For the second year running, SIE San Diego's MLB The Show franchise lands on Nintendo Switch and, this time around, history takes centre stage with a new Storylines mode giving players the opportunity to learn about some of the all-time great baseballers from the Negro Leagues. It’s undoubtedly the highlight of an outing that underwhelms in places and suffers from a few Switch-specific performance issues here and there. But, when all’s said and done MLB The Show 23 still manages to serve up a decent overall package.
Let's start with where this one is most lacking, and MLB The Show 23 once again fails to address a few issues that have been fairly long-standing with the game at this point. Both its Franchise and Road to the Show modes do little to make themselves stand out over previous entries, continuing to take a firm back seat to the centrepiece Diamond Dynasty. That’s not to say getting involved with either of these is a total let-down — they’re still perfectly fine — they just feel a little flat and uninvolved in terms of presentation and there are few reasons to stick with them compared to Diamond Dynasty and the new Storylines offering.
It's also beginning to feel as though MLB The Show, as good as it can look and sound in places, is due a bit of an overhaul. We’d like to see a little more life and variety in the commentary doled out by Jon Sciambi and Chris Singleton, and something along the lines of NBA 2K's narrative-driven MyPlayer when it comes to the lacklustre Road to the Show mode. The latter mode in particular should be engaging players much more than it does right now but, with nothing in terms of a story to get involved in, and the fact you can sign up to your dream team from the get-go, it lacks bite and doesn’t provide the impetus for us to get stuck in and get involved in the long term. Between games, there’s next to nothing to do here and so you’re left to simply blast through matches and then return to an underwhelming locker room.
Franchise mode also feels as though it’s treading water in many regards. Again, it’s still a perfectly competent mode — MLB The Show 23 plays a great game after all, there are plenty of options and difficulty settings to tinker with and yes, a new fog of war mechanic has been added to make the draft feel a little more exciting, but it still feels as though it’s playing second fiddle to the big money mode that is Diamond Dynasty.
As with FIFA and NBA 2K, it’s the card collecting, team-building aspect of the game that, understandably, gets most of the attention here. Diamond Dynasty is absolutely where most people are going to spend the majority of their time, and it’s a fantastic mode that’s been further enhanced this year by the fact you can earn lots of top cards by just playing the game. 2023’s offering really is quite generous with how it dishes out high-powered players and cosmetics, meaning that you’re less likely to have to readily stump up real-world money for stubs to stay in contention unless you really want to. We mentioned in our review of last year’s outing that slipping further into pay-to-win territory would be bad news for this part of the game and, thankfully, it seems SIE San Diego Studios has been paying attention to fans.
Moving on to the all-new Storylines mode, which has been the big surprise of MLB The Show 23 and the element of this year’s outing that’s impressed us the most. It may be Diamond Dynasty that keeps us hooked in the long term, but this thoroughly educational trip through the history of the Negro Leagues is nothing short of enthralling. Narrated by Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Museum, this is just the first chapter in what we assume will be a long-running venture, and it’s one that's jam-packed and full of fun and informative gameplay. Getting to know the line-up of great baseball players included here is excellent and it's enhanced by plenty of background detail, archive footage, press clippings and lively narration that sets you up perfectly as you’re invited to take control of the likes of Leroy “Satchel” Paige, Andrew “Rube” Foster, and Buck O’Neil during some of the highlights of their career.
We love how certain aspects of these players are fed into the gameplay here, with Satchel Paige’s various nicknames for his pitches – such as his “bee ball”, named so because it’ll be where he wants it to be when he says it’ll be there - appearing on-screen for you to choose from, and plenty of bespoke animations included to bring these baseball greats back to life. It’s cracking stuff, exactly the kind of informative and entertaining thing we love to see and absolutely the highlight and surprise of this year’s MLB The Show offering.
Away from all of this and, well, it’s business as usual really. MLB The Show 23 gives you tons of options with regards to how you want to play, with everyone from absolute beginners to stalwart fans catered to through its comprehensive range of difficulty modes, control setups and accessibility options.
Of course, with this being the Switch port, things do get a little more complicated when it comes to performance. We’ve been cycling between the Series X and this version of the game and the expected visual downgrade – whilst not nearly as bad as you may expect – is certainly noticeable. There's a lot more in the way of blurry textures on players and pitches and plenty of little details and polish missing. However, this is all par for the course with the Switch at this stage and, overall, MLB The Show still looks pretty great on Nintendo’s system.
In the end, it’s really the frame rate that causes the biggest issues. Coming off a silky smooth 60fps on Xbox Series X, the rough and tumble here is easy to spot and, just as with last year’s port, the whole thing just feels more sluggish when it comes to actual gameplay. If you’re only playing on Switch you’re not likely to notice this quite so much, but coming from next-gen versions you can feel how pitching and batting are affected, with different timings required to get things right. This then feeds into online play with the likes of Diamond Dynasty. With cross-play enabled you are absolutely going to be up against it when playing against users on superior platforms, and disabling this option leaves you with just the Switch pool of players to pit yourself against, meaning it may well be much harder to find a game.
Honestly, if you’ve been playing MLB The Show 22, you know the score here. This is roughly the same deal in terms of performance and how things look and feel, there’s some noticeable stuttering as the camera pans around in big stadiums and things feel less slick in play. However, you’re still getting a solid port, a full-fat version of a big old baseball sim that doesn’t cut corners or leave Switch players with any less in the way of modes to dig into. Plus, that new Storylines addition makes this feel like a more complete package than last year’s outing. We should also mention that it’s a cinch to link your account with your progress on another platform, and being able to take our Franchise and Diamond Dynasty on the road when needed is definitely an enticing prospect and something that'll keep us dipping into this portable version regardless of any shortcomings.
MLB The Show 23 is a better all-round package than last year's outing, thanks in large part to the new Storylines mode that adds a well-presented and educational history lesson for players to get involved in. In terms of this Switch port, presentation is perfectly acceptable, with the expected graphical downgrades made, but the frame rate can still be troublesome in places, making for play that feels sluggish in comparison to other platforms. This issue aside, though, this is a solid port that brings all the modes found in other versions of the game, making for a decent overall option for MLB fans.