angles around. Aside from that, this series still puts on a great version of professional baseball games.
Additionally, the soundtrack is both solid and relevant. You have a variety of songs from Rap, Hip-Hop, Alternative, Metal, and other genres sparsed throughout. Mets fans who are mourning Edwin Diaz’s ACL can take solace in Narco’s presence (Diaz’s walk-up song). Pittsburgh fans will appreciate Wiz Khalifa and the late Mac Miller’s appearances here.
Visually speaking, the new pitching and batting interfaces are a step back (see sample). These interfaces combine tiny text with translucent backgrounds. Therefore, a lot of the details on the interfaces get blurred by whatever is hiding behind this veil. When you’re batting or pitching, get ready to squint to figure out each pitch type and its speed range. You cannot change the font size either.
You don’t need an accessibility expert to understand how bad this is. Players need to be able to see the information their screen is giving them, and tiny text actively prevents that. Struggling to read important information hinders the experience, especially for something that is present throughout the entire game.
Same Old Script for The Show…
Probably the most aggravating issue with MLB The Show as a series is leaving needed updates on the cutting board. There’s a plethora of voice lines from announcers Jon Sciambi and Chris Singleton lifted straight from the past few years. Aside from the new lines the pair recorded for the Negro League Mode, nothing changed. Every situation has had the same recorded package ready since at least 2021.
Just to be clear, this is not meant as a criticism of the announcers, they actually do work as announcers for MLB on ESPN. The issue is that their lines are not good. There’s soup less canned than these lines. Dialogue has been reused for three years straight now, and MLB The Show 23 sorely needed a change.
…and Same Old Bugs for The Show
Tied into the dialogue issue? Glitches, bugs, and crashes. Players can still expect things to go wiry at times while playing. In our time playing, we’ve heard some completely wrong lines (like how an RTTS player who’s still in the farm system joined the team he was drafted by that year as a free agent), seen our players run off in a random direction, and online we’ve seen a player “hit” a triple by running straight to third base instead of running around the bases. We also had the game crash at least once on us.
One new technical feature relates to creating your own player. You can scan a photo of yourself on The Show app and use it as a template for your created player. The results are okay and had some issues on launch.
Technical issues are never fun to experience. They disrupt the immersion and experience, and it doesn’t help when they appear in conjunction with past issues as well. Sometimes, these issues directly affect the gameplay, making it even worse. Sony San Diego clearly cares about their work, and we get that developers can never find every single bug in a game before launch. That said, when there are notable bugs found in a recurring issue throughout your game’s recent history, that’s not at all a good look.
Verdict: Notable Upgrade, Despite Flaws
Where last year’s MLB The Show felt too copy-and-pasted, MLB The Show 23 feels legitimately improved. New modes featuring historical and recent stars give a breath of fresh air to this series. Expanding practice types for RTTS players also helps players get meaningful practice to get better at the game.
What’s not updated is a tale of two stories. From a core mechanics standpoint, you don’t need to upgrade what already works. Playing baseball in The Show has been just as fun since 2021 as it is now. The things that do need updates need them badly, however. Sciambi and Singleton need something new to say so the game loses what repetitiveness it still has. Finally, some bugs are game-breaking or crashing.
MLB The Show is not at its ceiling, but it’s definitely higher than it was recently.