Review: MLB The Show 20 swings for contact, not for a dinger

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When it comes to annual sports videogame release, there’s a common refrain that unless you’re a diehard fan of the sport in question, you can generally skip a year without missing out on too much. MLB The Show 20 is a good example of that: it boasts some subtle improvements that hardcore baseball fans will appreciate, but most of the game feels unchanged since last year’s release. The core baseball simulation at its heart is as good as ever, but it’s hard to not feel just a little bit disappointed at how little has changed since The Show 19.

On the singleplayer side of things, MLB The Show 2020 offers the same modes as last year: an abridged, straight-to-the-action single season mode in March to October; a career mode with a custom ball player in Road to the Show; Franchise Mode; and a handful of quick play modes like Postseason, Retro Mode, Moments, Challenge of the Week, and Home Run Derby.

Among these, the only one with any noticeable change on the surface is Franchise Mode, which now lets you create custom teams, and relocate and rebrand existing ones. There is a lot of fun to be had with those new features—one talented player has already recreated and shared the Auckland Tuatara logo, so we can finally live the fantasy of seeing the Tuatara as a major league team. As welcome as these changes are, they’re still a relatively small part of the whole of Franchise mode; the majority of time will still be spent managing your team(s) in exactly the same way as you did last year.

March to October and Road to the Show ostensibly have some small tweaks here and there to improve their respective areas of focus—quicker jumping into the action in March to October, and deeper role-playing in Road to the Show. Whatever those improvements are, though, they’re lost on me—playing each mode feels exactly as it did last year. I went as far as starting a new Road to the Show game in The Show 19, just to double-check the sense of deja vu I was getting, and confirmed that most of the dialogue and choices are identical between both games.

On their own merits, each one of these modes is great—indeed, I had a lot of praise for The Show‘s singleplayer offerings last year, March to October especially. Everything I said then holds true now; Franchise Mode is still one of the deepest sports management simulations out there, and March to October is still a perfect middle-ground between a lengthy Franchise campaign and The Show‘s quick-play modes. But that’s the thing—everything I said last year still holds true because the changes this year are, relatively speaking, so minor. 

Things are slightly better on the multiplayer side, though I’ll freely admit it’s not a part of The Show I’ve ever been that interested in. Most online modes are largely the same, but there’s one new addition that will be welcome to many, especially while real-life baseball is on hold: Custom Leagues. In this new mode, players can create a custom online league with friends, to play over the course of however long you decide the season should be. It’s easy to imagine a group of baseball-loving friends setting up a league to play over the course of a few weeks (or months!), playing a few games each week.

Beyond that, the online modes seem largely the same as last year. Diamond Dynasty is still the same old card-collecting, dream-team-building mode designed around “recurrent spending”. There’s a new mode within Diamond Dynasty called Shodown, but it’s basically just an online version of Moments, with the promise of Diamond Dynasty rewards.

Underneath all this, the core baseball game is as rock-solid as ever. MLB The Show has always done a great job of capturing the atmosphere, strategy, and complexity of baseball in a way that’s authentic and exciting, if a little alienating to newcomers. That’s as true as ever in MLB The Show 20, which boasts improved player AI and a few other tweaks like making outfield play a bit more dynamic. When you cut through all the chaff, there’s a damn good baseball game at the heart of The Show 20.

But there was a damn good baseball game at the heart of The Show 19, too. With the other changes and improvements being as minor as they are, in the scheme of things, it’s hard to justify shelling out for a whole new game unless you’re the kind of hardcore fan that would have bought The Show 20 on launch day anyway. 

On the other hand, if you skipped last year’s game, MLB The Show 20 is a must for anyone who enjoys baseball. Just because sports are on hold in real life doesn’t mean they need to be in the digital world, too.

Sony Interactive Entertainment supplied a copy of MLB The Show 20 for PlayStation 4 to Shindig for reviewing purposes.

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About Author

Matthew is a writer based in Wellington. He loves all things pop culture, and is fascinated by its place in history and the wider social context.