Nicktoons MLB is More Than The Bigs for Little KidsS

At E3, I visited the 2K Games booth every day of the show. Every day I went there, I saw these two guys from High Voltage Software in the 2K "Sports Bar," sitting in easy chairs, playing Nicktoons MLB. As far as I know, it was all they did all day.

After playing it with them, Nicktoons MLB is something I could see a couple of seriously stoned dudes playing on a fraternity couch, partly for irony, but mostly because it's a strong pick-up-and-play game that emphasizes head-to-head competition. Plus, punking someone with SpongeBob, or being punked by SpongeBob, adds another dimension to bragging rights.

How that disc ends up on that hypothetical coffee table is 2K Play's marketing problem. I'm guessing a lot of older gamers will be exposed to this through their little brothers or as a what-the-hell rental. But I wouldn't discount it as kids stuff. That's because the whole thing rides on the chassis of The Bigs, a well regarded arcade baseball game that disappointed at the cash register back in 2009.

The batter-versus-pitcher matchup, with its shrinking-and-expanding zones of dominance for either the hitter or the pitcher, should be familiar to anyone who played The Bigs 2. As a pitcher, your full-meter breaking balls have a nasty snap and your fastball arrives with extra mustard. As a hitter, if the other guy challenges you in your wheelhouse and doesn't get enough on the ball, you'll blast it to Mars. Four at-bats in, I was doing a home run trot.

All of this has an anchor in The Bigs, along with the licensed Major League Baseball players' look. That makes the Nicktoons characters the stars, and their participation is a fresh coat of paint that keeps the series going while opening it to a different audience. The Nicktoons roster is deep and full of characters with appeal for the bigger kids, notably Powdered Toast Man, who was never anything less than 4-for-4 on the day when I wandered by the High Voltage dudes. Powdered Toast Man is, unquestionably, the wrecking ball in this lineup.

In visuals, they got PTM's iconic ass perfect, though I didn't spy him farting, on a bowl of cereal or otherwise. All cartoon characters resemble their broadcast counterparts in 3D form; the major leaguers are beefier versions of themselves but more realistically modeled than cartoony. While Nicktoons characters will behave in ways that call attention to their cartoon abilities and mannerisms, the gameplay is balanced throughout - I did not see any character-specific powerups, cheats or the like.

You get 300 major leaguers from all 30 teams, very much Bigs like, and then a ton - the final number isn't yet confirmed - of Nicktoons characters from mainstays to supporting characters. Six of MLB's more-known ballparks are represented in the game, along with six cartoon-themed parks that offer zany visuals when you pound a home run or the crowd goes nuts.

The game is being built for Wii, the DS and Xbox 360 (notably, not the PS3). I did not see or test the Kinect controls, but they will be there for the game; the only game mode I saw was the Quick Play. Other previews have said there is no season mode, just a tournament setting. It wasn't clear to me if the game required you to pit major leaguers versus cartoons, or if it would allow for big leaguers to play big leaguers, or cartoon-on-cartoon crime.

Yes, slapping new characters and a new title on The Bigs assets is, at bottom, what we may be looking at here. The Bigs was still a fun ride, and giving it a trippy new look could be the shot in the arm the series needs.