In a glorious act of obsession, a baseball nut recently recreated the famed bottom of the tenth of Game Six of the 1986 World Series by synching Vin Scully's original play-by-play to footage from the Nintendo classic RBI Baseball. It's both a charming exercise and a lesson in simplicity: The baseball was the size of a beach ball, and the tiny batters uniformly white and stout, but players remember the game fondly for its smooth execution and loveable quirks. Several console generations later, 2K's Major League Baseball series has ended an annual free-for-all by winning an exclusive license from professional baseball, and they've added more bells and whistles than an episode of Pimp My Ride. Some ideas are sound, some gimmicky, and some utterly superfluous, but few of them function well enough to improve the gameplay. Like a cartoon character, Major League Baseball 2K6 swings for the fences and winds up spinning its way waist-deep into the ground.
Expanding on last year's model, MLB 2K6 tacks on plenty of new modes and features: Most notably, there's a recreation of this year's World Baseball Classic, and there's Inside Edge, a nifty extra that lets you buy scouting information and exploit opposing players' weaknesses. Of course, the latter would be a lot more useful if the basic mechanics of hitting and pitching weren't so grueling to master. Last year's ESPN K-Zone box made pitching a snap, but this year, aiming for spots also requires you to anticipate how a specific pitch is going to break, which can lead to many games blown by passed balls. Trickier still is hitting, a terribly awkward exercise that involves moving the right analog stick back to step forward, then either pushing the stick forward (for an uppercut) or merely releasing (for a straight swing). Might as well pat your head and rub your stomach while you're at it.
Beyond the gameplay: Apparently, yesterday's college-rock fans are today's game programmers, because the soundtrack is overflowing with musty favorites from the likes of Yo La Tengo, Cornelius, and Wowee Zowee-era Pavement.
Worth playing for: Activating the showboating feature gives you the chance to make a spectacular behind-the-back catch of a routine fly ball, but…
Frustration sets in when: …the joys of fielding end there. When you aren't overrunning the ball, you're stuck in molasses trying to turn back to get it.
Final judgment: The naysayers were right: Licensing agreements lead to one bad choice.