Sports games deservedly suffer the same criticism year after year. Often the changes are only minor, it can feel like a $60 list upgrade, and the development teams rarely have the time needed to review the game. Some of these charges may be leveled at MLB The Show 23but not when it comes to the addition of his Black League mode.
Never has a game so lovingly added a story mode. This isn’t just some old scoreboard error filter featuring some former players, but a series of playable documentaries featuring eight legendary players who dominated baseball in an era before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. It’s so good it’s worth buying the game, and that’s high praise for a game mode.
The gameplay begins, naturally, with Satchel Paige. It is the perfect starting point for an introduction to the Negro Leagues. Lovingly narrated by Bob Kendrick, President of the Negro League Baseball Museum, a mix of archival footage and drawn art not only allows players to better understand who Satchel is, but also feel why it was unlike anything baseball had seen before.
The Negro League mode never falls short of its welcome, as we often see in historical modes. Instead, you’re dropped into an entrance or two and given a very specific task. With Satchel he could go hitless in two innings and strike out three, just using Paige’s 105 mph fastball. Then everything changes, and all of the pitching types are replaced with Paige’s unique nicknames for them: like “Bee Ball,” “Dipsy Doo,” and “Bat Dodger.”
It adds a whole level of uniqueness to the game and feels so different as Paige uses her iconic whirlwind and high kick to deliver unparalleled heat. Then, shortly thereafter, Kendrick returns to the screen to tell a story of when Satchel’s Kansas City Monarchs were playing an all-white semi-pro team, which recorded a Paige hit during her first at-bat. Hearing racial boos from his dugout and claiming Paige was no good, he called his entire team, everyone, to sit in the infield and watch him pitch, daring his opponents to hit him. again. they didn’t and MLB The Show 23 allows you to play this.
Paige alone would be commendable as a mode, but then there are seven further players, many of whom all but the most diehard baseball fans may not know. Sure, everyone knows who Jackie Robinson is, but Hilton Smith, the second ace behind Paige on the Monarchs, was largely lost to history.
After punching 105 mph fastballs with Paige, players take on the role of Smith, who was predominantly an off-speed pitcher with one of the most devastating curveballs in baseball history. Painting the corners of the plate with his ridiculous array of curveballs is a lot of fun, and then once again Kendrick comes back with an incredible comment, pointing out that Smith was the Shoehei Ohtani of the Negro Leagues, hitting .298 during his career and being a two way legend. So naturally we get a chance to hit, changing the whole feel of the mode.
Continued with much love and attention for each player that appears in the mode of the Negro Leagues. This is far from just Paige, Robinson and phoning the rest. Each player is a 1-2 hour documentary (including play time) that feels fully realized and complete.
We’ve never seen this in a game before, and it’s the gold standard for how sports games should handle story modes. Much is said about the Michael Jordan mode that debuted in NBA 2K11but it pales in comparison to the care and attention that MLB the show team did with this game.
There is an obvious importance and seriousness when it comes to the Negro Leagues. Many players never got the recognition they deserved due to segregation in baseball, so this mode is all about finding a small way to right that wrong with a new generation of fans. Still, it has created a blueprint for what every sports video game should do in the future.
imagine if To get mad had the time or attention to take us back to someone like Sid Luckman in 1943, when the Chicago Bears’ leather-helmeted quarterback threw for over 400 yards and SEVEN touchdowns in an era when most quarterbacks were throwing for 600-800 yards IN ONE SEASON. How about playing like Jim Brown in 1963, when he rushed for 232 yards against the Cowboys with an astonishing 11.6 yards per carry?
In many ways, we’re on a big hiatus when it comes to sports gaming. As well as making sure things are bug free (which, when it comes to To get mad seems to be impossible), only so much can be done with the graphics and physics until we get to the next generation. So why not add value through the story the way MLB The Show 23 has? I’m not asking for a mode as ridiculously deep as Negro Leagues, but just give us the time and attention it deserves.
Anyone who loves sports and sports history needs to play the Negro Leagues at MLB The Show 23. Even if you’re not a fan of baseball. This is a true game changer, and one of the best things ever put into a video game. Seriously, it’s that amazing.